As a college student back in the stone ages, one bumper sticker I always saw plenty of when attending Republican events said “CBS is Rather Biased.” Well, it wasn’t the stone ages, but it was during the Reagan years, which now seems in so many ways ages ago. The point is that conservatives have complained about media bias for decades.
An egregious example of media bias just played out in the Van Jones story – one I believe highlights a major shift in the mainstream media. First though, a bit of background is worth considering.
Conservatives have not only complained about media bias, but for many years have attempted to achieve balance in the mainstream media in various ways.
Watchdog groups like Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center have identified, tracked and catalogued liberal media bias hoping to shame those in the mainstream media into at least attempting the appearance of balance. Alternative media have emerged to do some of the reporting those in the mainstream media have refused to do, at times even forcing those traditional news outlets to cover the stories themselves.
Rush Limbaugh’s incredibly popular syndicated talk radio show was one of the first big successes for conservatives trying to get their message past the mainstream media. More recently, the rise of the internet and Fox News Channel have enabled stories ignored by the mainstream media to reach a mass audience.
One hope conservatives have had all along was that those in the mainstream media would be shamed into covering stories that those in alternative media exposed. That hope has unfortunately seldom been realized.
With the commercial success of Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News Channel, conservatives hoped those in the mainstream media would see the market for a conservative viewpoint and would add that perspective to their coverage, or at least tone down their liberal slant. If shame didn’t work, maybe the power of the profit motive would. Evidently some things are more important to NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and MSNBC than money, and those things are not truth and fairness.
As those network news organizations hemorrhaged viewers, Fox News Channel grew to not only be the number one cable news channel, but to often outperform its cable rivals several fold.
If those in the mainstream media had been smart they would have hired some young and hungry reporters determined to find the truth, regardless of the associated political ramifications. They might have hired editors and producers who would make it a point to review their work with a critical eye, looking for bias. They might have at the very least tried to hire a few people with conservative leanings to let them know what their conservative readers, listeners and viewers might want to see covered. That didn’t happen though, at least not often enough to note.
What is happening now is something those in the conservative movement might not have ever dreamed possible. Although the goal of reforming the mainstream media has not been achieved, something more amazing has. In some ways the outlets conservatives hoped would provide balance to the mainstream media, are becoming the mainstream.
Something happened last week that underscored this phenomenon. News outlets like the New York Times and NBC and ABC evening newscasts
As Andrew Breitbart put it, “For most people in this country, the resignation was the first they had heard of Van Jones. For this sin of journalistic omission, there's institutional media blame. Bias is too tame a word for the utter shamelessness on display: Only Republican scandals - real and imagined - matter.”
Blogger Kim Priestap said that since Fox News was the only media outlet to cover Van Jones' radicalism, some in the conservative community say that shows Fox is the mainstream media and the other broadcast outlets are the fringe. The numbers certainly point to that.
Fox News regularly beats its cable news competitors. Glenn Beck’s show on Fox (which heavily covered the Van Jones story) recently saw its audience exceed 3 million viewers – and that is for a show that airs at 5 p.m. EST when most viewers are still at work.
Beck repeatedly draws more viewers than all his cable news competitors combined. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC was so outraged by Beck’s coverage of Van Jones’ past that Olbermann put out a plea to readers of the liberal Daily Kos blog to dig up dirt on Glenn Beck, his producer, and Fox News President Roger Ailes. I guess when Olbermann’s attempt to claim Fox News was not the top rated cable news channel because they were not a real news channel didn’t work, and since beating Fox in the ratings by actually reporting the news to viewers is not an option for the truth-challenged Olbermann and his colleagues at MSNBC, hoping to dig up some dirt on the competition must be the last, best option.
Refusing to report news about the background of a man in charge of billions of taxpayer dollars was bad, and made even worse since that news was already appearing all over the internet and on the highest rated cable news channel in the country. But when leading cable news pseudo-journalists like Olbermann, and even respected news legends like Tom Brokaw, attacked those who dared to tell the truth about Jones’ past, they furthered the idea that Fox is the mainstream and they are the fringe.
Fox News, talk radio and internet news sources are not just in competition with CNN and MSNBC. They are still vastly outnumbered by not only national newspapers and network news, but also even some content that appears in non-news programming. In that respect, Fox and alternative media are still in the minority, but a trend is growing at record speed. That trend is for those seeking news to head to sources like Fox News, talk radio and the internet. That would make those sources the mainstream. It almost boggles the mind. Conservative thought has always been the mainstream. Maybe the country’s choice of where they get their news is finally following.