Rob Corddry of Comedy Central?s fake news phenom ? The Daily Show ? revealed the effects of sinister ?liberal media filters? on March 23, 2005. The transparent blue film, when placed over the camera, says Corddry, can turn host Jon Stewart?s glowing praise of our current administration into sardonic criticism.
Amusing, but why one laughs at this joke is just as dichotomous as the issue at hand ? is it because it points to a truth or that it points out the absurdity of a liberal media bias claim?
The question of whose interests the media protects ? and how ? has achieved holy-grail-like significance. So is media bias keeping us from getting the whole story? If so, who is at fault?
Is it the liberals who are purported to be running the newsrooms, television and radio stations of this country, duping an unsuspecting public into mistaking their party line for news?
Or is it the conservatives who have identified media bias as a reliably inflammatory rallying cry around which to consolidate their political base as they cynically ?work the refs??
A simple network news hierarchy provides a concrete answer ? anchorman, station manager, producer, NBC News President, and finally the CEO of General Electric Corporation.
Partisan interests on their face are a less likely cause than faceless, financially-centric corporate interests. The fact that most of these corporates are conservative elites make it more likely that the battle call against liberal media is heard, but since their interests are still more corporate than conservative, media content is far more likely to be reliant on advertisers ? who want sensationalized reporting under the constraints of a community standard of decency ? and business elites ? who are far more concerned with area cleanup initiatives than the reason sanitation teamsters are on strike.
Ideological orientation is introduced and enforced by those high in the organizational hierarchy who have the power to hire and fire, reward and punish. Working journalists, despite some high visibility, usually do not call the shots in the nation?s media corporations: The media is not controlled by the likes of Peter Jennings or Dan Rather.
It sounds ominous and it should. The story of NBC?s corporate entanglement is fairly extreme in nature, but it drives the point home:
Jack Welch, the autocratic chairman and CEO of General Electric, was watching the evening news on NBC, the network his company owns. It was October 19, 1987?Black Monday. GE?s stock had been hammered along with the rest of the market. And there was Tom Brokaw, the anchorman whose generous salary was paid for by GE?s shareholders, whipping viewers into a panic.
Welch was incensed. He picked up the phone and got NBC News chief Lawrence Grossman on the line. ?You?re killing all the stocks,? Welch angrily informed him. Replied Grossman: ?This is not an appropriate discussion to be having.?
Then, after objecting in the interest of journalistic ethics, Grossman was then tersely reminded, ?Remember, you work for GE Corporation.?
Within a year, Grossman was removed.
This is a sad but logical chain of events: The norms of ?objective journalism? and the powerful corporate interests which own and sponsor the news media ensure that news content never strays too far, for too long, from protecting the status quo.
The critique of the liberal news media rests on two assumptions?first, journalists? views are to the left of the public and, secondly, that journalists frame news content accordingly.
You don?t understand the corporate ideology of General Motors by studying the personal beliefs of the assembly-line workers, the argument goes. But even if you did, it is unlikely to prove fruitful in the environment of media conglomerates.
To quote David Broder, ?dean? of the Washington press corps, ?There just isn?t enough ideology in the average reporter to fill a thimble.? Besides, many critics are conceding to research showing that journalists are in fact more conservative than the general public, according to the Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) survey.
Media content is far more indicative of media ownership than a liberal bias. And while media ownership is typically quite conservative, the output is more representative of perpetuating the status quo ? creating a comfortable environment for Pepsi(tm) to advertise ? than of partisan leanings.