Undisclosed media bias

David Limbaugh

8/20/2003 12:00:00 AM - David Limbaugh

 It is undeniable that the overwhelming majority of news anchors and reporters for the major television networks are politically liberal. It is no less deniable that their biases often affect their reporting.

 While conservatives have long complained about this imbalance in ideological representation in the major media, their major beef is not with the bias itself, but with the media's fundamental dishonesty about it and how it colors their objectivity.

 It is, of course, theoretically possible for a journalist not to inject his views into his reporting. But the more involved he is in the process, from news selection and emphasis, to editing and delivery, the less likely he will be able to resist the temptation to slant the news.

 If an anchor's duties, for example, were limited to merely reading the 22 minutes of copy of the nightly news, he might be able to avoid any inflection that would reveal his leanings. But the involvement of most anchors greatly transcends mere reading. They often select the news and play a major role in writing or editing the copy.

 There's nothing wrong with a commentator allowing his ideological persuasion to influence his opinion segment; indeed, it would be impossible for it not to. But when broadcasters furtively insert their biases into "news" segments, they are passing off their opinions as news -- and that's dangerous and inexcusable.

 The networks have a fiduciary duty not to inject their biases into such news segments. Otherwise, the viewer -- especially the casual viewer -- who entrusts the journalist to present "just the facts" will be deceived.

 This is exactly what has been happening with the major television networks (and the major print media for that matter) for decades. They taint their newscasts and articles, respectively, from start to finish, with their biases.

 Adding insult to injury, they usually deny their biases. Oh, sure, in anonymous questionnaires they might sometimes own up to them, but they invariably insist that the biases don't affect their objectivity. And many of them are intoxicated enough on their own self-righteousness that they actually believe what they're saying.

 But often they are as transparent as they are sanctimonious. On Thursday, August 14, CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather, perhaps unwittingly, gave a seminar on the very type of undisclosed biased reporting I've been referring to. In two separate exchanges, he extemporaneously issued gratuitous cheap shots at President Bush without even pretending to disguise his obvious contempt for the man.

 In both, Rather was unmistakably critical of the president for not canceling a campaign fundraiser in order to micromanage last week's power blackout. "So that's the reason he hasn't been in Washington," sneered Rather.

 Rather wasn't satisfied with reporter Bill Plante's insufficiently critical explanation that President Bush had decided not to call off the scheduled fundraiser because he believed the blackout was accidental and not the work of terrorists.

 Rather was indignant that Andrew Card, "not an elected official, will be in charge." Rather huffed, "Where is Vice President Cheney, and why wouldn't he be in charge since the president is not in Washington?"

 When Plante again refused to take the bait and pile on the administration, Rather got another dig in, deliberately implying that Bush was callously attending a fundraiser and placing his political interests above the national interests. "Any serious thought given to the president canceling his appearance at that big fundraising-campaign -- fund-raising dinner -- tonight, given the fact that so many millions of people are going through this in the Northeast?" Rather asked.

 A little later in the broadcast Rather went through the same dog and pony show with reporter Sharyl Attkisson. Keep in mind that Bush publicly assured the nation that no terrorism was suspected and that officials were working hard to solve the problem. And local government officials, from New York to Michigan, were constantly on the air advising the public of their progress.

 Only willfully close-minded observers could have witnessed Rather's performance and failed to observe his jabs at Bush. It is inconceivable that he would have treated his idol President Clinton this way.

 This is but one of thousands of examples that have been taking place on the nightly broadcast news since before I was a teenager. The mainstream media can continue to deny their undisclosed biases, but their denials are laughable -- and millions of viewers have long since had enough and are not taking it anymore. You'll find them feasting at the trough of the alternative media -- and that's a beautiful thing.