Rational Politics Chapter 5: Bias, Balance, And The Media War

Early in the Clinton years, Rush Limbaugh began building his reputation as a kind of Lone Ranger in the wilderness, proclaiming the truth while battling the forces of a one-sided national media elite. Towards the end of the Clinton years, and at the outset of the Lewinsky Affair, Hillary Clinton went forth with a description of the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” designed to bring down her husband’s presidency. We Americans have certainly not lost our flair for the dramatic or tendency towards the oversell. Today, all Conservatives are racist, warmongering, wingnuts; all Liberals are socialists intent on erasing God and banning Christmas, and there is such a thing as a liberally-biased “Mainstream Media”.

I put that last phrase in quotes, because it has become a sort of title used by a growing segment of the population to explain network news, some cable outlets, and a large array of print journalism. The human need to categorize and label has been taken to heights (or depths if you prefer) by the modern art of branding. Now, our political parties and their partisans have taken to lumping any organization that develops research, writes a report, or reports on findings that are contrary to their particular belief system, as biased and unworthy of credibility.

We the people get all of our news from organizations who profit from our reading, listening to, or watching their reports. What used to be a “special report”, is now a “developing story”. It isn’t just semantics folks, the art of story telling is important if you want to get somebody to listen to you, and those who used to pass for journalists have had to adapt by only “reporting” items that are fundamentally dramatic, or by reporting boring things in an over-dramatized manner. This is a critical issue because, as citizens, our ability to get and process the news in a rational manner is dependent on keeping control of our emotions. When we are always angry, or always insulted, or always depressed, we are led to taking actions that are usually counterproductive.

News should, at times, anger, insult, or depress us. But news that is scripted and produced to generate extremes of emotion regularly, typically do so by showing one-sided issues…this presentation predisposes us to be emotional (angry, supportive) for one side of the story or another. Never more clearly is this on display than when one watches any cable news outlet; the four principals (Fox, MSNBC, CNN, HLN) display lineups packed with angry people who are simply outraged…outraged I tell you…with what they are reporting. CNN did not used to operate in this manner, but as their ratings have slid, they have brought in more and more “anchors and hosts” with a talent for stirring the pot.

Unfortunately, the antidote for this toxin is a desire to demand the full story, a willingness to read the source material for news items, and an ability (within the audience) to reject the most extreme things we hear. Much has been written about how we Americans have become desensitized to violence. I would love to think that we could become desensitized to horse manure, but my hopes are not great. In the past year, an amazing cross-section of our nation was convinced, by news personalities and chain emails, that Democratic members of the House had written a provision providing for panels that would determine whether people would be euthanized. Death Panels. To make this happen, the purveyors of that nonsense had to recall in many Americans, that old notion that the enemy was so vicious and so evil, that they literally did not love like we do.

To this day I wonder if Chuck Grassley, a Republican Senator with a good reputation as a diligent legislator and decent man, has trouble sleeping over his use of that garbage in town hall meetings. But the hysteria ran deep last summer; it ran deep because good and decent conservative citizens didn’t read the bill, and Republicans in the House didn’t mention that the clause at the heart of the controversy was already included in legislation that had passed into law. Legislation that was written by the Republican House and signed into law by a Republican President. The Liberal Mainstream Media didn’t say much either….

All of which brings me back to the point….the Liberal Mainstream Media. The Elite. New York and Hollywood. You pick the title folks. CBS, NBC, and ABC are all large, publicly traded, multi-divisional enterprises. All employ exceptionally high-priced talent both in front of, and behind the camera. All are owned by exceptionally wealthy people who have made a killing in our capitalist democracy. All are competitors who rarely (if ever) cooperate on anything.

But we the people are led to believe; we the people have swallowed the bait; we the people have paid to listen to the notion that these companies are aligned in a conspiracy to deliver the United States into the jaws of a Communist or Socialist regime. Friends, this is quite literally the single most ridiculous proposition ever proffered in United States politics. Those of us who are children of the Cold War, who grew up under Reagan, we remember the prosperity of the Soviet Union….RIGHT! When evaluating a conspiracy theory, first ask what the players in the game have to gain……what do the officers, anchors, producers, and principal shareholders of any of those corporations have to gain by turning our nation into a Socialist republic?

Companies conspire to do all sorts of things…the health insurance companies of America spent almost one half of one BILLION dollars last year trying to defeat a law attempting to do something about the single most screwed up market in our country. Conspiracies happen…but I don’t see the gain in this one. What does G.E. (Ronald Reagan’s great corporate champion) or Disney have to gain with the election of a black Muslim trying to destroy the economy? (If you believe it, I have to ask it…) By the way…don’t say “power” friends…they already have plenty of that.

The traditional network news organizations focused on people; jobs, education, local crime, local air quality, local scams. All of these items have something in common; when the jobs dry up, or dog food from China is poisoned, or your neighbors have turned their house into a chicken farm…we all say “something needs to be done about this”. None of us are hoping that a benevolent marketplace, unencumbered by federal rules, is going to come down from the mountain top and deliver us from the stench caused by the factory downwind.

When we the people want something done, we go to the folks we sent to our democracy to represent us…we tell them to do something. This friends, is liberalism, the notion that we formed a government to protect our basic rights from the interference of other individuals, foreign powers, and other domestic entities (read, corporations).This is what was reported on by the big media outlets for years before we were all sold the lie that the Dow Jones is an important measure of our economy. To be sure, there are degrees of involvement that are appropriate for every enterprise…the battle over what degree is evident in the traditional roles of traditional Democrats and Republicans.

What reckless branding, melodramatic pseudo-reporting, and opinion journalism has created, is a fixed ideological division in our nation that does not exist in nature. I really believe that most Americans are true independents. True libertarians aside, rank and file Republicans and Democrats tend to exist very near one another in terms of how they read the challenges facing our nation. Last spring, most folks within both parties knew that there were major problems in our health care marketplace, and wanted the government to do something. They said as much in poll after poll..until the branding war started. We will be faced with this problem in every issue that comes before the Congress of our nation, or the legislatures of our states, unless and until we can get control of our news…and the way we read it.

The Rational Middle is human (and therefore biased); please add your voice to the discussion….