George Graham

The Laughable Myth of “Balanced” News

To show they are presenting “both sides of the story,” the news media usually tap two sources from opposite sides of an issue and have them spout their conflicting talking points. Rarely does the interviewer intervene to correct a false statement or elucidate an obscure reference. It’s up to the viewer, listener or reader to decide which source makes more sense.

Sounds fair, doesn’t it? But it is anything but fair.

The political hacks and the commercial hucksters have figured out how to “game” the system.

You might remember the scandal about those retired generals who showed up constantly on TV to “analyze” various issues concerning the Iraq War. It turned out they – some of them, anyway – were being coached by the Pentagon to spread its propaganda.

During the late, lamented election campaign, the public was bombarded with “spin” from paid propagandists, often without an adequate disclaimer that these “experts” were being paid to lie.

I suppose you can say politicians lie, anyway, and one side is as bad as the other. But the situation is not always that simple.

Take the topic of climate change. For every “scientist” who disputes the claim that human beings are creating an impending catastrophe, there are dozens who can produce hard facts to support it.

Yet, CNN recently figured they had to find a spokesman for the “other side” when they had Bill Nye (the Science Guy) discussing the subject. The spokesman they found has drawn them a stern reprimand from Media Matters.

Here’s what the media watchdog had to say about that program:

For a discussion on climate change, CNN hosted Bill Nye, an actual scientist who deals with facts. But in pursuit of a false balance, they made him “debate” Marc Morano – who is funded by the oil industry and has long pushed climate misinformation in the media. Worse, CNN bragged about the “debate” later on its website, even calling Morano an expert, even though Nye ended the discussion saying that it got nowhere because they couldn’t agree on basic facts.

The “balanced” approach to news reporting has become laughable.

The Fox News slogan, “fair and balanced” is universally ridiculed, for example. But while Fox is by far the worst offender, the Rupert Murdoch noise machine is not the only media voice guilty¬† of presenting this charade. Just about every purveyor of news does it – even the venerable New York Times.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC-TV annoyingly has guests with whom he disagrees in an attempt to show them up, but he doesn’t have the nimble wit required to pull it off and often ends up promoting the guest’s agenda.¬† You might recall how he clumsily created the Michele Bachmann monster.

Thomas Jefferson conceived of the press as a counterbalance to authority. He once remarked (I understand he later regretted it) that he would rather have a free press without the government than the government without a free press. This view is reflected in the much-abused First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

But this concept of “the Fourth Estate” turned out to be a mirage. Propagandists and corporate profiteers have gobbled up the television and radio stations – and what;s left of the print media. The American “free press” long ago ceased to be the conscience of the Republic. It is now a babble of propaganda for one cause or another – or hype designed to support some event or product that provides the media with revenue. So when I read those solemn admonitions against allowing Rupert Murdoch to own several media outlets in the same market, I have to laugh.

I am sure it will make little difference in the long run who owns the Los Angeles Times. It will probably be just as “fair and balanced,” regardless.

Click here to read about the retired generals.

Click here for a more intellectual approach to media manipulation.

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