But the Conservative Media Is Much More Biased and Lies. Much Of The Blame Is On Our Business
Now that Labor Day 2022 is history, the election season is now officially underway, although it really never stopped. And you can be certain that critics of far right and far left media outlets will shout 24/7 about the slanted and false coverage their rivals are disseminating. And so will politicians of all stripes.
When Republican law makers and their surrogates shout that the “mainstream media” is biased against the Republicans, they omit an important segment of the media coverage — major conservative publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The National Review, The Federalist and TV’s Fox News Channel, plus less important cable outlets and major radio outlets.
Republican critics of the “mainstream media” also refuse to acknowledge what any unbiased media watcher can see – a major portion of the far right media outright lies. That’s why so many of the Fox talk show hosts are being forced to give legal dispositions.
The truth is that there is no unbiased journalist. They all have personal beliefs. But when reporting a story these beliefs are usually left at the doors outside the newsrooms, far right media and far left outlets excepted.
But let’s face it. Occasionally unintentional biases do appear in news stories, but not to the extent that important facts are omitted. Nevertheless, personal subconscious viewpoints can influence the way a story is reported or edited.
As anyone who has met a deadline on the news side knows, in most stories, except the blockbuster ones that every reporter wants to cover, the ledes can be written differently without omitting relevant facts. In show business that would be called artistic license. In journalism, it can be defined as slanting a story.
“You’re burying the lede, rewrite it,” used to be an editor’s response to a story. Today, with the 24/7, 60 seconds a minute deadlines I wonder how often editors say that, especially on Web stories.
Below are a few ways that a story can be slanted.
- Quotes are problematic area: Who to quote, how long should the quote be and where the quotes are placed in the story can be a matter of controversy. Most quotes that appear in print are abridged versions of longer statements. On TV, the short sound bite is a staple of newscasts. Often the quotes are a fraction of what the individual being quoted said and can also give an incomplete meaning of what was being said.
- The placement of stories in newspapers has also resulted in accusations of biased journalism. In one newspaper a story might be positioned on page one; a similar story in another newspaper might be placed on Page 11. It’s usually a matter of editors’ judgment but can be cited by provocateurs as a paper’s unfair coverage.
- Bias accusers believe reporters are only assigned to look for negative stories about candidates the accusers detest.
- The length of stories, not the news value in them, is a sign of bias, say accusers. Bias accusers also believe that the determining factor of which pictures are used shows the bias of the selecting editor.
When I was a reporter, without changing any facts, I could write a lede several different ways. Choosing who to quote and where the quotes appeared in my story was a careful consideration. My objective, when writing a story, was threefold: 1) To not let readers know of my personal beliefs 2) in controversial stories not to be accused of bias by readers on either side of the argument and 3) my most important goal was to write a story detailing proven facts without mudding the truth as happens too often in today’s, “he said, she said” reporting.
As an editor, deciding on the length of a story and its placement was a constant challenge to me so readers would not claim bias. Should a story be “three books” long or “two books” was a prime consideration. So was art work, which could make a story appear more important than it was. And, of course, to make certain (as much as possible) that quotes in the story were not from biased individuals.
Today, especially on cable TV, the “he said, she said” journalism muddies a story. Just as bad is the reporting from cable beat reporters, who acts as stenographers, rushing down the hall to breathlessly report what a politician says without checking on the veracity of the statement, augmented by the pundits (excluding the really expert contributors) who seemingly at a moments notice can transform themselves into experts on subjects like how to boil water to modern day clones of Nostradamus, predicting what the future holds.
When I taught public relations at the Army Information School, it was a must to emphasize that propaganda will not be used against American citizens. Today, too many of the talk TV and radio programs and political PR and advertising agencies are nothing but propaganda outlets. And that’s why too many Americans don’t know the truth about happenings and why our business is held in low esteem by the public.
Our business, the communications business, is a prime reason for one- sided political reporting. Cable stations use talking points from political operatives without checking their veracity. Non-political PR agencies, while not outright lying, I hope, also do their best to present their clients plusses while trying to hide the negatives. (I recently wrote an article for a crypto website decrying the lack of government regulation. I was attacked by some readers saying, “I should get into another business.” Since then there have been numerous stories about the problems the merchants of crypto have been experiencing.)
Even more shameful than political PR operatives is the working of our kin, the advertising agencies. They produce TV commercials
that are completely misleading, containing misleading and less than honest footage or statements that any candidate who writes a check can use against an opponent.
My first job in public relations was with a small, but respected boutique political agency. The owner of the agency would not condone any false information being disseminated by employees. “We fight hard for our clients without resorting to lies,” he told me during my job interview. “At the end of each work day I want to have a clear conscience,” he said. “I want you to have one, too.” The owner died way too young; the agency went out of business and I decided that a political life was not for me and reentered the newspaper business before being recruited by a national PR agency and the international giant Burson-Marsteller.
The philosophy of the owner of that boutique agency has disappeared from the political PR arena. Sadly, it has also disappeared at non-political agencies.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns .He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com