Knowledge is rarely neutral, often consciously shaped by these special interests and then unconsciously imbibed from our earliest childhood experiences as cultural “normality.” More ominously, manipulation, misinformation, and deception are inescapably entwined with one’s belief in the “truth.” Propaganda also impacts on the level of public discourse by positively as well as negatively influencing the democratic process. Propaganda is thus common to how image makers influence, how educators teach, how sellers sell, and how elites govern.”
Richard Alan Nelson
Political Media Bias
Without a doubt, political media bias exists, and has for a very long time. In fact the basis of the prolific media in the early development of the nation was simply as a voice for the varied political ideologies to demonstrate their points of contention with opposing views. As is pointed out by a leading expert of media and propaganda, in Philadelphia in 1800 there are 81 printers, many if not most of who sponsor, write and distribute their own politically charged newspapers and pamphlets and by 1810 Philadelphia has 168 printers. The reality of this situation was clear, and the reading public chose based upon their particular affiliation and often had the wherewithal to develop a sense of the other side’s arguments so as to be able to function in political conversations and life. The problem today with regard to political media bias is that the factions therein claim subjectivity. It will also be seen in the following subsection that the main media outlets have been whittled down to a relatively small set of giants, who all have their own identity, ideology, agenda and bias but do not provide the stark competition that was seen in the early days of media.
Examples of political media bias run the gamut of political operatives, yet in a basic two party democratic system, this is limited to each party and the extremes that populate the wings. Political media bias has been whittled down in the same manner as the number printers in Philadelphia and of the number of viable political parties has, to a basic two party system where it is unlikely that a start-up or “fringe” party can have any real impact upon the character of the system or the process, and especially if they get very little airtime, on any but the most radical of outlets.
Examples of Political Media Bias
Utilizing one of the most extreme examples of political confusion that has occurred in the recent past as an example the 2000, Gore Bush campaigns and subsequent election Jamieson & Waldman provide a comprehensive play by play of network media coverage, in comparison and point out the number of times each newscaster uses analysis as an aspect of media coverage something the authors view as an evolution of media that goes beyond fact to opinion.
Jamieson & Waldman point out perception in the Gore Bush debacle of 2000, when the media played a significant role in the development of Florida’s defacing with regard to election technology;
Unsurprisingly, people’s own political predispositions affected whether they found the media suspect. When we asked if they found the coverage of the uncertainty over the election outcome biased, Republicans were evenly split between those who said there was a bias for Gore (46.2%) and those who found no bias (45.7%), with almost none seeing bias in favor of Bush. Most Democrats, on the other hand (65%), found no bias in coverage of the election results, but those who did find bias were, like their Republican counterparts, disposed to see it favoring the other party’s candidate. A similar number of independents (61%) saw no bias, while those who did were evenly split on whether it favored Gore or Bush.
Another fascinating example offered by Jamison and Waldman is the demonstrative manner in which the press covered for the early post attack hours (on 9/11) of the Bush administration, when he basically disappeared for many hours and his administration covered for him.
Had such an act occurred in a political campaign, headlines would have reported the deception. Instead, the facts were largely buried. The country needed to believe in a decisive, commanding president in the anxious days after September 11, and the press was not disposed to feature evidence incompatible with that narrative. People generally assume that the press plays an adversarial role to those in power and is quick to unmask, debunk, and challenge. In fact, reporters play this role selectively. If they assume that the country supports the person telling the story (in this case the president) and opposing narratives are not being offered by competing players, the tendency to challenge is dramatically curtailed.
All of theses actions on the part of the press, good intentions or not skew the information regarding the war, and any other conflict associated with it, to the point where be it for the good of the nation or not we have a skewed sense of trust in a president who may have made all the wrong decisions at all the wrong times.
Glossy Perspective of Complicated World
Media provides glossy inaccurate perspective of complicated world, making it less comprehensible to those attempting to make sense of it all. Through the media, regardless of the slant one is witnessing on the given network or program, there is sense that the world should be viewed in simplistic black and white, fit between the commercials kind of way. The depiction of the end of the Iraq war, occurring with the overthrow of Saddam in Spring 2003, is a perfect example. The press is not only aware of its particular bias, it will be shown in later segments of the work that more conservative agendas have more recently, through corporate agenda attempted to balance the liberal (historical slant of the media) with the more conservative views (hence, the Fox Network response to the historical liberal bias.) the situation of being at war significantly effects this coverage as it allows the conservative pundits, including in many ways the actual commentators themselves to bring patriotic and over simplified resolutions to the people with regard to the stress of keeping the nation safe, or at least free from the fear of danger.
Of course, just because reporters and editors say they are Democrats, vote for Democrats, and say they are liberal does not mean that they cannot engage in neutral reportorial practices. However, admissions coming from the press corps itself show remarkable candor about willingness to engage in partisan politics as reportorial practice. Take, for example, former CBS News correspondent Bernard Goldberg in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in 1996: “There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I’m more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don’t trust us. And for good reason. The old argument that the networks and other ‘media elites’ have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it’s hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don’t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters.” Evan Thomas, Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief from 1986 to 1996, plainly stated, “There is a liberal bias. it’s demonstrable. You look at some statistics. About 85% of the reporters who cover the White House vote Democratic, they have for a long time. There is a, particularly at the networks, at the lower levels, among the editors and the so-called infrastructure, there is a liberal bias. There is a liberal bias at Newsweek, the magazine I work for.” Perhaps most convincing is this statement by legendary anchor Walter Cronkite: “Everybody knows that there’s a liberal, that there’s a heavy liberal persuasion among correspondents.”
The coverage of the Iraq was is in many ways a pinnacle of the historical allowance of bias in reporting regarding wartime coverage. The U.S. became active in the war for reasons given by the political powerful at the time, and the press was remarkably unwilling to challenge these reasons, almost till today. One of the arguments of three journalism researchers is that the press tends to follow the lead of those in charge and that in the case of the Iraq war, the “end” came long before the end, which we have yet to see, when the Saddam statue was destroyed in Firdos Square on April 9, 2003. The researchers argue that the sensationalism of the patriotic removal of the statue from the square marked the near complete end of the war in press coverage, which has seriously skewed the public’s opinion of the war since. The public is not reminded daily, as it was in the past of the fact that grievous and almost constant violence is still taking place in Iraq, though it is slowing and that the U.S. is still very much engaged in a war, regardless of its “political” winning of said war. As McChesney points out the mark of a healthy society is full informed consent, especially with regard to the knowledge of the reasons and intentions that an individual nation might enter into armed combat with another foreign body. The spin that often surrounds war, is fundamentally damaging even if it is intended as damage control for the nation as a whole, or at the very least the leaders of the nation.
It has been hinted at within this work that the old adage, the public does not necessarily believe what it hears, but it hears what it believes is at play when it comes to media. As Jamieson & Waldman pointed out by their poll results, of the Gore Bush election, post media bias survey, there is a clear sense that the public sees the opposing view as the one that is most stark in their utilization of biased reporting.
Additionally, Bernard Goldberg’s op ed piece regarding the reduced viewer-ship of network news clearly states that even the commentators seem to be painfully aware that the public no longer trusts the mainstream media to offer a fair unbiased accounting of the facts.
Contrary to the idea that people do not seem to believe everything they watch, is the idea of cultivation theory, which, states that subconsciously the television culture has been whitewashed or collectively reduced to the greatest common denominators that exist or are perceived to exist in culture. Without even knowing it, diversity has been weeded out of a presumably diverse culture by the fact that media seeks to demonstrate the greatest “good” for the greatest number of people. Programming and coverage tend to build upon the ideas that we already have, including as will be noted later stressing the fact that there is a “majority” ideology in American culture that the for profit media clearly builds upon to gain and keep viewers. Those who do not trust the media may seek to find alternative forms of media that speak to ideas that are more in line with contrarian concept than a moderate in the middle representation of the facts, yet each is exposed based upon the fact that for the most part the stuff that gets produced (i.e. paid for) is the status quo. Fox, Wall Street, Drudge, NPR, Pacifica, CBS, etc. all have a particular biases that is more or less believed by its viewers based on his or her already held beliefs, which are undoubtedly influenced by what came before. This brings us to a point which has briefly been touched upon in their work previously, and that is the idea of media corporate bias.
Corporate Media Bias
As was pointed out early in this work, (Chapter 1) newspapers and other media outlets learned rather quickly that they could not survive without sponsorship, as readers could not pay the bills if the newspapers expected to have any kind of mass readership. The same can be said of television as even the last of the “free” public providers of television has recently fallen to advertising media, as can be seen if one notes that PBS now has commercials. It should be noted that the acceptance of commercial and corporate sponsorship on the part of PBS and NPR has more to do with political funding issues than anything else, as the conservative federal government has to some degree attempted to wage a war on one of the last, “purely liberal” holdouts in media, the public broadcasting system.
The past decade has shown and increase in the trend toward consolidation of media. The trend crosses genres and borders and is largely a response to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was described in detail in Chapter 1. The conglomeration of corporate interests from a varied set of competitors in size and region to what is commonly now termed as the “big 6” with a few small stragglers waiting no doubt to be swallowed up by larger corporate interests.
A in 1983, fifty corporations dominated most of the mass media in this country (Bagdikian 1997, xlvi). But today a mere handful of firms dominate our mass media (Bagdikian 2000, xii). The Big Six, as they should be called, include AOL-Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, NewsCorp, Bertelsmann, and General Electric (Bagdikian x). (1) in the largest of all recent media mergers, AOL Time Warner combined AOL’s 100 million internet sub-scribers with Time Warner’s 75 million cable subscribers. AOL Time Warner is also a dominant player in cable programming, magazine publishing, movie production, book publishing, music recording, and other related ventures (McChesney, 92-93; Bagdikian, xi). Each of the other five media giants has substantial market power in most of these same areas (McChesney, 93 ff.). Moreover, the Big Six are intertwined due to ownership of stock in their fellow media empires, joint ventures, and other interlocking devices (cf. Rifkin 2000; Bagdikian; Croteau and Hoynes 2001). To quote TCI chairman John Malone, “nobody can really afford to get mad with their competitors, because they are partners in one area and competitors in another” (quoted in Rifkin 2000, 221). The firms compete vigorously in only one area, the battle for the largest share of advertising revenues (Bagdikian 2000, xxii).
As advertising revenues are the most dominant critical goal of each of these media giants the competition is not divided to outdo each other with thought provoking media representation of unbiased reporting or representational drama, they are in the war to gain the greatest number of viewers so they might be more able to bring in the greatest number of ad revenue dollars.
The traditional take then becomes what sells is what makes it to air, including but not limited to the goriest of gore, when it comes to television news. This is a message that is clearly illuminated by Fallows in his work Breaking the News, where he points out that U.S. media coverage is likely to give the rest of the world the impression that what is going on over here is one big drive by shooting, and that major media networks spend less than 6 minutes a day covering news outside the U.S. The argument that is brought forth by Chomsky & Herman in Manufacturing Consent, demonstrates that there are two basic target for propagandists, politics and class, and those who are in the middle and constitute the greatest numbers are the ones the mass media is trying to sway, to leverage their add dollars. Chomsky & Herman point out that the media is now populated by a limited number of elite members who set agendas through selecting topics, distributing information and concerns that meet the concerns of the elite members of society, the white majority and smaller media, such as local television then fall in line with this agenda, as a way to express the same need to compete for ad dollars.
Commit to a close with this discussion is something than cannot be left out, and is certainly not the least of the worries of the situation. Part of the competitive drive that si associated with the big media giants war for ad dollars is that the large corporations are also publicly traded and have a fiscal obligation to make their shareholders and their stakeholders as much money as they possibly can, thanks in part to the Telecommunications Act.
This eliminates risk as an option. Media then become a washed out representation of the status quo, with the large elite’s making the biggest decisions based largely on what they know works. As a television viewer this makes me wonder if the current trend for massive amounts of remade programming, in conjunction with the huge piece of the pie emphasis on reality television is in fact entirely guided by corporate interests in making sure that risk taking is kept to a minimum and profit to a maximum. Wes Gehring, suspected in 1997, that media had run out of imagination.
Yet the theory that massive media companies reducing risk through strategic management and programming choice is likely just as much a cause as imaginative opportunity, which seems to be unbound in the American experience, but often goes under the radar and underrepresented for long periods, and especially during conservative administrations. Though this line of reasoning is an aside it also bridges the gap between the ideal and the real when it comes to media representation. Ideological biases are clearly at play in the development of programming and information dissemination of all kinds in mass media.
Ideological Media Bias
The collaborative agenda, which can easily be summarized as the ad dollar war, has conspired to stress to the American population that it is not diverse, as is preached but homogenous. Patriotic in times of conflict, even when the conflict is wrong, the conservative media gives us the impression that it is our duty as Americans, once the fighting has begun, to simply shut up and wave a flag. While the equally biased liberal media gives us the impression that none of the intelligence regarding Iraq had any merit whatsoever and that this war was not only wrong it was deliberately and conspiratorially wrong.
Films and television programs featuring minorities exist, but are often riddled with stereotyped foundations that build on myths about criminality and social disorder. Within this phenomena there if the concept of racial disparity, generating untold social ills, that one expert believes could be answered with racial auditing, where challenges are made against the system to redistribute representation.
An interesting fact that is brought to mind is that associated with racial disparity in prisons. And the fact that if Cultivation theory holds true:
That is that only repetitive, long-range, and consistent exposure to patterns common to most programming, such as casting, social typing, and the “fate” of different social types, can be expected to cultivate stable and widely shared images of life and society.
Then the reason we are building more prisons than ever before and incarcerating racial minorities at alarming rates could be an aspect of self-fulfilling prophecy, based on media biases and stereotypes.
Our society now spends more to detain, punish and incarcerate criminals than it does to educate its citizens. Furthermore, the United States has the highest proportion of its population incarcerated of any country in the world; at the same time, an African-American male in the U.S. is four times more likely to be incarcerated than a Black man in South Africa.
So the biases that are prevalent in the media that determines our real visible ideas of life and society include those that propagate stereotypes that create increased fear and illogical bias toward minorities. The media catering to the mainstream (i.e. white), has in fact damaged the foundational perception of diversity and tolerance that it has been espousing for centuries, as an aspect of Americanism and democracy itself, and all this just in an attempt to make sure that the shareholders remain satisfied and invested a the close of the fiscal year and to ensure that the political and corporate bias is met with demonstrative results.. The types of solutions that have been proposed for these problems are as wide and broad as the problems themselves. Probably one of the most logical and organic of solutions to the strategic challenges of media bias is the development of a free press that dominates the internet.
Though information may not always be entirely accurate, and it can be easily altered, there is a sense of breaking with the trend of mass media online and it is also clear that Generation X is more frequently getting news from the internet than from more traditional sources. The value of the changing demographic is that apparently when a viewing public begins to mistrust its news and information sources it simply attempts to seek the information elsewhere, though it must also be said that the media giants also have their hands in the internet cookie jar it is as of yet, less controlled and regulated based on content than most other forms of media.
In an attempt to synthesize the thesis of this work, restated below this work will move forward to discuss, the three main types of media bias, advertiser influence, corporate censorship and sensationalism. Each of the subsequent subsections of the work clearly illuminate why it is that each is a problem, in a democratic society. In the case of advertiser influence, the assumptions of advertising are often contrary to what Is actually right for the Individual and society. In the case of corporate censorship, it Is clear that political agendas are the dominant ideas that fault media but the problem of the dominant demographic representation Is also a serious social Issue. Lastly, the dangers of sensationalism will be discussed in context of policy change with has emitted almost in a direct line from it and done unknown harm to the American culture and society.
One of the most disturbing examples that I found, regarding the issue of advertiser influence had to do with some elemental issues that seriously effect the most vulnerable of populations, children. The work detailed below demonstrated that advertiser bias can be so extreme as to alter perceptual understandings, that are clearly accepted as health truths in our society. We as a culture are clearly aware than smoking is directly indicated as a risk factor for cancer and many other health problems and we seek to teach our children this truth, yet some advertisers would rather disguise this truth for their own gains.
In one of the few studies of advertiser influence on media accounts of science, researchers found differences in the way the stories about smoking and cancer were reported in the Weekly Reader, a grade school newsweekly owned by a unit of the largest shareholder in a tobacco company, and the Scholastic News, its independently owned competitor. Weekly Reader stories were more likely than Scholastic News stories to give tobacco industry sources the same weight as nonindustry scientists (Balbach & Glanz, 1995). As a result, the Weekly Reader was more likely than Scholastic News to create the impression of uncertainty about claimed links between smoking and cancer.
The above research study was not conducted in 1957, or even 1972 it was conducted in 1995, with comparisons for current children’s magazines. Unlike the message below, which demonstrates that influence can be extreme, but it is more often subtle.
The crudest form of advertiser influence on media content has been the subornation of what purports to be honest and disinterested news reporting to serve a private interest. Occasionally one comes across cases of out and out corruption: The Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo paid the Mutual Broadcasting radio network $750,000 in 1959 and sent $2,000 a month to Hearst’s International News Service. Newspapers in debt to the Teamsters gave favorable coverage to Jimmy Hoffa. Most cases of venality are less open and shut.
The subtlest forms of advertiser influence on content are very clear with regard to countless endorsements that are found in popular media. Presently and historically advertisers are well paid to learn how to manipulate and persuade media to endorse and promote one product over another, in many more ways than simply as a result of the direct ad payment. One possible resolution to this would be to return to the trend of restricting advertising in popular media in time, volume level and content depending on programming and time of day. Enforcement of historical laws would be a significant improvement to the current state, as truth in advertising as well as other issues such as time of day, and illicit ad products airing mid day and during prime time. Though I am not an advocate of censorship, censoring ad content seems a viable solution to resolve the bias. Bolstering public funding of “public” broadcasting would likely also reduce dependence of individuals on media that is driven by commercialism.
One wise expert expressed the idea that the founding fathers and framer of the First Amendment were not likely to have foreseen the corporate media domination of today, when they decided that freedom of speech is absolutely essential for all.
The big-corporate domination of the media is a mortal threat to democracy Without a freely and robustly informed people, democracy is an illusion. Day and night the few men at the top of the giant media corporations control what the people are invited to think about- and more important, what they are not invited to think about. Corporate censorship and self-censorship happen. Around the world, too, the means for the mass dissemination of expression are being gobbled up by media-wielding conglomerates. A few media barons are acquiring what may already be, or on present trends will certainly become, the control of mainstream discourse and expression among most of the people of the world. There’s never been anything like it.
Resolving the current issues surrounding corporate media, as an outgrowth of legislative manipulation should probably be on the minds of many future and current legislators. In an attempt to create “free” trade in media has become a conglomeration of interconnected massive organizations. Corporation dominate the structure and have become the core of what is now termed, affectionately and appropriately “mass media.”
There is a clear sense that the media is biased by dependency on funding for favor as well as the retention of favor of high political officials. One example can be seen in the media scandal that ended Tom Brokaw’s long career at CBS. He reported a situation he believed to be accurate and was burned at the stake for doing so. The media is not exempt from the pressures of the larger debates in society, such as the liberal vs. conservative debates, and in fact they are often at the center of such debates as a manner of coarse, because they are discussing the very left and right of many issues in context. As individuals seem to have a desire to seek out information that affirms their core standards, right or wrong, the “balance” of many of these debates is frequently questioned by those who seek such balance. Those who seek balance are then left to deciding who they will trust and who they will look to for information.
Without a doubt the greatest risk to the creation of social damage is the sensationalism that is pervasive in the media. With an emphasis on the very worst and more extreme of social situations the idea that individuals have of society becomes skewed. Just as in law enforcement the individual officers and enforcers have a skewed selection of people to view, the look for and see the flaws in people and then seek to explain this by assuming that most people are law breaking, while in reality the opposite is true.
Sensationalism in journalism has been discussed with much fervor over the past decade. Carl Bernstein characterizes one pole of this public debate when he refers to sensational journalism as public discourse turned into a kind of news “sewer” which is perpetuating an “idiot culture” (Bernstein, 1992, pp. 22, 28). At the heart of this outrage are three popular concerns about sensational journalism: It violates notions of social decency; it displaces socially significant stories; and it is seen as a new-sprung drift into excessiveness.
Sensational journalism is driven by the most base of human characteristics, the desire to see a life that is worse than one’s own. A crisis of conscience is then created when sensationalism is the only explanation of what is and what, is not news. The saddest aspect of this transition to sensationalism is what it has done to society, in the sense that society is in the midst of a crisis of conscience, believing that it is at its core flawed and dangerous. People spend less time outside, with others and are much less likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger than ever before. Children seem isolated by parental fear all of which contributes to further health and social deterioration, rather than development. Yet, one of the most striking correlations between aspects of that drive for sensational media is the alteration that the change in social concepts has created in real social and public policy.
The timing of this rebirth of crime sensationalism “it is not a new phenomenon” could not have been worse. The over-the-top coverage coincided precisely with an era in which Congress and legislatures across the country were making costly and misguided crime policy decisions. Often, the politicians-based important policy decisions upon sensational crimes that clearly were ghastly aberrations, not trends. The United States will be paying for these decisions well into the next century, and the media must bear part of the blame. As journalists chased irrelevant, misleading, or trivial crime news, more important stories about crime and criminal justice policy were subjugated, vanquished. Collectively, journalists were scooped on the biggest crime story of the last quarter of this century by neglecting to adequately inform a puzzled public that our system of law enforcement and punishment, cobbled together with razor wire and prison bars, has been an expensive folly. As important, they neglected to hold policy makers and politicians accountable for their kindergarten criminology. This is not to say that reporters deserve particular blame “least of all the underpaid, overworked, often young reporters on the police and courts beats. Most of the time they simply follow the orders and directives of their bosses. No, the blame must be spread throughout the media institution, from the moguls, stockholders, owners, and publishers down through the editors, reporters, and photographers.
During the 1990s, while crime was declining steeply in the United States, the media presented an image of a crime bogeyman, a menace growing ever more malignant. Not coincidentally, during this same period the country was stricken by a moral panic, as sociologists call it, about crime. The nation galvanized against this menace because it aroused the basic instinct to keep one’s family safe. Whether the hysteria was based upon fact or myth became irrelevant; the politicians wanted expedient answers, not information. Police officers were rushed from one crisis to the next -crack cocaine or methamphetamines, the proliferation of handguns, gangs, career felons, carjackings, the ascending murder rate, youth violence. School programs, social policies, and societal values failed, so the problems landed in the law enforcement in-box. Police, judges, and prison wardens became toy soldiers in a war on crime fought by venal politicians who rattled plastic sabers and recited hollow platitudes and slogans: TAKE BACK the STREETS, STOP the VIOLENCE, JUST SAY NO, THREE STRIKES and YOU’RE OUT. The media covered this war in caricature, helping to perpetrate the myths. First, they provided crime-anxious Americans with excited accounts of a horrible crime — the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of a young girl, for example. Next, they presented tenuous evidence that the crime, however anomalous, could happen to each of us. Third, they sought out an accountable individual “a judge, a probation officer” and devised a snappy slogan to neatly package the problem: junk justice. Finally, the media served up images of scowling politicians and their podium thumping about the latest
Within this extreme message of social depravity it would seem that some people would see a lesson of the past, or even perceive the importance of seeing its own culture from an outside perspective. If all we portray to the rest of the world is our criminality, even when crime rates are declining, how will we be seen, now or in the future as a model society? Of course this is a rhetorical question with a rather stark answer. The solution to this problem would be again to stress to the media animal the nature of the damage than has been done to policy, stress tot the individual that tough on crime does not necessarily translate to good for the culture. The concept of security is so essential to the human character that the complete eradication of the natural tendency to believe one is safe, most of the time, can completely undermine the individual identity and force the individual too seek to reestablish the idea of security by doing just what we have done, isolate ourselves from each other to such a degree that we don’t necessarily even know how to interact with each other anymore and crime may very well increase as a result, as individuals loose relatable empathy for one another. Balanced reporting must be an essential aspect of media, violence in drama needs to be appropriate rather than unjustified and random.
Some solutions have been briefly discussed above, and yet they are broad and sweeping. Change must come from within as most media is to a large degree self-regulated. Media must be returned to its natural state of competition and censorship and bias must be weeded out. Outcries about content scandals, such as what occurred with Brokaw and CBS should create an outcry so loud that the Industry does not have the opportunity to unfairly censure and force the retirement of anyone. Unbiased reporting should be demonstrated in all forms of media, or the trend will continue that demonstrates the loss of viewer-ship and readership, across the gamut of the media.
A…social-structural constraint accounting for critical criminology’s impotence in affecting public policy is its access to the media. In fact, the Left as a whole has little access. Recent publications by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) have taken on media corporations for their unfair and biased news reporting, the types of guests used on various news shows, their reproduction of dominant ideologies, and the consistent absence of spokespersons who are not part of the conservative elite that currently dominates U.S. government and business. FAIR accuses the corporate media of ensuring, rather than combating, a consistent bias favoring the status quo. For example, FAIR’s recent investigation of ABC television’s “Nightline” concluded that a narrow range of “guest authorities” appears on the show. These “authorities” ultimately define what is important in the news and present an agenda for how best to understand and confront the world’s current problems, including such sexy topics as crime. The study of 74 “Nightline” programs, in which only one guest was featured, revealed that 91% of the guests were men and 66% were current or former government and military officials. Apart from Jesse Jackson, none of the guests represented dissident, progressive, or labor groups. Furthermore, the most frequently appearing guests were former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, hardly critical spokesmen (Glasser, 1990).
The importance and understanding of this dilemma facing our society with ignorance and misinformation is one of the major steps towards realizing and fixing the situation. Generating solutions will likely take time, but those who argue for policy change that better reflects reality rather than biased media will likely not stop until some change is made. Inroads are already evident from the public’s public mistrust of media and blanket rejection of it for alternative information source.
Media is the most logical and pervasive actor in the development of social reality. It shapes what we aspire to and what we settle for. The individual becomes important in the media when social reality becomes the expression of their entire concept of self and society, and as individuals become more dependant on outside rather than intrinsic exposure to social situations it may even increase in importance. The academic and social world idealizes aspects of the media as fair and unbiased, though they clearly are not. Yet, regardless of this the social reality is still messaged in media. Individuals have a much broader available pool of information to choose from that ever before in history. The responsibility of contemporary media then becomes even greater than ever before, as exponentially as the growth of information. The media shapes our perception of social reality to such a degree that in many culture’s it is the only representation we have, outside our often very limited social context. Trusting the media may be seen as a dangerous assumption by many, but it is still one of the only options we as consumers of it have for information. New forms of electronic media offer the availability of alternative media information, but as of yet it takes a great deal of time to source out information and assimilate it in a completely balanced manner, though it is attempted by some who have the time and energy to do so.
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