Human beings are amazingly adaptive. We live all over the globe, in every climate and environment from parched deserts to tropical forests to frozen tundra to wide open plains. We have thousands of different speech dialects, a huge variety of approaches to written language and a staggering array of different foods, music or clothing that are the cultural norm.
One of the ways our brains adapt to their circumstances is by subconscious acceptance of our condition as ‘normal.' If you grew up eating cow tongue, ordering a lengua
burrito doesn’t seem gross at all. If you read right to left, trying to wrap your head around a language that reads left-to-right or top-to-bottom is tricky. The world you grew up in is home and everything else is a bit odd, a sense that’s especially true for children or people who live in closed, isolated cultures.
That’s one reason that conservative criticism of the ‘media elite’ sounds just plain weird to those inside the media. It’s not an act in many cases; it really DOES sound weird, like Tuvan Throat Singing
suddenly being played on a Honky-tonk jukebox. “What’s that? We’re … biased? What? No, no, no … we’re the fair, educated ones!” The statistics about the voting trends of journalists is clear and widely reported. But the paradox Is that there are so many liberals in the media that it doesn’t feel liberal – it just feels normal. It’s home.
And that’s why you’re seeing some of the Rorschach Test reaction that the James O’Keefe sting on NPR – not just that it shows the difference between the worldviews of liberals and conservatives but that it shows how blasé and normal it is to talk the way Ron Schiller did about the racist Tea Party. He didn’t think he was saying anything controversial.
Obviously, there are many on the left who known that they have a bias and play that up. The interesting thing about NPR is that I believe they are so biased that they don’t think they are biased. Liberalism is like oxygen to them. It’s nothing they think about.
It’s not just NPR, of course. You can see a good example of this lack of self-awareness among journalists in a recent post by Time
blogger James Poniewozik. I think Poniewozik makes a number of good points in this article (as well as a gratuitous, misinformed swipe at Andrew Breitbart) but what jumps out is a bit at the end of the article that would sound 100% reasonable to any American liberal.
Poniewozik is patiently gives you, dear reader, a glimpse at the tough work of a journalist. He paints a picture here of two fundamentally different approaches to recording, condensing and reporting facts. One is objective and unbiased and the other is driven by ideology and frankly, unworthy of being called journalism.
Here’s what he says
That's the dilemma of any journalist, as well as, well, whatever O'Keefe is: reality takes forever. You condense, you edit, you quote; you try to get a full sense of the actual story and relate it as best you can in the space you have available--whether limited by actual word count, minutes on air, or your audience's attention span. You cut a lot of nuances and hope for the best.
You can do that with a mind toward presenting the fullest, fairest picture you can and earning your readers' trust on the rest. (And you don't have to be a nonideological, MSM outlet to do it—kudos to Beck's The Blaze for calling O'Keefe out.)
Or you can, like O'Keefe, do it with a mind toward making sure your side wins and you present the worst possible picture of your adversaries. You can trust that unpacking all of your slanting will take too long to matter, that the casual news audience will remember your version and that your fans won't believe your critics anyway.
Let’s unpack those three paragraphs to discover the unspoken, but clear, assumptions that it’s founded on.
- Journalists are tasked with condensing reality and they do the best they can, given their constraints of time, space and attention span – no mention is made of these real journalists making decisions based on their ideology
- James O’Keefe isn’t a journalist
- Nonideological mainstream media outlets condense trying to present a full, fair picture
- O’Keefe isn’t trying to be fair so he presents the worst possible picture of adversaries
- Real journalists such as those in the mainstream media, unlike O’Keefe, don’t present the worst possible picture of their adversaries
- O’Keefe is counting on his audience not to check his work because it would take too long or they are fans of his
- The mainstream media, unlike O’Keefe, doesn’t count on a casual news audience too busy to check their or with biased fans
I’m writing this to an audience of conservatives and I understand enough by now to know that I could stop writing right now and you’d be able to fill in the problems here yourself. Let me point out a few of obvious (to me, now, anyway) examples.
In their coverage of politicians like Michele Bachman or Sarah Palin or Scott Walker, has the mainstream media been fair, with an eye towards painting the full picture? Did the mainstream media present the case against giving collective bargaining benefits to public workers as part of their full, fair coverage? Did Katie Couric release the full interview she did with Sarah Palin during the 2008 election? Is the complete lack of mainstream coverage of death threats to 18 GOP politicians in Wisconsin because of a lack of space or does it show an ideological decision?
You can admit this is a bias based on an underlying ideology or, like James Poniewozik, try to pretend that there's an unbiased fair mainstream media so that your side stays in power and paint your journalistic rivals in the worst possible light. You can trust that unpacking your bias isn't something your audience will be inclined to do since you've already cut them out of the editorial process by choosing angles that fit your views and ignoring stories that don't and failing that, you can count on your audience to act like fans who will hold onto their image of your as objective because it makes them feel better about themselves.
The world Poniewozik describes of an unbiased mainstream media is a fiction. Yes, some sources get the facts straight on some issues better than others, but I’ve seen firsthand the total media fails on stories like the John Edwards affair or the Pigford settlement and there’s no question that the supposedly objective mainstream media has a tremendous amount of built-in bias that there audience isn’t even aware of because it comes in the form of the stories they DON’T show their audiences.
As such, the rightwing, libertarian and ultra—far-left blogospheres become the places that cover the stories and angles that the vast, smug, comfortably numb leftish media just pretend don’t exist. (If you don’t believe me on the ultra-far-left part, check this story on Shirley Sherrod by Ron Wilkins
; factually provable and nothing the mainstream media dares touch.)
Not upsetting the apple cart with facts or uncomfortable truths that don't fit the narrative may be ‘mainstream’ Just please stop pretending it’s objective or fair.