Media bias in its two main species

There's always been a bias in news reporting, but now it's really a lot more obvious...and intentional.  Why?  The purpose of news reporting is no longer primarily holding an audience in order to sell advertising, but rather, to further an agenda. 

This may have gotten started during the Vietnam War, when Lyndon Johnson "lost" Walter Cronkite.  Prior to that, the federal government had a fair amount of control over what the public knew about military operations.  During WW2, Robert Sherwood headed the Office of War Information.  He later wrote the screenplay for The Best Years of Our Lives, a classic story about the immediate aftermath of the war.  And FDR was photographed in a wheelchair only once...by accident.

Korea is sometimes called "the forgotten war" for various reasons.  First, it was undeclared, much like Vietnam.  Second, it was fought by a recent political invention known as the United Nations.  Finally, it ended with not a victory, but rather a ceasefire or armistice and a "Demilitarized Zone."  More than half a century later, tensions persist.  During the Korean War, there was little if any public dissent.

Wars are fraught with horrific images.  Until Vietnam, such images were archived but seldom broadcast.  Then the gloves came off.  The sea change of media coverage helped turn public opinion against the Vietnam War.  Lack of obvious purpose also helped.  The legacy of this process has been the mainstreaming of what was previously considered fringe-left political activism.

Media bias takes two primary forms: commission and omission.  An example of bias by commission was perpetrated by a writer for the Associated Press while Mr. Trump was president.  Trump's 1995 tax return was illegally obtained by some of his enemies, and the AP sent out an article.  In the article, it was "disclosed" that Mr. Trump had the unmitigated gall to write off depreciation on his real estate holdings — and that only billionaires have access to such a loophole.  They somehow neglected to mention that there are literally millions of mom-and-pop landlords in the U.S. who write off depreciation every year — partly because major capital improvements cannot be expensed and because allowing the tax advantage encourages the capitalization of more housing units.  It also so happens that since print media are imploding due to online competition, the AP has a much greater footprint.  As newspapers and magazines downsize their staffs, they rely all the more on outside news services...such as the AP.

Recently, bias by omission appeared in stories using forest fires threatening California's redwoods to showcase the perils of human-caused climate change.  A well established botanical fact is that redwoods rely on forest fires to sterilize the ground for their seeds to germinate — otherwise, fungi will consume the seeds and seedlings.  Since fires in redwood forests are not all that common, the trees mostly clone by stump sprouting, creating what are called "fairy rings," which often result after trees are cut or fall down.  So new trees from fertilized seeds are usually the result of fire.

An example of responsibly thorough reporting recently occurred on these pages regarding this year's really cold winter in the Southern Hemisphere.  Unlike alarmist propaganda pushed by climate zealots, Jack Hellner puts the database into perspective: records for Antarctica only go back to 1957 — which, in geologic time, is the blink of an eye.

Especially for television news, selective editing can be employed to present a false narrative.  Though I can't cite a specific example, I will suggest that a TV crew doing a story on the local vagrant camp will pound the pavement looking for a good subject.  If they're lucky, they'll find a former brain surgeon…who had a bicycle accident, got addicted to painkillers, and was eventually thrown out by his wife.  They'll skip past the usual losers who ran out of couches to surf and wound up on the street after burning out all of their friends and relatives.

Obviously, there are many examples of intentional deception contained in recent news reports.  It is also the case that some folks can tell when this is being done, and some can't.  Woke cancel culture strenuously discourages critical thought.  Darwinian survival, however, requires us to ferret out the truth from the bovine excrement. 

Image via Pixnio.

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