03 Feb Your Mediapocalypse
If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. Mark Twain
There is a national news and information disruption that is taking place, and it is unparalleled. If we don’t figure out, as citizen fact-and-opinion consumers, how to access reliable information, our private lives will be negatively impacted, and the Republic could be compromised. Just two recent examples from the Weekly Standard, a publication that makes no bones of its long-standing dislike for the current President, but in its recital of media bias, is factually unassailable:
“CBS News and 60 Minutes had video of Obama the day after Benghazi admitting it could have been a terrorist attack, and sat on it until right before the election while the White House brazenly pushed false narratives. On the domestic side, Obama explicitly promised Americans they could keep their health insurance under Obamacare dozens of times—yet Pulitzer Prize-winning media organizations repeatedly called Obama’s insurance claim ‘true.’” http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-unexpected-dangers-of-media-bias-in-the-trump-era/article/2006479
So, on that point, I am thinking back to a night when I found myself sitting in a well-lighted, big-city conference room, while all the other rooms in the large professional office space were in shadows. The meeting had intentionally been set by the “other side” after hours and at a clandestine location in order to avoid attention, and with good reason. That case, which involved the firing of my client who had been a secretary at a large newspaper, had spattered through the media and had already cost that publication an avalanche of declining subscriptions. The reason for the firing was outrageous: she was pro-life, and the excuse given was that she violated the paper’s ethical guidelines that prohibited staff from publically taking sides in political or social issues. The irony was that she had been fired by a daily newspaper whose publisher had been honored by one of the nation’s most outspoken pro-abortion organizations.
Now, admittedly, the publisher was a well-respected lion in the world of journalism. And in the meeting that night to finally settle the legal claim that I had filed on behalf of my client, it was clear to me, taking the long view of his journalistic career, that the publisher was justified in considering himself a crusading newsman. But in that particular case, something had gone wrong. I would guess that it was the same thing that haunts every one of us when we forget that the same little window that frames a particular view of the outside world can also, if we are not careful, blindside us. The cure is to get the big picture by walking into the sunlight, even if it means being motivated, first, by exposure to the heat of rational criticism.
It’s not clear how, if at all, the media can, or is willing to, adjust to the news and information apocalypse that we are in; or to put it another way, whether they will be open to seeing the light and changing their ways. I have some suggestions below, but one thing I know: just complaining about “media bias,” or the newest rebuttal – allegations, by provocateurs that “fake news” is being generated by those who complain about media bias – does not settle the issue. Almost all newspapers have “ethics” rules about their reporters and staff avoiding ideological conflicts of interest, yet they seem to skew consistently only against staff who associate with pro-life, Christian, or conservative causes. The case mentioned above, was not my only litigation against a newspaper that selectively discriminated in that way.
Further, the data about media’s ideological slant/bias is beyond dispute:
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/media-bias-presidential-election/ (citing study by UCLA political scientist who found that “most of the major media were left of center of the average legislator—even the news pages of the Wall Street Journal were slightly left of the ‘average Democrat.’”)
http://www.journalism.org/2008/10/22/winning-media-campaign/ (Pew Research Center finding Obama’s election news coverage almost twice as favorable as McCain’s and half as negative).
http://www.people-press.org/2004/05/23/iv-values-and-the-press/ (national press self-identifies as 5 times more liberal than conservative)
So, what is the solution? A few years ago I was asked to testify before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the “Future of Media.” At the hearing I was surrounded by the testimony of media elites from NPR and PBS, as we discussed the question on the table: how to improve the world of journalism and media, particularly in light of the disruptive onslaught of the Internet. Suggestions from advocacy groups had already been floated – things like, having the U.S. government superfund NPR and PBS and make them the official “trusted” news source for all Americans; a kind of USA version of Pravda. You can’t make this stuff up. The suggestions in my testimony were less exotic: I told the panel that the press needs to recognize and disclose to the public its own biases. And that it also needed to recognize that the alternative media – and I’m not just talking about FOX – has a credible role to play, including conservative and Christian news, information, and opinion outlets. I shared with the FCC stories about one large Christian TV outlet whose news features were so reliable they were regularly utilized by one of the nation’s larges (and even left-leaning) mainstream networks, and how another Chicago-based Christian television studio had won an Emmy for its documentaries.
But, you might say, all of that assumes that the press is willing to “see the light.” Yes, of course. Which means they may have to first, feel the heat. Cancel your subscriptions. Better yet, send them a letter explaining why you won’t be reading, watching, or listening anymore. Taking the time to write one, calm, articulate letter to even the most cynical traditional news groups can be incredibly impacting. Remember, many of them still believe, like the publisher in my case above, that they are “crusaders” for truth and justice. If nothing else, loss of readership and viewership still hurts. Last, consider financially supporting those non-profit news, information and opinion sources that you find credible and trustworthy. Better to light one candle than curse … well, you know the rest.