The self serving self service of self servers…,

27 03 2008

…or, can a reporter report on reporters reporting?

It should go without saying, reporters try to accurately portray the news in an unbiased and all aboveboard, all encompassing, viewpoint. Covering news from a vantage point un-obscured by personal views on issues. And most all of them will tell you they do. But, to be honest, they can’t really say that. Your asking the impossible.

To view the reporter, or “journalist” as they tend to liked to be called (even if they’ve never kept a journal in their lives), as someone you can count on to present the news un-encumbered by personal input, is asking someone to forget everything the know, discard everything they discover, tune out all they hear, and just be a parrot. It’s impossible, for in essence, these people are drawn into the profession by a strong sense of valuing the truth. And truth can’t be pushed aside when one attempts to report on the “facts”. How he feels, what he has heard, and what he learns, very much shapes the concept of the truth as he or she sees it. And then he calls it as he sees it. And how he sees it, and how you see it, can be entirely two truths. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Which is the foundation of “Bias”.

Why a liberal bias? Why is there the consent charge of the media being bias against conservatives? Why are most stories angled from the liberal side to show a biased view of things which are ordinary or as they should be, or somehow being manipulated by “conservative” points of view? Why? Easy. Because liberals view the out of the ordinary as ordinary, and the ordinary as subject to change.

Most people that get into the profession are what you might call ‘explorers’. The tend to want to look at things, study them. Not accept things as how they are, or, as they should be. They see change as a fundamental function of all things. Accepting nothing as “as is” but, as it can, or could, be. ‘Should be’, isn’t even in the equation. Liberal itself means open to change. They love the whirlwind of an everchanging environment. And telling about that change is, well, the job. Liberalism is almost a prerequisite for reporters. And, that too, is why most reporters with ‘conservative’ leanings tend to specialize in ‘areas’. Politics, religion, economics, the law. Mostly mainstream formats with straightforward viewpoints.

Conservatives tend to view things as ‘mainstream’ or regular, or ‘extra-ordinary’ or irregular. Different views, other than the traditional, are typically seen as incorrect, or at least suspect. ‘As is’ is considered right until a change, or new, is proven necessary or correct. And to a conservative, it takes more than mass appeal to prove that a new way is the right way.

History is the commodity of the conservative. They hold it close. Savor it. Honor it. Something to bank on. But to a liberal, history is just a tool, or stepping stone, for change. Conservatives view the liberal openness to change as leaving oneself vulnerable to catastrophe. Conservatives trust what they know. Liberals hope for the best. Reporters like to tell a story. What better story than change. With a little hope on the side for good measure. History in the making. Reporters like to think of themselves as writers of history. They are.

Reporters also like to think of themselves as public servants in a way. As if the press is a forth branch of government. The forth estate. But a forth branch unencumbered by the restriction of the checks and balances applied against the latter three. Demanding the interaction and open access to the rest of government while proclaiming the constitutional given rights necessary to act as a public watchdog. Hovering over and keeping watch for the protection of the public. A public that demands the right to know. A public that demands the truth. An unbiased truth. But does this forth estate deliver? For the most part.

The duty of this watchdog is to discover and report ‘the news’. But what is ‘the news’? By its very nature news is things that change. And what is the duty of congress? Change the status quo. What is the duty of the administration? Enforce that change. What is the duty of the courts? Ensure the legality of that change. So what do we get from the press? Told about that change. And what’s the nature of liberalism? Change. So, what’s a reporters job? Tell us about what’s changed. And if a reporter likes his job he would be more prone to like change. A liberal bias. So why deny it? It’s self serving to be liberal if you’re a journalist.

One of the sad things about news, and incidentally one of the reasons why the news is often viewed as bias, is the view that only the extraordinary is to be considered newsworthy. Something done right, on time, or as planned, isn’t viewed as newsworthy by those powers that be.  Don’t think so? Ask Dr. Bob Arnot.

The Dr. Bob story is a perfect example of the conflict between expectations and change and what is viewed by the press as newsworthy. Arnot, a reporter for, I believe, NBC at the time, was covering the war in Iraq. He issued several reports on schools being built, electrical plants opening, water flowing, and just a lot of positive thing happening over there. Soldiers succeeding in there mission. As I remember very few of his stories were aired, he was called home, his contract not renewed. Why, it was explained by the powers that be, was that he wasn’t covering ‘newsworthy’ events. See, it was further explained, those things which he reported were things that were as they should be. They were things that our soldiers were expected to accomplish. They were expected to build schools, fix the electricity, get the water flowing. And things that are as they should be aren’t considered newsworthy. Therefore, Dr. Bob wasn’t doing his job. We sent our boys (and girls) over there to do good things. That’s their job. The press doesn’t feel that soldiers doing their job is newsworthy. The story is the things that go wrong. So, that’s mostly what you hear. The stuff that’s going or went  wrong. As too, why some view the reporting as biased. It’s the explosion, the mayhem, the catastrophe. That’s the news.

But reporters don’t visualize themselves as anything more than reporters reporting on the things that they feel are reportable, or newsworthy. It can come out of the blue to them that they are considered biased. They see bias as purposed, or with intent. They don’t intend to be one sided in their reporting. It’s a natural byproduct of the profession. So reporters not reporting on good things , while it seems one-sided to someone that expects to hear ‘the good news’, isn’t something that most journalist can see as a valid issue. It’s only when the news might be manipulated does it even begin to register. So when a reporter hears the term bias applied to them, they naturally think of it as akin to being called a liar. They think their honesty is being questioned, when that often isn’t the case at all. They view bias in terms of Dan Rather type issues and the extent of “proof” as it relates to how a story is “reported”. Say a reporter only files stories about one side of a story; take farferumpers for instance. If a reporter only files stories about how farferumpers are bad for your health and harm the environment and exploit’s the third world, but never files stories about how many jobs farferumpers have created and how many hospitals the farferumpers association has built and how farferumpers alone have brought thousands out of poverty, one might see that reporter as biased against farferumpers. Even though that reporter hasn’t filed the first false report on farferumpers. That reporter might hold the view that farferumpers are supposed to create jobs and relieve poverty and of course the farferumpers association would certainly be expected to build hospitals. That farferumpers might just be bad would be unexpected, or different. That un-expectation would be, in the reporters mind, newsworthy.  After all, he hasn’t manipulated the story in any way, has he? Or, has he?

The press in general is felt to be biased against President Bush. Why? The perception of negative reporting. See, the economy is doing great, so you only hear about the few negatives and a whole lot of bad that “might” happen with a “what if”. You hear about a few of the good things that exceeded prediction or expectation, but mostly its reporting about a “looming catastrophe” just waiting to befall us. The President is supposed to increase jobs, stabilize markets, cause economic growth. Non stories. Our soldiers have done wonderful things. Our security here at home has been greatly increased. That’s expected, both non stories. You only hear about the odd catastrophe, or the protest. Both out of the ordinary. So that’s what the general public hears. The negative, the out of the ordinary, the odd catastrophe. The public perception can only come from the information it receives. The public is presented with a general message of negatives concerning President Bush. The press gives us the impression of bias against Bush. Even though the vast majority of those thing we expected this President to do and accomplish have been done, you don’t hear about it. It’s a non story.

There’s an old saying- There’s two sides to every story. Often the perception of bias comes from the weight which side is given in a story. Equality, or inequality. Reporters tend to see change as good, so they naturally lean towards that change, even if that change is bad. That’s why the general public is baffled by some of the reporting that might not be seen as for the public good. Even some that comes across as anti-American. To the journalist it’s viewed as just another story about something unusual, or different. It serves their self interest to give weight to the difference, or change. But when they are criticized for reporting those things, and they themselves become the story, they become defensive. It comes across as having bias. Reporters don’t like reporting on other reporters bias’s. It’s too much like looking in a mirror.   

Al

(reprint)

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