Let us settle for all time the question whether there is bias in the media. Of course bias exists and anyone who tells you differently is prevaricating. Reporters, along with the rest of us, are a product of where we were raised, our family environment, education, life experience, economic situation and other elements including our age, sex, nationality and race. These factors form our worldview and are reflected in whatever we undertake. This includes reporters.
That said, it has been my experience that most, and I underscore most, reporters work hard to put their biases aside in covering news stories. Some stories, however, are obviously biased and we can see the slant if we read and listen carefully, which is why I close out every NC SPIN program cautioning viewers to stay informed and watch out for the spin.
Truth be told, we think anyone is biased if they don’t agree with us. Today viewers and listeners can self-select news voices with which they agree, given the many cable TV and radio talk shows available. Anyone who doesn’t believe Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity and most others on the Fox News Network are biased conservatives is clearly not attentive. The same can be said for liberal personalities like Chris Matthews, Donna Brazile, Rachel Maddow, Al Franken and others on MSNBC. Republicans and those on the right have long accused those in the media of biased reporting, curious charges since most radio talk shows are decidedly conservative.
For Donald Trump to say that he isn’t running against Hillary Clinton but against the media is highly amusing, since it was this same media who made Trump into a national persona, allowing him to march through the Republican presidential primaries without spending hardly any of his or his campaign’s money on paid advertising. His trump card (pun intended) has been to dominate the news and no one can deny he’s succeeded. Another famous showman, P.T. Barnum, verbalized the strategy saying it didn’t matter what people said about him so long as they spelled his name right.
But one has to wonder what Trump expects when he constantly calls those who oppose him names, makes unsupported and undocumented claims and bombastic statements. His claims that the media is not paying as much attention to Clinton is accurate, but perhaps reporters might pay more attention to her if they didn’t have so much of Trump to report.
It is the job of reporters to question. True, many journalists are products of schools where professors, more often than not, lean liberal, but the bedrock foundation of journalism has always been to uncover the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of a person or a story to which they are assigned. After Watergate their focus increasingly turned to investigative reporting, questioning those in authority and sometimes sensationalizing stories.
We won’t and don’t feel the need to defend the media. Sometimes they are biased. Sometimes they get the story wrong or overplay its significance, but our job, as citizens, is to listen, read and judge balance and bias through our own filters. The best advice we would offer Trump came from another beleaguered public figure, Harry S. Truman, who famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Tom Campbell is the Producer and Moderator of N.C. Spin.