George Graham

Exploding the Myth of “Fair and Balanced” Journalism

TVI’ve been complaining for some time that the American public is being fed a diet of phony journalism, and I notice that other journalists are beginning to agree with me. And no, I am not talking about the far-right mantra lamenting “liberal bias” in the press. Indeed, if there ever was such a bias, conservative agitators have succeeded in turning the tables. Now, the gatekeepers of the press are admitting they tend to favor “the right” in a misguided effort to compensate for the perception that they’re too sympathetic to “the left.”

Writing in The Philadelphia Daily News on Wednesday, Will Bunch makes this observation:

It seems that journalists are rushing to admit something …. that’s been true ever since the Nixon-Agnew era, but was rarely talked about.  This uncomfortable truth? That to accommodate the perceived notion that the news media warps things so far to the left, journalists have been playing Twister to bend over backwards to accommodate conservatives.

He notes that the New York Times admits that it’s easier to get on its letters-to-the-editor page if you are a conservative. He quotes Andrew Rosenthal, the Times editorial page editor, as saying:

Because of the nature of our readers, letter writers who defend Republican, conservative or right-wing positions on many topics have a higher shot at being published.

Bunch also notes that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is dsiplacing its Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor, who is regarded as a voice for the liberal left, in “what local observers say is part of a seemingly futile bid to woo back conservative suburban readers.” And he adds:

Did you ever watch the Sunday political talk shows, and the regular cavalcade of aggressively conservative pols and pundits, who usually outnumber and outtalk the handful of passive “liberals,” many of whom aren’t even that liberal? The Beltway journalists who book those shows tend to book “liberals” who are a reflection of themselves – low-key, just-a-tad-to-the-left-of-centrists – while bringing on more rabid conservatives a) to show that they’re open minded and not “biased liberals” and b) because they find wild-eyed conservative entertaining. Real DFH liberals scare the heck out of them, and God only knows what they might blurt out about something like NBC/MSNBC/CNBC parent General Electric, also a major defense contractor.

I am sure you have noticed the U.S. media’s stampede to the right in recent years. Anyone who has read the Washington Times or the Wall Street Journal, or watched Fox News must be aware of their unabashed devotion to right-wing propaganda. Fox even goes so far as to invent “facts” to support its crusade against enlightenment. And now, Fox personalities are resorting to undisguised rabble rousing that borders on sedition.

More subtle is the prevalence of “he said, she said” journalism. CNN, for example, goes to ludicrous lengths to present “both sides” of every issue.The result is that you get one set of canned arguments from the left and another set from the right with no decent attempt to separate credible ideas from nonsense or even to set the record straight when false “facts” are cited.

Another example is Chris Matthews on MSNBC. He provides a soap box for outrageous ideas with far-right guests like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and disgraced former Senator Tom Delay. I think he brings these people on in order to discredit them but he is seldom smart enough to do a good job of it.

As newspapers fade away, the public will turn increasingly to the internet and television talk shows for political insights. Unfortunately, the internet is a free-for-all of fact and fiction with no way of telling which is which. It would be nice if we could count on television to provide useful information and credible analysis.

About the author

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com