“I have about as much faith in our media as I do in the fairy godmother!”
It was with some consternation that I read those words in an email message from a boyhood friend and a devout conservative Christian with whom I have often exchanged emails in recent years.
What about the media, though? Can we trust it?
The media under attack
It is quite evident that here in the U.S the media has been under attack in recent years. The President-elect was, and continues to be, quite critical of the media—but then he won the election perhaps partly because of all the free publicity he got from the media.
Talk radio and other right-wing commentators regularly criticize the mainstream (or “lamestream”) media, claiming that there is a definite, and despicable, left-wing bias. Conversely, from the left there is frequent denigration of Fox News.
In addition there is the perplexing problem of the proliferation of media sources that promotes the polarization of the public. Consider, for example, “Modern Media Has Turned the USA Into the Divided States of America,” which was posted (here) this year on July 4.
The media under control
Last month June and I attended (for the third or fourth time) the Bennett Forum on the Presidency, sponsored annually by the Truman Library Institute. This year’s panel featured Douglas Brinkley, Jane Mayer, and David von Drehle.
Mayer pointed out that “media” is closely related to the word/concept “mediate,” and one problem in the current political climate is that the President-elect doesn’t want there to be intermediates. Thus, he often communicates directly to the public, bypassing the media, by means of Twitter.
On Dec. 5 the President-elect tweeted, “If the press would cover me accurately & honorably, I would have far less reason to ‘tweet.’ Sadly, I don't know if that will ever happen!”
Then on Dec. 7 Trump said tweeting was better “than dealing with dishonest reporters.”
Back in November Robert Reich posted “Trump’s Seven Techniques to Control the Media” (here). He begins, “Democracy depends on a free and independent press, which is why all tyrants try to squelch it. They use seven techniques that, worryingly, President-elect Donald Trump already employs.”
The first and last of Reich’s seven techniques are “Berate the media” and “Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly.
The media bias check
Just last week I discovered a website called Media Bias/Fact Check (find it here). It claims to be “the most comprehensive media bias resource on the internet”—and as far as I know, it is.
MBFC themselves, designates the media/new sources by one of five categories: left, left-center, least biased, right-center, and right.
As one who has argued that the major newspapers and TV networks are basically trustworthy, I was a bit nonplussed to see MBFC list almost all of them as having “a slight to moderate liberal bias.” This how ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC are all rated—as well as NPR.
The only major newspaper that was in the “least biased” listing was USA Today—although Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International were also in that category. And I was happy to see that Snopes and Wikipedia were also similarly listed.
The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times—as well as the local (for me) Kansas City Star—are all listed as “left-center.” The only major national newspaper that was “right-center” is, according to MBFC is the Wall Street Journal
MBFC does say however, that the left-center media “are generally trustworthy for information.” That’s surely more than can be said about the fairy godmother.