Media Responsibility & a Democratic Republic


About a year ago I had the opportunity to speak with one of our nation’s Senators. I suggested that a responsibly engaged electorate must be a well-informed electorate. My question to him was about how any of us who aren’t part of the “inner ring” can be assured of being well-informed. He agreed that this is a real difficulty.

There’s nothing new about this worry. In 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew gave a speech on “The Importance of Television.” He noted the “profound influence” of television news “over public opinion.”

Television’s influence is disproportionately great because: Read more of this post

Advertisements

Chris Matthews an Authority on Negative Campaigning and Wing-Nuts


WingnutsTonight, on MSNBC’s “Hardball” show, Chris Matthews says he “can’t stand” negative campaigning, from Republicans or Democrats. But earlier in the same segment he repeatedly calls right-wing conservatives “wing-nuts.” His Democrat strategist guest was more honorable. Even he couldn’t  call them wing-nuts, after being pressed to do so by Matthews.

Who’s the real wing-nut here?

Does “Somewhere in Between” Mean “Ideologically Neutral”?


At Politico.com, Michael Calderon has a piece assessing the significance of the drop in viewership at CNN—“CNN fades in prime-time picture.” The brief article is mostly just straight reporting.

  1. Viewers seem to rely on CNN the most at election time, while turning to other cable networks during the long intervals between elections.
  2. CNN just won a Peabody Award.
  3. Doubts have been raised about whether CNN will be able to compete with MSNBC and FOX.
  4. CNN president Jon Klein says yes and that he can explain evidence to the contrary.
  5. Anderson Cooper is CNN’s most valued trick pony, followed by Campbell Brown (who’s about to return from maternity leave).
  6. Cooper’s ratings have fallen off dramatically in recent months, and it’s expected that this will continue.
  7. CNN staffers and former staffers report that concerns within the ranks are greater than reported by Klein.
  8. The critical demographic is viewers ages 25-54.

These are the “facts”—except for the part about the trick ponies, which I slipped in. And there’s a reason why I use the term “trick pony” to refer to cable TV “news” anchors. To begin, the persona of an anchor is crucial to nabbing and keeping viewers. Everyone acknowledges that. But we should wonder why.

The answer may seem obvious. Take CNN, for example. They claim to be “the most trusted news . . .” Leave aside the question whether the tag captures the truth. Why would they be trusted more than the other networks? Remember, the answer has to have something to do with persona. So why would Anderson Cooper, the leading news anchor for CNN, be, in effect, the most trusted news reporter, period?

The answer we’re supposed to come up with is that CNN is ideologically neutral, and Anderson Cooper is the embodiment of that neutrality. And, we must remember, ideological neutrality is good . . . if it’s news you want.

Calderon begins to reveal this outlook early on, when he contrasts the CNN strategy with the “more opinionated programming” at FOX and MSNBC. Notice that—FOX and MSNBC are “more opinionated” in their programming. Maybe that’s true. But what does it mean, and why believe it?

Well, a network can be more or less opinionated. FOX and MSNBC are “more.” So CNN is “less.” Thus, it follows that CNN may also be airing “opinionated programming,” but just not as much as FOX and MSNBC. But then, what is this more or less of opinionated programming? And are viewers supposed to be able to tell when it’s happening and when it isn’t?

Surely things aren’t that simple.

I think we can agree that Keith Olberman is an opinionated guy, and that he unleashes his opinions pretty regularly on his show at MSNBC. Sean Hannity comes to mind when thinking of FOX. So does Bill O’Reilly, who has created a whole new meaning for the phrase “I’ll let you have the last word.” (If you’re a guest with whom he disagrees, he will, indeed, “let you have it.”)

We agree in thinking that prominent anchors at MSNBC and FOX are “opinionated” because it’s obvious. But here’s the significant point: what’s obvious is what their opinion is. That is, they make it obvious that they are presenting an “opinion” because they tell us when they are giving us their opinion.

Why is this so significant? Because opinions don’t always come flying at us with banners telling us that we’re in the trajectory of an opinion. Often they sneak up on us, clothed with disclaimers that their message is completely “objective.”

Calderon is mistaken in suggesting that CNN is ideologically neutral on the grounds presented by him in his piece. Being neither overtly conservative nor overtly liberal, in the style of FOX and MSNBC, respectively, does not mean that CNN is “in the middle” or “neutral.” It has been convincingly argued that they are not neutral but considerably left of center.

Viewers need skills in detecting the ideological commitments of media outlets, the more so when their commitments are more subtly packaged and publicly advertised as “neutral.”

The Easy Ethics of the Liberal Left


The latest media debacle surrounding Sarah Palin’s candidacy for the Vice Presidency brings to mind the easy ethics of the Liberal Left. Read more of this post

What If the Palin Family Had Taken the Low Road?


Let’s imagine that Bristol Palin, in consultation with her family, had decided to have an abortion. The single most talked-about controversy regarding Palin’s VP nomination would be no controversy at all. And there certainly wouldn’t be any talk of “scandal.”

The Palins have not taken the politically expedient path of aborting a child. Can there be any doubt that others have taken the low road, found relief in a woman’s legal right to choose, and avoided a spectacle altogether? It’s possible that for some, political calculation was the most critical factor in a decision to have an abortion.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many candidates for high office have had unmarried daughters who elected to have an abortion (sons responsible for the pregnancy of an unmarried woman should be included in this thought experiment)? But that’s something we’ll never know.

What Kirsten Doesn’t Get (or Acknowledge) about Media Bias for Obama


Fox News Watch today focused on questions about media bias and its influence on the campaigns for President. Host, John Scott, showed the results of a Fox News Opinion Dynamics Poll, saying that “67% of Americans think the media want Obama to win the election.”

None of the panelists—Jane Hall, Cal Thomas, Jim Pinkerton, and Kirsten Powers—disagreed. As Kirsten Powers said, “most reporters are registered Democrats, so it’s not surprising that they might be voting for the Democratic candidate.” She went on to say, though, that “at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.” Why? “Because no voter is going to go in and make a vote on election day” based on what the press is doing.

Come again? This sounds like a flat out denial of media influence on voting outcomes. John Scott seemed surprised and said you have to believe that media affection for a single candidate makes a difference. Kirsten’s response was to ask, “Then how did Bush get elected two times?”

This is another example of goofy pundit logic. Yes, George Bush was elected twice, and true, this obviously wasn’t the outcome preferred by a liberal press. But this does not mean that voters were not influenced by the media. After all, there were people who voted for Al Gore in the first election and for John Kerry in the second. How does Kirsten know that none of those people were influenced by the pro-Democrat media?

I think she does know that the media played a role. In the first election, you’ll recall, the final vote tally was close. Al Gore still thinks he won. But the margin may have been greater in favor of Bush if the media had been completely opaque about its preferences. Kirsten Powers and others like her have to know this. So their fawning over candidate Obama during his “European Vacation” may well be calculated to trim those margins a smidgen more. And a smidgen may be all it takes.

***

If you can catch him in a moment of candor, ask Barack Obama how he feels about the media coverage he’s getting. He has to like it, since garnering coverage seems to be a primary reason for his junket (supported, by the way, with taxpayer money).

%d bloggers like this: