If media bias is all about the way stories are reported, we might use the term media imbalance to describe another way media bias shows itself. This refers to the media’s choices of which stories to cover – and which to completely ignore.
Media imbalance has rarely been so blatant as we’ve seen with its treatment of the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal – the insane scheme of the Obama administration to let guns get into the hands of Mexican drug lords, only to see these same weapons used in a wide range of violent crimes, including the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
For Americans who get their news from the three major broadcast networks, there’s a good chance they know nothing about the scandal at all. When Congress had initial hearings in February with Attorney General Eric Holder, ABC and NBC ignored the story entirely, according to the Media Research Center.
To her credit, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson was the exception to the rule – reporting extensively on the story and earning an award from a conservative organization, which CBS refused to let her accept. But by June, when Holder’s stonewalling of Congress became so severe that he was held in contempt, ABC and CBS both ignored the story, while NBC covered it for the first time. But as MRC notes, NBC treated the story as if it were nothing more than a political bar fight, with anchor Brian Williams making this astounding statement:
“Washington has blown up into a caustic partisan fight. … And for those not following the complexities of all of it, it just looks like more of our broken politics and vicious fights now out in the open.”
Those “not following the complexities” would include almost all of the legacy media, as well as anyone who relies on them to get their news. And there is a long history of this. If you think back to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, it was widely known that Newsweek had the story first but chose to kill it. Only when the Drudge Report ran it did the legacy media reluctantly follow suit.
This kind of media imbalance results less from a concerted conspiracy than simply from the thinking of those who make the editorial decisions. We’ve seen many studies that show more than 80 percent of mainstream journalists vote for Democrats. They claim this is irrelevant because they leave their personal opinions out of their reporting.
But that’s not true. Part of their job is to decide which stories to cover. When they look at a story like “Fast and Furious,” they don’t see important news. They see some nonsense that has a bunch of right-wingers frothing at the mouth. If mainstream newsrooms had more ideological balance – on the reporting staffs, among editors, etc. – you would get a more balanced discussion of the news value of certain stories. As it is, the rare conservative who works in these newsrooms is made to feel like an outlier, as if they are the ones guilty of using their journalism platform to advance an agenda.
This isn’t even controversial anymore. When asked about the appropriateness of attending a Democratic Party fundraiser recently, CBS News President Les Moonves said everyone knows partisanship is now part of news coverage.
Hey, why even pretend? It’s obvious to everyone. Is it any wonder so many journalists with conservative leanings gravitate toward Fox News Channel – the one place where they won’t be treated like a pariah?
The good news, however, is that the days are over when the dinosaur media could effectively squelch a story by ignoring it. Back in the days when all national news was disseminated by ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press, those six outlets could make a story disappear by choosing to ignore it. And they didn’t even have to conspire to do so. Their own natural biases would guarantee most stories that looked really bad for Democrats would never see the light of day.
Today, between Fox News Channel, talk radio, leading conservative blogs and now the new CainTV.com Internet network, stories like “Fast and Furious” – or the worst aspects of Obamacare, for example – have outlets to see the light of day. And because news can spread so quickly today via social media, these stories can be seen by a lot more people than just the direct audiences of these outlets.
So even if media imbalance, as practiced by the dinosaurs, results in ignoring a story, the story can still become known.
A problem, though, is low-information voters who often play a major role in deciding elections. These are the 20 percent in the middle of the electorate who don’t lean strongly toward one party or the other and still rely largely on traditional media to get their news. If these folks knew the real nature of “Fast and Furious,” or the real costs of Obamacare, or the true nature of our economic and fiscal situations, they would likely vote to send Obama packing in massive numbers.
But they won’t know any of that if they rely solely on the old-guard broadcast networks and print outlets. Media imbalance will see to it. That’s why organizations that can expose this information to the public must do so. News organizations that cover up stories that matter are no news organizations at all.