Although allegations of bias in our local media sometimes arise, such as the purported unfair coverage of Bishop Martino in the Scranton Times or the strange, unfounded "Kill him" comment reported by the Scranton Times' 'reporter' David Singleton, most disputes over media coverage are relegated to the national media.
Recently, Rush Limbaugh had his bid for the St. Louis Rams pro football team revoked partly due to questionable media coverage. Like any public figure, Limbaugh has had to develop thick skin. Besides being scrutinized for his past abuse of the drug oxy-contin and his 2003 claim that the media wanted Donovan McNabb to succeed because he was a black quarterback, Limbaugh has been called a "clown" by New York Times writer Timothy Eagan, and a "human vat of vitriol" by MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews. However, most damning for Limbaugh's Rams bid were allegations that he is a racist. Cable news networks calumniated him, alleging that he said that "slavery had its merits" although they had no audio clip to back the "quote" up. CNN used an undated, vague citation "Rush Limbaugh On The Radio," and MSNBC cited Steelers linebacker James Farrior, a secondary source or in other words a quote of a quote.1 According to the Culture and Media Institute, as of Oct. 16 the networks spent merely 47 seconds on Saturday admitting that the "quote" and other spurious Limbaugh "quotes" were made up.2 CNN and NBC did not apologize, although CNN reporter Rick Sanchez apologized informally on his twitter page.3
Such disregard for verifying the facts in the television media is nothing new. Many may remember how the cable networks lifted Scranton Times reporter David Singleton's allegation that someone yelled "kill him" in reference to Obama at a Scranton Sarah Palin rally last October. Secret service agents called the allegation unfounded after they failed to find anyone else who had heard the shouted message. Notwithstanding the questionable source, the national cable outlets propagated the "kill him" comment anyway.4
Often, bias affects not only how, but what news is reported. For instance, it is doubtful that the news networks pointed out that Limbaugh employs a conservative black man, Bo Snerdley, as his control room operator. Snerdley is also the show's "official Obama criticizer" and quasi-co-host. Snerdley, in fact, wanted Limbaugh to sue media outlets for libel.
Moreover, the fact that Limbaugh has the distinguished black intellectual Walter E. Williams guest host his show would further undermine the media's calumniation of him as a racist. I suppose the problem for Rush is that he's more likely to see eye to eye with Thomas Sowell and Walter E. Williams than with the 'good' Al Sharpton or the irreverend Jackson. Unfortunately for many conservatives and Limbaugh, they are guilty of racism until proven innocent (in the minds of the left-wing press, which usually deprives them the air time to prove their innocence anyway). Limbaugh here is an example, but similar media bias exists in coverage of tea parties, global warming and other political topics.
Everyone knows that talk radio show hosts like Rush Limbaugh are biased, but, as conservative talk show host Michael Savage points out, they do not try to hide it like news reporters do. Moreover, American news agencies at the aggregate level create a worldview that fits with what is taught in liberal arts courses in high schools and colleges across the country.
For instance, the 65 black kids who were thrown out of a Philadelphia swimming pool last summer received national spotlight and were eventually somewhat compensated with a free trip to Disney World courtesy of a donor. In contrast, the white family in Ohio which was allegedly assaulted by gang of supremacist black teenagers got little national attention, and the nearly 200 white New York state employees who were fired so that the state could hire more minorities were mentioned merely perchance in a New York Post article. Although one would think Americans could handle the news of all these events like adults, the national media apparently does not, preferring only to show that which fits a politically correct worldview.
Most people recognize that there are also ideological differences within media outlets such as those between the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, FOX News and MSNBC, The Times Leader and the Citizen's Voice, or even local talk show host Nancy Kaman and Sue Henry!
This diversity in opinion has created many media rivalries. White House communications director Anita Dunn recently lashed out at FOX News, claiming that it is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party. FOX's Glenn Beck shot back by showing a clip of Anita Dunn saying, in a speech to high schoolers, that communist dictator Mao Tse-tung was one of her favorite political philosophers.
Some people, namely politicians, are upset about conservative dominated talk-radio. Contrastingly, people on the right complain about American Universities where, according to a University of Toronto study, a professor is nearly 5 times more likely to identify herself as liberal than as conservative. Strangely enough, the only sort mitigatory legislation being proposed, a kind of "fairness doctrine," would target only radio stations.
Is such diversity of perspective in media a good thing? Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite when few gave the news to many, especially since the advent of Internet news sites like the Huffington Post and CNS News. Several lament the fact that Americans no longer have a common news experience like they did when Cronkite anchored in the 60's and 70's. Many still blame the diversifying media for creating an ideological gap in America, but one may also speculate that the media somewhat reflects a widening culture gap. Regardless, before one clamors for homogenization of the media via a fairness doctrine or other means, it's a good idea to empathize with one's political opponents and ask: if I were in his or her shoes, would I want someone to tell me that my lone opinion is illegal or that my free speech needs to be balanced out? as if there were only two sides to every issue? Moreover, multiple news outlets each having differing slants ensure against wide-scale media error. To paraphrase an idea of Frederic Bastiat, it is better if one of many news services err than if a single monopoly news service errs.
As long as free speech reigns in America, one must rely largely on websites to make media bias known. For instance, conservative sites such as newsbusters reveal liberal media bias. George Soros' media matters shows material from conservative sites. Newshounds covers bias on FOX News while Times Watch exposes bias in the New York Times. Other sites such as The Pew Research Center cover more general aspects of media outlets.
And for solidarity's sake, I admit that this very article is biased with respect to the which topics I cover, but I believe I present the topics fairly.