The embattled news media appear to be under ideological siege from conservatives even as a new savior appears on the horizon.
Pro-life groups are organizing a “March on the Media” event this week to try and shame mainstream media outlets for a so-called “media blackout” when it comes to perceived coverage of the abortion issue. It comes just days after the group Live Action sent letters to ABC, NBC and CBS, demanding that these outlets alter the way they report on issues pertaining to abortion.
Protest organizer Lila Rose and others feel that reporters have not portrayed abortion as horrifying as they consider the procedure to be while giving coverage to stories like the filibuster by Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, who is pro-choice. Rose feels the media did not give adequate enough coverage to the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor who was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of murder.
Rose did come armed with quantitative evidence of bias, rather than merely her opinion, although the two news stories are not directly linked. She referenced a recent study from a conservative media watchdog group, which found that:
“In the 19 days since her June 25 filibuster, ABC, CBS and NBC have devoted 40 minutes, 48 seconds of their morning and evening news programs to stories including Davis. That’s more than three times the 13 minutes 30 seconds they gave Gosnell during the entire 58 days of the murder trial.”
Elsewhere in the media battlefields this week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote a letter to the heads of CNN and NBC, warning them that by airing a miniseries about Hillary Clinton (a likely candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016), the RNC would essentially ban the two networks from partnering with his organization on any party sanctioned primary or general election 2016 Republican debates.
Priebus asserts the two networks are attempting to influence the presidential race in 2016. He said “liberals complained noisily” when Citizens United planned to air a pay-per-view documentary about Clinton before the 2008 election. The fight resulted in a landmark Supreme Court decision that allows donors to funnel large political contributions through super PACs.
Both networks have said the programs will have no effect on the news or reporting sides of the networks, and neither has said how Clinton will be portrayed.
“NBC News is completely independent of NBC Entertainment, and has no involvement in this project,” Erika Masonhall, a spokeswoman for the network told ABC News.
CNN responded with a statement asking the RNC not to rush to judgment and it is a “non-fiction” look at the former Secretary of State:
“CNN Films, a division of CNN Worldwide, commissioned a documentary about Hillary Clinton earlier this year. This documentary will be a non-fiction look at the life of a former First Lady and Secretary of State. Instead of making premature decisions about a project that is in the very early stages of development and months from completion, we would encourage the members of the Republican National Committee to reserve judgment until they know more. Should they decide not to participate in debates on CNN, we would find it curious, as limiting their debate participation seems to be the ultimate disservice to voters.”
Conservative groups are associated with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, which has been documented to have a consistent right-wing bias by MediaMatters.org and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Are they now extending their reach by attempting to influence what and how other news organizations cover?
What would be the impact of news conglomerates selling off newspapers to the superwealthy powers such as Charles and David Koch, the libertarian brothers who have a history of promoting the Tea Party movement, funding narrow-interest research directives, smearing evidence of climate change, and harassing those who oppose them? Would selling the papers off to liberal-minded parties be any better?
This week we learned that The Washington Post is being bought by Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos for $250 million (which equates to about 1 percent of his fortune).
“We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads,” Bezos wrote to Post employees.
Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday, Bob Woodward said, “This isn’t Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal, this is somebody who believes in the values that the Post has been prominent in practicing, and so I don’t see any downside.” In a statement, Carl Bernstein, Woodward’s former partner, described Bezos as “exactly the kind of inventive and innovative choice needed to bring about a recommitment to great journalism on the scale many of us have been hoping for.”
Can we, as a Democracy, count on wealthy interests to preserve the public trust? Is the commercial incentive to appear unbiased enough to motivate quality reporting when Fox News repeatedly boasts that it is churning out something that’s “fair and balanced” when it is actually talking points skewed to hype a favored ideology – and a significant chunk of viewers actually believe what they see reported?
An article this week in the National Journal spelled it out pretty well:
“Oh, well, you might say, that’s also the natural order of things. Print is dying. Digital rules. But unfortunately… digital is proving to be a dubious replacement for print when it comes to reliable information. The Internet has only encouraged the disappearance or marginalization of formerly trusted conduits of information. What was once a continent of responsible news gathering, led by major trusted news outlets (including The Post and Newsweek), has become a sea of crap. The continent has been washed away, and all that is left are a few eroding islands of reliable sources. Especially for young readers, there is no direction home any longer. What’s the home truth on immigration? The national debt? The tax code? How to produce economic growth? Which website will tell you the truth? None, really. Almost all are ideologically skewed. The advent of “fact-checker” columns… has been a good trend, but they just can’t keep up with all the bad information.”
The good thing about Bezos is that he doesn’t seem particularly political, one way or the other, although he likely relates on a personal level to issues that benefit the very wealthy rather than the very poor, at least until those on the lower end can no longer afford to buy stuff off Amazon.com.
Will The Post become a vocal opponent in the debate over whether to force online vendors to collect and pay sales taxes on goods the way brick-and-mortar competitors are forced to do? Clearly, we will be watching to see which way the newspaper covers such issues going forward. I’ve been a news reporter before, and I know how difficult it is to report on things that are unfavorable to myself or people I like, but reporting the whole truth, even when it hurts to do so, is at the core of journalistic ethics.
Wrote John Cassidy in The New Yorker:
“If you own a big newspaper and you also have a clear political agenda—like Hearst or Murdoch—you quickly become a lightning rod, and all that furor can cause problems for your other businesses.”
We live in a world of increasingly monopolistic forces who dominate entire sectors by dominating specific markets, whether it is Google ruling online search and YouTube or Facebook building a far-reaching ecosystem that turns the rest of the Internet into a gated community where the content of your newsfeed is determined by what Mark Zuckerberg and the shareholders he is beholden to think you need to see.
It will be interesting to see how Bezos reinvents the news media for the digital age.