On one point, President-elect Donald Trump has it right.
Reporters, as he often intimated throughout his successful campaign, are biased. But not in the ways you may think. Or in ways in which politicians and pundits have led you to believe are true.
News organizations lean one way or the other because they are a reflection of their readers and communities they serve, so to speak. As diverse and distinct as the listeners or viewers who consume their products.
Taking this a step further, reporters and editors are, at their cores, inherently flawed humans yet free-thinking individuals. Editors and reporters decide which stories to write and which angles to pursue. They’ll decide which sources to use and which sources to quote. Which quotes to use and which quotes to omit. But all the time with an eye toward accuracy and fairness.
One reads The New York Times because he expects certain insights and perspectives. Same goes for readers of The Washington Times or people who rely on MSNBC, NPR, or FOX News. These news organizations have identified a target audience, and they focus their respective aims toward reaching those people, who have come to expect, shall we say, a certain perspective.
Without taking sides.
That said, the goals for any news organization or group should be fairness and truth. But that isn’t always the case, and that presents a huge problem.
Politicians, and many Americans, in general, refer to this eclectic collection of reporting and opinion as the media, an imagined entity.
No such media collective exists.
Sure, national papers such as the Times and Wall Street Journal and network and cable news outlets garner the most attention and therefore are part of the mainstream media. They dominate the airwaves and the myriad avenues for social media, and most have unlimited access to an incessant cacophony of news, opinion, and speculation.
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Trump and Hillary Clinton got continuous coverage, although one study says Trump got much more.
And that coverage isn’t what one would call good.
The Media Research Center, which leans hard to the right, in October found that, since July, Trump received “significantly more broadcast network news coverage than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, but nearly all of that coverage (91 percent) has been hostile,” the group’s website says.
“In addition, the networks spent far more airtime focusing on the personal controversies involving Trump (440 minutes) than about similar controversies involving Clinton (185 minutes). Donald Trump’s treatment of women was given 102 minutes of evening news airtime, more than that allocated to discussing Clinton’s e-mail scandal (53 minutes) and the Clinton Foundation pay-for-play scandals (40 minutes) combined.”
For the study, the MRC explains, it analyzed “all 588 evening news stories that either discussed or mentioned the presidential campaign on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts from July 29 through October 20 (including weekends). The networks devoted 1,191 minutes to the presidential campaign during this period, or nearly 29 percent of all news coverage.”
Without a doubt, Trump was the focus of what the study’s authors classify as negative coverage, but has it really changed individual perceptions about the candidates?
I would say no.
I want to believe American voters, as a whole, aren’t swayed by shouts and proclamations emanating from a winding parade of pundits and political observers.
Rather, it’s my hope people — whatever their leanings — wade carefully through the clutter, separating and categorizing as they go. “Keep this, trash that. I’ll decide on that later.”
I think politicians — and other newsmakers, for that matter — too often lump all news outlets under the “media” umbrella, and that’s not fair. A reporter from the local newspaper doesn’t deserve a barrage of vitriol when singled out during a rally. It’s simply not acceptable.
Today, the proverbial pile of clutter can overwhelm nuggets of gold stashed in a shoebox hidden in a closet or cubby hole. More than ever, people get their news in any number of ways from any number of outlets, whether via TV or social media. From newspapers or radio. Through blogs or partisan websites.
Yes, reporters are individuals, and, like anyone else, they have beliefs and opinions. But, like that local reporter, writers and editors are paid to do a job.
Unfortunately, some of these mainstream media groups hoisting guidons promoting a commitment to finding the truth through fair and accurate reporting — playing it right down the middle, as they say — allow reporters to flash personal agendas and blatantly take sides.
In many cases Tuesday night, the hand-wringing was audible, the angst palpable.
People alleging or detecting bias would do well to first consider the proverbial source and, if warranted, throw that information in their specially marked pile of trash.
Sure, those little pieces of junk can become big, rotting piles. And, in regard to your personal collection, they should go away.
But don’t call it the “media,” and don’t throw all journalists in the scrap heap. Clear the clutter, please. But use a discerning eye.