Is Media Biased or Unbiased?
Year 1998 stuns our nation and naturally the whole world with the sensational news of the year: Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. But there is another story linked to it. It’s about Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff who happens to be the first reporter to get hold of information on Clinton’s affair with Monica, but to his utter disappointment, even though he has evidence to his claim, his editors refuse to print his story. Somehow Matt Drudge, Internet political gossip columnist, gets hold of it and offers a package of two scoops; the Lewinsky affair and Newsweek cover up.
(Grimes, Online Edition) Now the question arises why Newsweek editors refuse to expose the scandalous story of the year? Is it fear of President’s power or is there some kind of alliance with him? Is in a democratic nation like America Media is so biased? I will try to espouse the following question in context to the various media reports that has been appearing since last seven to eight years and how the biased reporting is being openly covered by various media outlets?
Eric Alterman, a cultural critic and an author of ‘What Liberal Media’, gives the answer to this question? “The current historical moment in American Journalism is hardly a happy one. Journalists trying to do honest work are finding themselves under siege from several sides simultaneously. Corporate conglomerates increasingly view journalism as “software”, valuable only insofar as it contributes to the bottom line. In the mad pursuit for audience and advertisers, the quality of the news itself becomes degraded, leading journalists to alternating fits of self-loathing and self-pity.
Meanwhile, they face an administration with a commitment to secrecy unmatched in modern U.S history. And to top it all, conservative organizations and media outlets lie in wait, eager to pounce on any journalist who tries to give voice to almost any uncomfortable truth about influential American institutions (in other words, to behave as an honest reporter) throwing out the old but effective accusation of “liberal bias” in order to protect powerful from scrutiny”. (Alterman, Online Edition: 4)
It is absolutely true if we delve into the current scenario; journalists are finding themselves under pressure from political leaders, police officials and dignitaries forcing them to churn out the news items according to their needs and aspirations. And it is so surprising to hear that even media outlets are themselves using journalists as objects of their own desires, giving the truth but molding it into the fashion of the influential American institutions.
Yet, another story that is making us ponder into the depth of bias reporting in media is the continuous statements of President Bush after September 11, 2001 attacks on World Trade Center. In his fifty minutes speech in a press conference in March 2003, he mentions fourteen times of the connection of alQaeda and Iraq with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2003. Still no body questions him even though CIA hasn’t put forward any evidence that states any links of AlQaeda with the Iraq attacks.
Brent Cunningham, a professor of Journalism, goes to the extent of saying that it appears as President himself has hinted them to write on this subject to justify his action because reporting on aftermath of war even before it occurs is difficult and speculative. (Cunningham, Online Edition) This shows journalists are being molded to meet the needs of politicians. In Oct. 2001, CNN chairman, Walter Isaacson, during a war in Afghanistan sends a memo to his foreign correspondents implicitly stating, “to balance reports of Afghan casualties or hardship,” with reminders to viewers that this was, after all, in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept 11.” (Cunningham, Online Edition)
But we should not ignore this fact also that the story, which is biased for one can be unbiased for the other. It’s a most controversial subject in the arena of the journalism world of today because the essence and the nature of the news demand its peculiar perspective. In other words, Journalists carry the stories according to the situation and circumstances in which incidents are unfolding. If any murder has taken place, and the police gets a clue of the murderer, but its not yet proved, journalists can run the story in the following manner as for e.g. “In a day light on the streets of New Oakland, a man was found murdered.
Further investigations revealed that a middle aged man Michael is supposed to be man behind this gruesome murder.” Though no concrete proof has been found out yet the name of Michael appears. The appearance of this name only in print or in electronic media can damage his reputation. But Journalists have to give what they have been told by the police or what they have seen in front of their eyes. This is just one aspect of the bias reporting that Journalists can go into or being alleged of having entered into but there is one another angle also of bias reporting. Liberals too are accusing media of being pro conservatives and this question has been under debate thousand times and is still being under continuous discussions.
Studies conducted by Media Matters for America reveals, “Sixty percent of the nation’s daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. In a given week, nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.”(Media Matters For America, Online Edition) Many columnists or reporters have been fired or disciplined because they go ahead with their stories criticizing republicans and placing them in poor light for sake of propagandizing for the Democrats.
Many cases have also come to light when whole program is stopped from airing because one group or party doesn’t want it to be aired. On 30th April 2004, Sinclair Broadcast Group prohibits its affiliates from airing the Nightline program in which Ted Koppel recites the names of 721 U.S. women and servicemen killed in the Iraq War. This act deprives viewers in eight cities of their right to information and the reason he gives is, “program appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.” (Rothschild, Online Edition)
This is one of the biggest examples of disservice to the viewers and came to be known as rightwing media bias as lamented by Democrats. Even he orders his news personnel to read patriotic statements at its Baltimore station in support of President Bush after September 11. This is all because he shares a great rapport and friendship with President Bush. In this way, they try to hide the facts from public to justify the decision of Bush to invade Iraq.
Hereby, one question comes to the forefront? If we allege Media undertaking bias reporting, then is there any infringement to the right to information and right to express views? Every human being has been enshrined the right to express views and right to information in a democratic set up. If we go by this statement then no news and no views expressed by reporters shall be termed as biased but this is happening and the answer to this is simple. If any report or a story appearing in media infringes personal rights or harms some ones reputation and if some story of national interest is fulfilling the interests of any personal party or organization or person belonging to higher authoritative level is termed as Biased.
In 2001, the very next day after the attacks on World Trade Center, Ann Coulter, syndicated columnist spurs out her anguish through her words “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” This is nothing else than the extreme case of bias reporting increasing the chances of religious disturbances and religious warfare. (Washington Monthly, Online edition)
But all in all, everything is not bad in this world; there are several media outlets that are delivering unbiased news and views taking national interest into consideration. As Cunningham also states that, “but must mainstream reporters by and large are not ideological warriors. They are imperfect people performing a difficult job that is crucial to society.
Letting them write what they know and encouraging them to dig toward some deeper understanding of thing is not biased, it is essential. Reporters should be free, as Daniel Bice says, to “call it as we see it, but not to be committed one side or the other.” Their professional values make them, Herbert Grans argues, akin reformers, and they should embrace that aspect of what they do, not hide it for fear of being slapped with a bias charge. And when actual bias seeps in–as it surely will–the self-policing the newsroom must be vigorous.” (Cunningham, Online Edition)
Eric Alterman hits hard at the way reporters are filing the news and are being treated as software and are being used according to the whims of the powerful but Cunningham in a quite positive note encourages the reporters to carry on their duty without any fear and with full freedom and choice. Journalism is the noblest profession and people look at media to express their views and grievances. Media is voice of the people, by the people and for the people therefore media need to write the stories in a responsible way taking the sensitivity and the interest of the masses into view.
Alterman, Eric. “What Liberal Media?” The Nation. Internet (February 24, 2003) Available: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20030224/alterman2/4, 25 November 2007.
Cunningham, Brent. “Rethinking Objective Journalism” Columbia Journalism Review July 8, 2003. Internet (2004) Available: http://www.environmentwriter.org/scienceandthenews/docs/cunningham.htm,
25 November 2007.
Grimes, Linda Sue. “Media Bias” bellaonline.com Internet. Available: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art32136.asp, 25 November 2007.
Media Matters For America. “Black and White and Re(a)d All Over: The Conservative Advantage in Syndicated Op-Ed Columns” mediamatters.org Internet. Available: http://mediamatters.org/reports/oped/ 25 November 2007.
Rothschild, Matthew. “This is Media Bias” The Progressive (Saturday, May 1, 2004) Available: http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0501-03.htm, 25 November 2007.
Washington Monthly. “The Wisdom of Ann Coulter” washingtonminthly.com Internet (October 2001) Available: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0111.coulterwisdom.html,
25 November 2007