Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do You Want The News Without Viewpoint?

Everyone seems to be super-paranoid about something called media bias, a nagging fear that somehow all the information we get via newspapers and television media has turned into a cesspool of sneering and sly distortion with some nefarious agenda meant to push us into heinous beliefs.

Is this a new concept?

Reason magazine has a story about these media worries, citing a 2007 Pew Research report which says that 67% of Americans "prefer to get news that has no particular point of view". The language here is so deceptive - the fact is that 67% of people who took the survey responded as reported, and that really isn't 67% of Americans. And how can news even have "no particular point of view"?

Anyway, the Reason piece points out the obvious problems with such a survey:

[This] is a revelation that must have come as a surprise to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Matt Drudge, and all the other industry innovators who’ve enjoyed such great success delivering exactly the opposite."

Taking a cue from the online world, the vast majority of news and media websites now include a comments section for every story, and from reading those it is certain the readers proudly herald their biases and views on the story, how it was written, what was or wasn't included, spelling, each other and much more. And other online companies now offer numerous ways to rate, qualify and quantify news stories and make some cash along the way:

At the nonprofit, users collectively evaluate stories based on fairness, context, and other core journalistic principles; the highest-rated stories receive the most prominent positioning on the home page. At, users simply judge each story in terms of bias: Does it have a conservative slant or a liberal slant? Over time, uses the feedback from its users to determine a media outlet’s general position on various issues. For example, according to users, the English version of the Al Jazeera website skews “slight right” in its 2008 election coverage.

Then there’s SpinSpotter. The brainchild of Todd Herman, a Seattle entrepreneur with a background in Internet radio and streaming media, the SpinSpotter browser plug-in lets you visit virtually any website and hack it up like Tina Brown channeling Freddy Krueger. Find a specific phrase or sentence that fails to pass your spin sniff test, then create a SpinSpotter “marker” for it. When other SpinSpotter users visit the page, a crimson slash of warning highlights the passage. A click on it yields your explanation for why it qualifies as spin and your version of how the text ought to read.

To keep users on track, SpinSpotter has designated “seven deadly spins” that are fair game for media bloodhounds.

I've been noticing - and have been totally repulsed by - some recent choices on the CNN network to make news a sort of free-wheeling, Jerry Springer-type opinion brawl on news reports which seem to have little purpose beyond stirring up intense conversation based on a bare minimum of information.

Some examples on CNN are the new "Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull" show, but some of the worst offenders on the network are the Headline News shows "Prime News" and "Nancy Grace". The "Prime News" website says host Mike Galanos:

" ...
uses the day's most powerful headlines as a starting point for diverse perspectives and spirited debate. In each show, Galanos challenges newsmakers and experts to help viewers gain a clearer understanding of the "right vs. wrong" conflict playing out across the country every day."

Yeah, right. That's one way to put it. But the actual show is mostly a circus of half-truths and maybes which offer no context of any kind and merely trot out events to be torn apart like slaves in a Roman coliseum full of starving tigers.

Nancy Grace is also just a skeezy game for armchair prosecutors hurling crap on a wall and waiting to see what sticks (and what generates viewer frenzies). Shows like these are the lowest end of the low end. It all seems geared to one end: gaining popularity in order to make more advertising dollars.

I honestly don't mind that a persistent viewpoint is given in news reports or on those talk shows. While readers and viewers are passive receivers (at first) then follows (hopefully) some actual thought -- opinion is offered but it's actual value has to be determined by those who receive it. A news report or talk show is not some Holy Form handed down from the Perfection of Heaven.

Truth these days is perceived in the most ludicrous of emails ("Microsoft will pay you to send email" or "Obama is the Antichrist!") -- which makes me think of the old traveling snake oil sales shows. A crowd usually gathers around such spectacles, although in the past, that same crowd might just decided to tar and feather the salesman and run them out of town. Some crowds, however, gulp down dubious elixirs and cheer the salesman as saint.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:04 PM

    I have dubbed Nancy Grace "THE NEWSWHORE"