Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Blaming the Media

Everything, seemingly, is the fault of the media. Every issue, some radio caller or talk show guest will exclaim “but the media this” and “well the media that.” The poplar conception is that the media shape our thoughts and opinions, practically dictating them, and controlling our behavior almost absolutely. The trouble, however, is the lack of an argument, even circumstantial. Instead, blaming the media replaces argument.

Consider, for example, the many students who claim the media force women to meet unrealistic standards, causing anorexia and bulimia—despite the noticeable lack of such women on the campus. If anything, claim the media cause obesity, since regular physical activity seems as rare as regular mental exercise. Nor do these students seem particularly oppressed by the mandate to be beautiful, attending class in their sweat pants, uncombed hair bundled atop their heads, not a trace of makeup.

Even the media buy into this nonsense, presenting such shows as “On the Media,” hiring ombudsmen, and taking pains to present “balanced” coverage in the face of continual accusations that “the media has a liberal bias.” Hmmm. Where to start?

First, as Don Hewitt accurately observes in “Mea Culpa? Not Mea!” – people complain about media bias not to right injustice, but rather because the reporting isn’t biased their way. This alone is troubling, since it potentially reduces all news to propaganda.

What is a liberal bias? The liberal arts, from their inception centuries ago, served to free the mind from blind, preconceived constraints, allowing open and thoughtful analysis—perhaps to re-embrace old ideas, perhaps to move to new ones, but always to carefully consider them first. To fight a liberal approach is to fight free thinking. Instead, the right wing has misconstrued “liberal” as “radical.”

And what of conservative bias? A conservative strives to keep conditions as they are, without change—fundamentally an unrealistic proposition, as change is inevitable. The Fox news network, Conservapedia—these serve not to present “fair and balanced coverage,” but to “balance” perceived bias by promoting right wing views. This is the antithesis of “news” and “balance,” and not even conservative—it’s reactionary.

Political factions will always want to control the media to promote their message and to shape the news, but they aren’t the major influence. The media follow public opinion, not vice versa. The audience rules. Why doesn’t the media report good news? First, they do, and second, people consume the bad news much more readily.

But finally, how can people who pay little attention to the media, to world affairs, to all that messy business of reality turn around and then claim they’re controlled by that media?

It’s a scapegoat, a replacement for thinking.


No comments: