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Tom Brokaw stepped down as anchor for NBC News shortly after the previous presidential elections and Dan Rather retired from CBS about a year after him. Through the decades, the mainstream media — print, radio, and television — have pushed the line that facts are neutral, that they speak for themselves. For decades, the had a majority of people believing that newscasters and journalists simply “report the news” devoid of biases, preconceived assumptions, or political agendas. This is hardly the case as James Davison Hunter points out in his book Culture Wars:
In the very act of selecting the stories to cover, the books to publish and review, the film and music to air, and the art to exhibit, these institutions effectively define what topics are important and which issues are relevant--worthy of public consideration. Moreover, in the substance of the stories covered, books published and reviewed, art exhibited, and so on, the mass media act as a filter through which our perceptions of the world around us take shape. Thus, by virtue of the decisions made by those who control the mass media--seemingly innocuous decisions made day to day and year to year--those who work within these institutions cumulatively wield enormous power.
The fact that a story even gets on a thirty-minute news slot should make all of us question the notion of neutrality in reporting or in anything else.”Network anchor David Brinkley once admitted, ‘News is what I say it is--it’s something worth knowing by my standards!” William Proctor, a veteran reporter and author who has worked for the New York Daily News, explains that the media “gospel is rooted in a kind of secular theology that purports to convey infallible social, moral, and political truth--a truth that the paper [The New York Times] fervently promotes with all the zeal of the fieriest proselytizer.” Proctor describes the editorial and news-gathering policy at the Times as “Manhattan Fundamentalism,” “a well-defined but also rather rigid package of viewpoints which the paper disseminates widely to influence political, social, and personal beliefs and behaviors.”
Similarly, words used in reporting expose preference for one worldview over another. “Right-wing conservatives” versus “progressives” is just one example. Those who are anti-homosexual are described as “homophobic,” “intolerant,” “hateful,” and “unloving.” Those who are opposed to abortion are “anti-choice” never “pro-life.” Franky Schaeffer described the bias this way:
Think of the use of labels to categorize political activity. Some labels are used to neutralize the actions of certain groups; others denote being “one of us,” acceptable.
The words “right wing,” “fundamentalist,” “pro-life,” “absolutist,” and “deeply religious,” are put-downs more than categories. Conversely, think of the unspoken pat on the back and blessing that the following words convey: “moderate,” “pluralistic,” “liberal,” “civil libertarian,” “pragmatic,” and “enlightened.”
[get_product id="145" align="right" "medium"]Robert Bazell of NBC said flatly, “Objectivity is a fallacy. . . . There are different opinions, but you don’t have to give them equal weight.” Linda Ellerbee wrote, “There is no such thing as objectivity. Any reporter who tells you he’s objective is lying to you.”
In July of 1990, The Los Angeles Times published a series of articles on bias in abortion reporting. David Shaw, a Times staff writer, found “that the press often favors abortion rights in its coverage, even though journalists say they make every effort to be fair.” Here is what one journalist says about bias and reporting as it relates to abortion:
“At base, abortion isn’t about politics, and it isn’t about the law,” says reporter Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe. “It’s about philosophy and it’s about morality and it’s about your world view, and newspapers are ill-equipped to deal with those issues.”
Most media elites are ill-equipped to see their partiality because they cannot conceive of a contrary opinion to be either morally or factually right when compared to what they believe is their own objective understanding of the issue. Most honestly believe that the position they take on any topic is not biased or prejudicial but neutral.
Of course, if a person holds a particular view because of certain religious convictions, there is no possible way that he or she could ever be “objective.” Colleen Cook, a television industry insider, observed, “There was an unwritten rule that if a reporter was ‘religious’ he shouldn’t let it interfere with the job of being ‘objective.” This led Cook to ask, “Since when does agnosticism qualify one as neutral on an issue?” The so-called neutral reporter, Walter Cronkite concluded, is “someone not bound by doctrine or committed to a point of view in advance.” Cronkite might believe this, but he never practiced it. No one does. It’s impossible not to be committed to some value system, some moral way of looking at the world. Changing anchors will not change this fact.