Bias in the Media

Posted on November 17, 2010

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I want to begin with this issue because this is probably one of the biggest factors polarizing our nation. Is media biased?  Yes, media bias absolutely exists. For this discussion we’ll focus on broadcast and print media since the internet is neutral (for now anyway, but more about that later).

Let’s start with the most unrepentantly biased of all our “news” channels, dear old Fox News. For those of you who still cling to the old “fair and balanced” mantra I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You may have hung on to that idea through the years even when faced with the blatant right leaning tendencies, however, those delusion suffered the final blow when News Corp (the parent company) donated one million dollars to the Republican Governors Association. Of course, that is not the only evidence. Let’s dig deeper.

As I stated, Fox News Channel is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Murdoch himself is Republican as illustrated by his personal campaign contributions (with the interesting exception of Hillary Clinton.) His spokesperson also stated the reason for the News Corp donation to the RGA made perfect sense because “News Corp. has always believed in the power of free markets, and organizations like the R.G.A., which have a pro-business agenda, support our priorities at this most critical time for our economy.”  This leads us to the deeper reasons for the bias.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is the largest media conglomerate in the world. Its holdings are so vast that I will just give you a link to see for yourself. This is his primary motivation. Media in general and news media specifically is a multi-billion dollar industry. News Corp. loves republicans because republicans love corporations. Now, take it a step further, what happens when one company owns so many media outlets all over the world. How powerful does that voice become? How the heck did this happen in the first place? Well, here is a brief history lesson, boys and girls.

In 1949, the Fairness Doctrine was introduced. In a nutshell, the Doctrine stated that broadcasters provide adequate coverage to public issues and that coverage must be fair in reflecting opposing views. Probably the best example to come to mind is the old SNL skit “Point/Counterpoint” which was parody of news shows of the time following the Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine was in place until it was repealed by the FCC led by Mark Fowler, a Reagan appointee, with the full support of Reagan himself. The argument for repeal was that government enforcement of the Doctrine inhibited free speech.?? This coincided with this talk radio personality named Rush Limbaugh coming too the fore.

In addition, during the Reagan years and Mark Fowler, we had other deregulatory moves that allowed the number of stations any one entity could own to grow from 7 in 1981 to 12 in 1985. Guidelines about how much advertising can be carried for 1 hour were also wiped away.

However, it took Bill Clinton and the Contract on America republicans to really start the media consolidation in earnest. They did this with the sweeping Telecommunications Act of 1996. It had and immediate impact on the radio industry. Believe it or not, there used to be a 40-station cap on radio ownership. The cap was lifted and now Clear Channel owns 1200 stations across the country. The act also directed the FCC to review broadcast ownership rules every few years, and repeal or modify them if they believe the rules no longer serve the public interest. Now the stage is set for the concentration of media in this country. Ole’ Rupert was licking his chops.

Then in 2003, the TV ownership cap is raised to 39% by the FCC and there was some drama but it passed. Then in 2007 more FCC fun in that it lifted newspaper and TV cross ownership rules that prevented one entity to own both a local TV station and newspaper in the same market.

So today, thanks to all these changes you have Fox News, which presents nothing but the viewpoint from the right and no need to balance it since the fairness doctrine is long gone. You have the daunting concentration of media ownership that is News Corp.

Winston you say, the left has MSNBC with their left wing talkers, their biased too! My response is this. The bias in media really isn’t a right or left bias. It is much deeper and darker than that. News Corp and Fox are the most obvious. Rupert Murdoch is not a republican first and businessperson second. He is a businessperson ONLY and is republican because they’re the party that allows him to make the most profit. It is not party loyalty it is PROFIT loyalty.

That leads to the TRUE insidious bias in the media. They are for-profit conglomerates and now we are down to the “big six.” How do these for-profit businesses make money? You got it, advertising.

The amount of money spent on advertising in this country is truly staggering. Here is a list of the top 100 advertisers in the country and the amount each spends. For instance, McDonald’s alone spent 1.2 BILLION in advertising in the US in just one year and they are only 29th on the list! Proctor & Gamble is #1 in spending with 4.8 billion. A quick perusal of the list pretty much confirms what we all know from watching TV; the ads are dominated by Pharmaceutical Companies, Automotive Companies, Financial Groups, Telecommunication Companies, Cosmetics, household cleaning, Fast food, etc.

Now what do you think would happen if say, you are one of the major news channels and Toyota is a major advertiser. Let’s say Toyota has some “acceleration issues.” Do you report it right away and risk losing their revenue or do you sit and wait till the dust settles and only report it when it is unavoidable?  Well, I read about this issue in Denver’s free newspaper, The Westword, nearly a year before any of the major networks brought up the issue.

Now maybe you are saying, Kurt you are just engaging in hyperbole. There is no documented proof, and you are right, for that, I don’t have links to prove that assertion definitively. Just as I have no proof that links the fact that the fossil fuel, and automotive industries huge advertising budget has any influence in the fact that climate change is still reported as an uncertainty. Or when the first ruckus about the leaked e-mails from East Anglia conflagrated the e-mails to mean that climate change was a hoax, but when independent investigation demonstrated otherwise there was hardly a peep about it on the conglomerates. When I used the googles on Fox and climate gate there is still no indication that they reported that the scientists where vindicated. So the “smoking gun” to prove climate change was a “hoax” turned out to be a non-issue.

Yes in those particular instances, I can’t prove it but I suggest you watch this video to see a documented case that demonstrates the power of the advertiser and how they DID control what was broadcast. The brief rundown is that a Fox affiliate had hired an investigative journalist duo. Their first story was on Monsanto’s rBGH; a bovine growth hormone used heavily in the US on dairy cows to increase milk production. It also happened to be linked to cancer in humans, and banned in Europe for that reason. Monsanto stepped in and leaned on News Corp, and Fox obligingly ordered the death of the story. The journalists refused to kill or alter the story however so Fox ended up firing them. After a lengthy court battle and appeals, the journalists ended up losing a lawsuit for being fired. The loss was due to an inaccurate story, rather because they where using the Florida’s whistle blower protection and the court ruled that lying on TV is not against the law. The FCC’s policy against news distortion is a policy, not a “rule, law, or regulation,” so the Florida’s whistle-blower law did not apply! So yes, they where asked to lie, refused, but in the end, the court ruled that lying is LEGAL. So much for trust in the media.

This is why you should not buy into the “liberal media bias” theory or that Fox is the only biased news source. There are billions and billons of advertising revenue at stake. If you really want to know what bias your news coverage has, pay attention to the commercials.

The concentration of media power and the fact that there is no need to be balanced is a big factor in the polarization and lack of civil discourse in our country. I no longer have to listen to opposing viewpoints, I can listen to Rush, and Beck and watch Fox all day. Alternatively, if I lean the other way, I can listen to Randi Rhodes and Ed Shultz and watch MSNBC at night. All of whom are really in it for profit. In effect as a nation, we are sticking our hands in our ears and saying “Nah. Nah, Nah, I can’t hear you!” While the media conglomerates and their sponsors laugh all the way to the bank.

What solutions do we have to combat this? Well a big one I am using right now, the internet. Search engines can go a long way in digging deeper into issues. You can also access news sources from other countries; they tend to have a better perspective, especially about the US, since they have less skin in the game. Most of all don’t take anyone’s word for anything and do your own research. It is everyone’s civic duty to be informed on the issues and not be clouded by partisan blinders, or the blinders foisted on us by the hundreds of billions of advertising spent each year.

Epilogue: Remember how I said at the beginning that the internet is neutral for now?  That may not be the case for too much longer. Right now, I am accessing the internet by Comcast Broadband. I play a flat monthly rate for a particular speed and have access to every bit of content on the internet. Now, some of the same people that loved the idea of media consolidation are pushing to take away net neutrality. They want to be able to control the content on their bandwidth. For instance, since I am on Comcast, I can get all of their content and video and such, at the bit rate I pay for, but if I want to say, watch a competitor’s video, I would have to pay extra to watch it at the bandwidth I am accustomed too. The logic is that there is limited bandwidth so why shouldn’t Comcast, who is a content provider as well as a point of entry, be able to charge more for competing content? Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon are lobbying heavily right now to push for removal of net neutrality and set up the business models I just described. Please readers stay informed and write your congresspersons to encourage them to let us keep net neutrality and the last bastion of information available to us.

Well, there it is, my first rant, please follow links and research on your own. Feel free to discuss on my wall, and stay tuned for more. Thanks for reading!

-Winston

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Posted in: Political rant