Media Matters

The Plot Thickens

The self-destructive behavior of the mainstream media.

By 9.12.12

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What's the only private business that gives the equivalent of an obscene gesture to forty percent of its potential customers? Hint: it's also the only private institution mentioned in the Constitution. The answer, of course, is the press, or more specifically, that segment of the press known as the mainstream media or MSM. The MSM is a strange animal in more ways than one, an animal with puzzling behavior.

The MSM consists of ABC, CBS, NBC, and most big city newspapers. The supporting cast includes CNN, MSNBC, and NPR.

If you're a conservative there have probably been countless times you've felt disgusted and infuriated at the bias, double standards, and lack of balance exhibited by the MSM. As a conservative I can't count the times my mouth has dropped by what I've heard said and written in the mainstream media. The bias is dumbfounding.

According to the latest installment of a poll Gallop has conducted since 1992, 41 percent of the respondents self-identified as conservative, 36 percent moderate, and 21 percent liberal.

Another recent Gallup poll reported that "Americans' confidence in television news is at a new low by one percentage point, with 21% of adults expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it. This marks a decline from 27% last year and from 46% when Gallup stared tracking confidence in television news in 1993…. Confidence in newspapers is now half of what it was at its peak of 51% in 1979."

Obviously the MSM is paying a high price for its bias and lack of balance. Scoring only a 21% confidence level is quite an indictment. Obviously they have lost the trust of more than just conservatives. The MSM has squandered its credibility.

By all outward appearances it seems that their compensation is being provided by the Democratic Party. They behave as though their primary loyalty is to the Democratic Party rather than the news organization they ostensibly work for.

The MSM is the only private business that seems all but immune to the profit motive. If they simply treated all of their audience with respect it's hard to tell how much how much of an increase they would see in their gross and net revenues.

It makes me wonder if they have any explicit or implicit mission statement. For example, is it, "My mission as a journalist is to choose a political candidate and then select and slant what I report so as to help him/her get into office." Or possibly, "My mission as a journalist/reporter is to show my like-minded colleagues that I'm one of them."  I simply cannot conceive what they perceive their professional responsibilities to be. It apparently never enters their minds.

Economists hate to attribute behavior to irrationality. It's essentially a cop out. It's like saying, "I can't explain the behavior, so I'll just say it's irrational." Therefore, I won't categorize the MSM behavior as irrational. Let's just say it's unusual. They have other priorities and values that are not obvious to the rest of us.

There is a stunning amount of conformity. Does that ever bother them? They behave like a flock of sheep. There seems to be no sense of originality, no desire to be different. They usually report stories with exactly the same slant and often with almost identical wording.

Recently, for example, when reporting on the beginning of the Republican National Convention, several reporters used almost exactly the same words in saying that Hurricane Isaac "was sure to revive memories of Hurricane Katrina." Obviously, they sure hoped it would. (Hurricane Katrina was, in their minds, a perfect example of the incompetence and insensitivity of George W. Bush's presidency.) At least the same number of reporters told us how terrible it would look to viewers when they saw a "split screen" with the devastation of the hurricane on one side and the convention festivities on the other.

You have to admire whoever orchestrates their performances. They definitely are all kept on the same sheet of music and sing the same lyrics.

When I write a column, I have absolutely no interest in making the same observations someone else has made or sounding like someone else. Saying what has been said by someone else is a waste of my time and the reader's. I don't think that's an unusual attitude, but the MSM certainly don't share it.

In most instances the perspective and analysis of the MSM is largely predictable. A central tenet of information theory is there is no information in a predictable statement.

The MSM loathed George W. Bush and adores Barack Obama. They have allowed both of these extreme attitudes to corrupt and distort their reporting.  

From the standpoint of a functioning democracy, there is probably no other institution as important as a free press. Unfortunately, those at the highest echelons of the press are guilty of journalistic dereliction of duty. The MSM is grossly abusing the special freedoms, privileges, and responsibilities it's been granted.

Whether or not you think Barack Obama has been a good president, he would probably not be president if the MSM had come within a country mile of its professional responsibilities. They effectively colluded with the Obama campaign to keep who he is and what he believes hidden from view.

There is no reason to expect the MSM to change its behavior. If anything the bias is increasing as they become more and more desperate. However, their bias is becoming more transparent and media consumers have more choices -- Fox News, talk radio, and the Internet, for example. The price they pay for their malpractice is just going to increase.

On the first night of the RNC, Fox News had 44 percent more viewers than NBC, more than twice as many viewers as CBS or ABC, and more than four times as many viewers as either CNN or MSNBC.

The main reason for optimism is that, although powerful, the MSM is not omnipotent. It's entirely possible that, despite their best efforts, Barack Obama will not be reelected.

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