Monday, October 29, 2012

Media bias: worse than EV-AH

by Libby Sternberg

(This post originally appeared at Hot Air's Green Room on September 28, 2012.)

When my son was deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year (he’s home now), I used to look for news of that country’s goings-on. It was hard to find. Eventually I lit on a site with the grim address that covered both Operation Enduring Freedom (for those who’ve forgotten, that’s the name of the operation in Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. A left-hand column contains a news-feed about what’s going on in that part of the world.

I’ve not done an empirical study of news articles past and present, but it seems to me that one didn’t have to search as hard for news of Afghanistan and Iraq when George W. Bush was president. Why did these operations cease being as newsworthy once he was followed by Barack Obama? It’s hard not to suspect that once casualties couldn’t be laid at Dubya’s feet, media didn’t find such news … as newsworthy. (Neither, it seems, does the anti-war crowd, which has faded into the background despite the fact that President Obama has continued many policies they opposed.)

The lack of regular Afghanistan coverage isn’t the only thing missing from most news coverage today, while other stories receive attention for days on end (and by “days,” I mean round-the-clock coverage followed by more of the same). Watching the news (MSNBC) recently, I was confronted with the most pressing problem our country faced at this moment, surely shaking the citizenry to its core: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s alleged comments suggesting that 47 percent of folks don’t pay taxes and thus won’t vote for him. Even the president himself was so distracted by this earth-shattering statement that he couldn’t remember the exact number for the national debt when asked about it on an appearance on the David Letterman show.

Meanwhile…the Mideast was in flames, our Afghanistan policy was crumbling, Israel trembled at the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the U.S. Department of Justice was using a left-wing group to spin the news and the unemployment rate was abysmal along with most other financial indicators. Oh, and one more not-so-small thing: the president’s party, as demonstrated during its convention, seemed to be shifting ever leftward toward an anti-Israel, atheistic, aggressively pro-abortion platform.

Yet most in the media greeted those stories with a yawn. Does anyone doubt similar stories would be covered with gleeful alacrity if a Republican were in the White House?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not looking at these stories as bits of “gotcha” politics. They’re news, by any definition of that word. They’re important. They tell us something about the current administration’s approach to policy. Americans should know about them in order to make informed decisions. Even Obama supporters might want to know them to try to push the administration in different directions.

In their defense, the news media’s unrelenting interest in political horse race stories is somewhat understandable during a presidential campaign. But why then did so many of them all but ignore a major political debate within the Democratic party? The very fact that the Democratic platform removed references to God and Jerusalem and making abortion “rare” should have received some discussion prior to its leap to center stage during the Democratic convention. Instead, it was brushed under the rug, especially after a hastily arranged vote to reinsert at least God and Jerusalem references into the document. That vote, too, should have been bigger news when it was clear that the convention chairman overrode the will of the attendees.

Nope, just more of the same “not really a story worth covering” from mainstream journos. Any story that might reflect negatively on the president and his party seems to be falling into the “not really news” category these days, bringing to mind a piece sharply satirizing the media’s slavering attitude toward Barack Obama from several years ago on the satiric site, The Onion: Media Having Trouble Finding Right Angle on Obama Double Homicide.

Conservatives are used to media bias, used to hearing excuses made for “out of context” gaffes by Democrats and the collective gasps of horror at similar stumbles by Republicans. We’re used to the stories of Democratic errors being turned into Mean-Republicans-Point-Out-Democratic Mistakes headlines. But ignoring real news literally blowing up in reporters’ faces seems to me a new low and probably accounts for why fewer and fewer people subscribe to mainstream newspapers or rely on broadcast news.

It’s pretty simple, really: when you cease delivering the product promised—real news—customers go elsewhere.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

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