Jackie Mason | June 7, 2004
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Steve Dunn | June 8, 2004
I agree with your main point, but I don't think OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson are the best examples of people unfairly demonized by the media.

I think Katherine Harris got a raw deal... Martha Stewart... Al Sharpton is constantly asked about the same sordid incidents while other politicians get a pass on their long-ago misdeed...

Anna Gregoline | June 8, 2004
Yeah, really, one is a murderer and the other is a child molester - I have little doubt over either of those. But yes, the media can be extremely unfair.

I don't believe much that I read anymore, and what I do I take with a grain of salt. Basically, since 9/11, I've become a lot more wary and jaded to the world. Ah, youth and innocence, where did you go?

Kris Weberg | June 8, 2004
My view of the media is this -- the moment it became a "glamor" profession, TV news (and eventually other forms of journalism) were forced into a situation that is inherently contradictory to serious investigative journalism. When you have Nielsens and Q ratings to consider, you don't want to anger the audience; you can't afford to lose "face time" with important people; and ultimately, for the anchors and even some of the columnists, the life of a news personality becomes more important than actual journalism.

To the first of these points, I direct your attention to the seriousness with which the media treats accusations of bias. Polls do show that reporters tend to be liberal, but producers, station owners, and companies tend to be conservative. But despite cries of bias from both sides, what one really sees is a lack of real investigative journalism. Instead, "if it bleeds, it leads." If it involves sex, it leads. If there are quotes from both sides, it gets in the paper. Sex and blood bring sales and ratings in -- it's what people really want, not complex but necessary dissections of the new bill being passed or the shady business deal that's been worked out by a dozen lawyers and accoutnants and needs the explanation. Viewers and most readers don't want to spend the time on it. They want the big, loud, instant expose.

As to the quotes -- read a news article sometime with an eye for the ratio of quotes to actual evidence, reportable facts not taken from partisan statements. You will not see, outside the editorial page, reporters seeking statistics, or broad surveys of expert opinion to testt he claims of politicians and executives. You wills ee a roughly equal number of quotes from the executive or politician and his or her critics. (And the ubiqitous, uncheckable "anonymous sources.") Only where there is clear "smoking gun" evidence do reporters check the evidence against a standard other than what's been said.

To present facts means that supporters of the idea or person the reported facts oppose will accuse the reporter of bias, of selective reporting, of "editorializing." Reporters would rather give us a sure thing; even so, they still are accused of all these things to a lesser degree. No wonder they playit safe -- anyone accused of anything has learned that "attack the press" is the safest, most effective strategy for winning in the court of public opinion.

And reporters who are successful have become minor celebrities. Theya re invited to the posh Washington parties. They compete with one another for access to presidents, CEOs, activists, and candidates. It's been reported by media critics that, on campaign buses, reporters will tend to more favorably cover a candidate who provides them with better food on the bus. A reporter who exposes a big wheel in Washington is not assured of success, if the story doesn't "catch" on; they are guaranteed a loss of access, of hip invitations, and if the story doesn't take, big career setbacks. An anchorman at CNN or the networks has no incentive to take risks and dig deep, not compared to the incentives and the fun lifestyle involved in playing ball.

If you think about it, a presidential press conference by any party's officeholder is really not the place a serious journalist wants to be. One confronts a press secretary with the power to ignore the tough questions, a man or woman whose job it is to provide a skewed, phony version of events and spin any criticisms away. All press secretaries do this; all press conferences are, by definition, pure bias. But the threat of being barred from such an event terrifies any Washington correspondent. To be thrown out of that room is to be "out of the loop" -- not outside the flow of real information, but outside the career-track loop, off-camera, to go unquoted because the press conference is built for TV and easy photojournalism and because it sells.

Imagine a world where reporters treated White House and corporate press conferences like what they are -- staged media events with minimal and strongly biased content. Imagine a world where, to be covered by droves of reporters, you had to actually provide decent information, tell the truth, answer every damn questions thrown at you. I can almost imagine that world. Sadly, I can no longer imagine one where the general public would watch such news shows, or buy such papers.

Let's be honest -- to most people, politics and economics have taken on the quality of reality TV, of casual sports viewership. We root for the side you chose or were raised to choose. But until it's our home team in the playoffs, or our favorite contestant about to be voted off the island, we're at a distance. We have work tomorrow. The dog needsa a trip to the vet. The kids have to be dropped off, picked up, time must be spent with friends. A law that will, in two years, subtly but greatly affect our tax returns or a government program we didn't notice till it was gone, or till it started to waste our money, is not on our mind; all the less so when such things are worded and written and presented and debated with the intent to confuse, to obfuscate behind slogans and party loyalties and cheap appeals to sex or sentiment.

Most of us can't even accoutn for all the alderman in our own town, or think of our state senator's surname. And these are local issues, people who will pass rules about sales tax and leaf-burning and a hundred other things whose effects we will notice, if only after the fact. We are too busy with other things. They know it, too.

There is too much immediate life in the way of civic life now. Don't blame the media for adapting to the market.

Jackie Mason | June 9, 2004
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