Fine Editorial from an Unlikely Source
ROBERT DEWITT: Media outlets in short supply of fair, balanced news
Monday, April 27, 2009
The American news media should provide this country with a 'marketplace of ideas.' It would like to provide Americans with a company commissary.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, company towns were common. A saw mill, steel mill or coal mine built a town around the industry and supplied life's basic necessities, including a retail store.
The mills and mines sometimes paid in 'script' fake money redeemable only at the company store. Sometimes they allowed workers credit at the company store and deducted the store bill from the workers' checks.
The mines and mills not only controlled what their workers bought, they profited from their purchases. And they controlled the whole town so there could be no competition to provide workers with a choice.
I think about that company store mentality when I see columnists and cartoonists vilify Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Competition is hurting the company store. And I wrote this believing that this newspaper still believes in providing a marketplace of ideas.
Members of the news media are supposed to keep an eye on those in power, the ones with access to the money and influence. But as a group, with notable exceptions, they do that only when Republicans are in power. The American media, for the most part, has become a public relations wing for the Democratic party and political liberalism.
A look at even the syndicated editorial cartoonists disgraceful toadying to President Barack Obama should tell you all you want to know. Clearly dissent is unwelcome.
Obama is in power. The news media should be carefully scrutinizing everything he does with a skeptical eye not serving as cheerleaders. Instead, the media focuses its criticism on the people criticizing Obama.
The media has failed completely to point out that Obama's stimulus package closely parallels Frank Roosevelt's New Deal, which was an unqualified failure in reviving the economy. It fails to note that his foreign policy smacks of Neville Chamberlain's pre-World War II appeasement.
Whether you think the historical parallel is valid is a matter of opinion. But in a marketplace of ideas that perspective should be in front of you and it's not.
And the media shouldn't be worried in the least bit about who is criticizing the president. It seems to me that anyone who believes in the marketplace of ideas would welcome the criticism and do little more than provide any pertinent facts to the contrary.
That brings us to Fox News and conservative talk radio. Both have become punching bags for the traditional news media.
I don't watch much television news nor have I listened to political talk on the radio lately. Back in the 1970s, I watched the evening news with my father. Even as a teenager it was easy to tell which way television news leaned. And when Dan Rather became anchor for CBS, the barnyard fertilizer became too thick for me to stomach.
I had to quit watching '60 Minutes' when my wife told me I was spending all my time pointing out bias instead of listening to the show.
So it had been years since I'd watched much television news when the established news media and Democrats began complaining about Fox. I tuned in to see what they were complaining about and after a short while just threw back my head and howled with laughter. Fox is indeed aptly named since it is the Fox in the media monopoly hen house.
It seems CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and the Democrats don't like the taste of their own medicine. Over the years, I noticed that the most pervasive bias in television news is how they frame their stories. Until Fox came along, the major television news outlets always gave instant credibility to Democrats and gave intense scrutiny to everything Republicans said and did.
If the Republicans were on the offensive, the stories would begin with the Democratic response before even discussing what they were responding to. If the roles were reversed, the Republican response was buried deeper in the story.
Fox News simply reverses that dynamic. They give Republicans instant credibility and make Democrats prove their point. To see them do it after years of watching what the other networks forked over was absolutely delightful.
It would be better if all media outlets treated both camps equally, diligently worked to verify or debunk their claims and simply reported what they found. But as long as NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN aren't doing that, I don't see any reason to hold Fox to a higher standard.
Liberals snarl at Fox's motto: fair and balanced. Well, it is equally as fair as the other networks and far more balanced. Fox carries more opinion and tete-a-tete between liberals and conservatives than the other networks.
The number of liberals they put on the air outnumbers the number of conservatives that have access to all of the other news providers combined. And they are indeed balancing a scale that tips far and away to the other side.
I think the liberal outlets shrink from head-to-head battles between conservatives and liberals because liberals so rarely win those debates. You didn't have to watch too many episodes of 'Point-Counterpoint' with James Kilpatrick and Nicholas von Hoffman or 'Crossfire' with Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden or 'Firing Line' with William Buckley and anybody to figure that out.
As for Rush Limbaugh, he provides opinion. Liberals often champion truth in labeling for food and medicine. They should applaud Rush Limbaugh's unabashed proclamation of his conservatism. And the day liberals limit his access to the air waves using the FCC's fairness doctrine will be the day the First Amendment becomes meaningless words on a scrap of aging paper.
Frankly, he's far more honest than the liberal reporters, anchors and editors who ooze bias and claim they're providing objective news. Admitting your perspective is skewed is far better than presenting information from a biased perspective and calling it objective.
I think it's the loss of the monopoly that has them really out of sorts. It reminds me of a Wendy's ad from back in the 1980s. It depicted a fashion show in a communist country and chunky models kept coming down the runway in the same outfit with only slight variations.
The ad's point, applied to hamburgers in this situation, was that having a choice was better. Indeed it is.
Robert DeWitt is a staff writer for The Tuscaloosa News, covering Tuscaloosa city government, outdoors and assisting with editorial writing.
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