Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fair and Balanced?

It's Spin and Trust week at P and P.

Had some fun yesterday with political spin and why folks tend not to trust politicians.

Wanna look today at why people seem to trust the traditional media even less, and tomorrow at why we seem so willing to trust the emerging "underground" media.

Talked with a younger friend last week who is as ‘progressive’ as they come, and I would say as ‘fair’ as they come too. We were talking about something in the news and she finished up her comment by saying, “But of course, if it’s in the media who knows whether you can take it seriously.”

I was a little taken aback because I usually expect to hear that kind of thing from conservative folks whose hostility to the media is as old as the hills.

But I’ve come to recognize that this deeper distrust of the traditional media is a whole lot wider and less strictly ideological than it used to be.

In general, I think the traditional media does a pretty decent job most of the time. It’s not clear to me that ideology deeply colors what’s on offer (with some funny exceptions like Fox News) or that the traditional media is ‘too skeptical.' If anything, my more recent critique is that the traditional media wasn’t aggressive enough in challenging the kind of egregious political spin we’ve been exposed to during the last 6 years.

I understand that the traditional media news outlets are increasingly controlled by a few small companies and rich guys, and that a lot of it is sensationalism and entertainment in order to make money instead of real journalism. And I know that some people think the traditional media is grossly ideologically biased while other post mod types think the whole idea of big media news outlets who 'evenhandedly' report and interpret the news for a wider audience is basically impossible. And there's no doubt that folks right now are savvier about the ways that information and images can be packaged to spin effectively. So I get a lot of the scepticism.

Yet I wonder if we’re on pretty dangerous ground by continuing to fuel the idea that large and professional media outlets simply can’t be trusted.

In my mind that contributes to a breakdown of public dialogue across ideology and subgroups. When everybody only listens to their own ‘in house’ information sources it makes democratic dialogue almost impossible. Seems like we're starving for real dialogue and discussion right now. Can that be achieved unless there are some professional news sources that most fair-minded folks deem acceptably 'authoritative' and 'trustworthy?'

And I wonder if the current hostility toward the traditional media plays right into the hands of political power which always wants to discredit the media because of its potential watchdog role. Maybe that's part of the reason our current governing yahoos have gotten away with so much. Ironically, conservatives, who supposedly want to limit the power of government, may actually contribute to excessive government power by constantly harping on the media.


Anonymous Jon said...

I find "the media is biased" and "the media can't be trusted" to be two very different statements. Even as someone who sees heavy-handed bias in major media on regular intervals (because I mostly get my news from and and hears about it regularly from other outlets (things I hear about msnbc and fox news), I still trust the media. I think that they can exhibit strong bias in what they report and how they report it. But I don't think that they're going to feed me lies.

11:28 PM  
Blogger ruth said...

I think you've brought up a very important point about postmodernism. (Didn't you have a post a while ago about the odd postmodern tendencies of the religious right?)

(I use that word, but I still really don't understand it. But anyway...)

I know quite a few people who get the "real" news either from WORLD or Mother Jones. I agree, this is disturbing. Those types of media basically vilify the other side without even pretending to be objective. In the case of WORLD, it's a very postmodern justification: all the news is biased anyway, so why not pick the bias that fits with your beliefs?

and yes, these trends definitely benefit those in power... that's something that merits more exploration.

11:20 AM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

I'm in hopes that the tech generation gets the news from many sources and that they, as I wouldnt trust or believe in 1 or 2 sources. It is easy to gather info now from many sources so why not take in all sides then come to your own conclusion regarding its relevance to your life. If I'm interested in a story I'll check many sources. Problem is most of it is not news.........its personal and political opinions, its photo ops and setups etc..... give me the AP or Reuters etc

11:46 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Great comments everybody.

I like your distinction, Jon, between believing the media is biased and believing it can basically be trusted. That's pretty much the way I function--I actually watch Fox from time to time and though it's very biased they do some good work from time to time. Most of us are probably more sophisticated in our takes on the media than we give ourselves credit for. But I think way too many folks do conclude the media can't be trusted because they pick up various biases.

Yeah, Ruth, I see a ton of that 'pick you bias' cuz its all biased anyway attitude among younger folks. And I think its part of postmodernism. I'm going to talk about blogs and 'non-traditional' media in my next post, but even there, the best bloggers often make no attempt to be fair or encourage real discussion. The attitude seems to be, 'expose your own biases as much as you can to be authentic and then let people figure it out by reading people with opposing biases.' I agree with some of that, but some folks have got to try to model a more integrative and balanced approach.

Good point about most of the stuff not being news, 3. I'll touch on that in my next post about the underground media, which I think is almost entirely 'not news.'

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

p.s. - on the idea of media bias, what do you think of cnn showing terrorist propaganda films as news footage?

12:41 AM  

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