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Should Americans Give Mainstream Media the Silent Treatment?

Once upon a time, the American people trusted the mainstream media, and vice-versa. Back when Walter Cronkite was the “nation’s newsman,” most Americans felt confident that networks and newspapers reported “the facts” — at least most of the time. Even 20 years ago, a majority of Americans had trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.”

However, in 2018, the relationship between the Fourth Estate and most Americans is on the rocks. How bad is it? Sixty-two percent of Americans now believe that news in traditional mediums such as TV, radio, and newspapers is biased. Furthermore, 70 percent of Americans on both sides of the political spectrum believe inaccurate information on the internet is a major problem.

One might ask why the media would willfully misreport the news, bury the truth, and violate the fundamental ethics of journalism. Several reasons come to mind, but perhaps the most important is “journalistic group think,” which has in recent years risen to a whole new level.

It should come as no surprise that journalists, like educators and entertainers, lean left. But what should surprise (and frighten) most Americans is the degree to which the media toes the liberal line.

On the issue of group think, former CEO of National Public Radio (which is certainly not a right-wing outlet) Ken Stern bluntly stated, “When you are liberal, and everyone else around you is as well, it is easy to fall into groupthink on what stories are important, what sources are legitimate and what the narrative of the day will be.”

How entrenched is group think? In a frank discussion in the Washington Post in early 2017, Erik Wemple noted: “In 1990, for example, Washington City Paper— then under the leadership of current Politico media critic Jack Shafer — found that Tony Kornheiser, then a sports columnist for The Washington Post, was the only registered Republican among a sampling of 49 top editors, reporters and columnists at the newspaper.” And he was regarded as a RINO!

Fourteen years after the Washington City Paper’s story, the Pew Research Center conducted a nationwide survey of 547 local and national reporters, editors, and executives. The results: Thirty-four percent of members in the national press identified as liberal, as opposed to 7 percent conservative (“moderate” was the largest category). Liberal identification among national press types shot up from 22 percent in 1995.

Mainstream media reporters don’t just agree with many of the left-wing politicians they cover, they provide them with financial support, too. “In all, people identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors … combined to give more than $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Clinton and Trump… Nearly all of that money — more than 96 percent … benefited Clinton,” according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

Apparently, journalists overwhelmingly agree with Hillary Clinton’s liberal policy agenda!

Many journalists claim that their personal political views do not affect their reporting, but basic logic suggests the opposite is true. How can a reporter’s personal political views not affect their decision to highlight certain facts over others or their selection of media sources? How can a journalist fairly determine which stories are important while keeping their own opinions about the importance of particular topics out of the equation? It’s perfectly reasonable to believe a far-left liberal media will slant its coverage to the left, because truly objective reporting is nearly impossible when a news staff is composed of people with virtually identical beliefs. And the evidence in favor of this view appears to be undeniable.

According to a study from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, in President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, he “received 80 percent negative coverage, with only 20 percent of news reports were positive. Compare that to President Obama, who received 41 percent negative coverage and 59 percent positive coverage.” Adding insult to injury, “Every news outlet in the study was negative more often than positive.”

Media groupthink and bias are significant threats to the future of liberty in the United States. Why? Because as John Adams once stated, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people,” and the media is the primary means through which people receive their information. If the mainstream press is almost always only presenting the liberal perspective of the news, the country can’t trust the media to be fair, and if the public doesn’t think the media is fair, why would it bother to listen to what journalists have to say?

According to Ken Stern, the day of reckoning may be closer than we think:

Some may take pleasure in the discomfort of the media, but it is not a good situation for the country to have the media in disrepute and under constant attack. Virtually every significant leader of this nation, from Jefferson on down, has recognized the critical role of an independent press to the orderly functioning of democracy. We should all be worried that more than 65 percent of voters think there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media and that our major media institutions are seen as creating, not combating, our growing partisan divide.

As tempting as it may be for Americans to completely reject news outlets, they shouldn’t. For the United States to survive, it must have an educated populace, and paying attention to the news is an essential part of that. However, that doesn’t mean Americans should settle for left-wing news outlets that work tirelessly to destroy President Trump and others working to give people greater personal freedom. Thanks to the internet, Americans have greater access to news than ever before, and they should use it! There are, quite literally, thousands of websites where consumers can find news and political coverage, by professionals and amateurs alike.

It’s time Americans burst the bubble of the mainstream media monopoly by seeking credible news sources online. Yes, the internet contains many biased sources of information, but responsible consumers should learn to read the news in numerous outlets to get a fuller sense of what’s actually happening in the world, not rely on the single view presented by most of the mainstream press. Maybe then, the out-of-touch Fourth Estate will get the message and make real strides to include more pro-liberty reporters on their staffs, a decision that would help them to perform their core duty: objectively reporting the news and informing the people — sans bias.

Chris Talgo (ctalgo@heartland.org) is an editor at The Heartland Institute.

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