Media Bias

As I write I’m keeping an eye on the reports of the war in Iraq. I had hoped this war might not occur, not out of any desire to save Saddam Hussein, or any idea of legitimacy for his regime, but rather because I think it’s very easy to exaggerate the benefits removing the regime in Iraq and underestimate the difficulty of establishing a stable regime capable of defending itself in the region.

As I watch the coverage of the war itself, however, I think that perhaps we can point a finger at one of the causes of false expectations amongst the general public.

It’s the sorry state of journalism.

I have heard for years that the media was biased. The claim is sometimes a liberal bias, sometimes conservative, sometimes pro-establishment, sometimes in favor of rebels. One might be led to think that if one is accused of bias in multiple directions, perhaps one is being balanced.

I would suggest, however, that the media is, in fact, biased. No, it’s not a liberal bias, nor is it in favor of the military-industrial complex (how long has it been since you saw that in print?) nor is it conservative.

The bias is stupid. Moronic. Idiotic. Shallow.

Sometimes this is displayed through repeated reporting of the obvious. (None of these quotes are real, but all are closely related to headlines I’ve seen in the last week).

“Iraqi TV Says Saddam is in Charge” (Did they think it would announce that he was out of control?) “American General _____ says that we will win the war.” (He’d announce we were going to lose?)

Then there’s simple misreporting or reporting out of context. Entering a city or town becomes conquering it. Investing (completely surrounding) the city is the same as pacifying it. Bypassing a city makes it controlled territory. Taking a bridge means we must control everything up to that point. Then we can be shocked when Iraqi troops turn up in a bypassed or invested city.

And even worse are the false expectations. Nobody with any military sense at all expected this war to go without any casualties. Yet each casualty has been reported as a major setback. Casualties are sad and unfortunate, especially those captured or killed. But when the troops went in, they knew, and their commanders knew that there would be casualties. Both the military briefers and consultants to the various networks have been making this clear, but the reporters and news anchors seem unable to comprehend it.

I hope the American people have more sense on the average than their media representatives. But I wonder. The media outlets are what they are as the result of competition and the gathering of viewers. Are things this way because the people demand it?

It didn’t start with the war, either. Politicians—and I mean politicians of any party—get by with an incredible amount of disinformation simply by shifting the focus. We see repeated reports of what are clearly press releases of the various parties saying precisely what we would expect them to say. Is there nothing of interest to report? We have repeated interviews with people who don’t answer the questions asked by the journalists, yet nobody points this out, or decides not to air the tape. Couldn’t someone say, “No, let’s not show that one. Congressman ______ didn’t say anything worth hearing.”

We need to have better reporting, more investigation, more critical thinking, and more selectivity. Journalists need to start digging out news, important information about important events.

But I doubt any of this will happen. That would mean we all needed to start thinking!