The Power of Words
Earlier this week, I posted a note to Twitter that pointed out to the news media that their constantly poking fun at the errors made by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party is preaching to the choir. And that this wasn’t helping matters at all.
To no surprise, I was almost immediately hailed by one political Tweeter who I gather assumed I was defending said Tea Party. I say “to no surprise” because one of the general characteristics of the group is a notable lack of a sense of irony. It’s why more than a few of them believe Stephen Colbert really does agree with them.
I don’t support the Tea Party. They’re a mob on its way to becoming a cult. Mobs are always dangerous, and ignoring that threat in favor of calling attention to their lack of grammatical and spelling skills is a one-way ticket to disaster. It’s a slick way to walk the fence if you’re afraid of being labeled a part of the “liberal press,” but it does a serious disservice by allowing the voices of ignorance and anger to take precedence over those of sense and fact.
The only news organization those who support the Tea Party trust is Newscorp. Another irony, since the Murdock empire and Fox News have been manipulating them from day one, using them to pursue the corporate political agenda and keeping the Tea Party members’ righteous anger alive using a steady stream of misinformation and outright lies. What’s needed isn’t snark, but a careful contradiction of their propaganda over and over and over. Only that’s not happening.
The sad thing is, I’m not surprised at the way the mainstream news media behaves. Having worked in that industry for nearly 10 years, I can vouch for the fact that their much-vaunted lack of bias is mostly something they hold up whenever someone criticizes the way they do their jobs. That’s not to say there aren’t any truly unbiased reporters out there, but you know what? They’re at the mercy of their editorial boards, and I haven’t yet seen an editorial board that didn’t have an agenda.
True story: when I worked for a small-city daily, my main beat was health care, including the local hospitals. My city editor had a jones against said hospitals for reasons that were purely personal. One of the hospitals had pulled itself out of major debt, and I wrote a story about how they had accomplished that. The editor rewrote my lede–without consulting me–so that it read as if they were still in major debt. And then expected me to take it on the chin when the people who had trusted me to tell the truth went ballistic.
And that was 20 years ago.
If you have any knowledge of balanced reporting, it’s shocking to read stories in major newspapers–and yes, I mean the New York Times–where the reporter and/or editorial bias is so blatant it makes one cringe. A sensational headline is followed by a story clearly intended to evoke an emotional response, and often contains totally incorrect information. This is especially true of stories about the Tea Party. They all have a kind of “look at how idiotic these people are” tone–and yet the facts that contradict their misinformation is either buried at the very end of the story or not included at all.
See what I mean about preaching to the choir? These stories are written with the assumption the reader will already know that the misinformation is not to be taken at face value. What the reporters and editors fail to grasp is that many, if not the majority, of their readers are not like them. It’s the same kind of blindness that makes user manuals provided by software companies almost impossible for anyone not deeply knowledgeable about technology to understand.
There was great furor when MSNBC suspended popular journalist Keith Olbermann after it was revealed he’d made small donations to three Democratic candidates. This was a violation of company policy, a policy all news media have that prohibits staff from engaging in anything that might reflect negatively on the appearance of their being unbiased. The operative word there being appearance. As a result, reporters are kept isolated, like plague doctors in biohazard suits. The suits protect the doctors from infection. The ones news staffers wear protect them from reality.
One has to learn to truly lack bias, to be able to look at something and see both sides of it. Modern education, with its emphasis on passing skills tests, doesn’t teach that much anymore. This is why you have newsrooms full of college-educated reporters who are going to apply their own personal viewpoint to any story featuring people not like them no matter how many policies you put in place to ensure balanced reporting. I think it’s clear that the Americans who make up the Tea Party are as unlike many of those reporters as you can get.
News media: If you know someone is lying, isn’t the correct response to contradict that lie–and make sure the focus of your rebuttal is on the truth? Because based on what I’ve read over the last year, that ain’t happening. And because it isn’t happening, the propaganda machine is winning, as the midterm election results clearly show.