Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Conservatives in the blogosphere have been up in arms since Monday when Andrea Mitchell ran a clip of Mitt Romney discussing his recent visit to a WaWa convenience store. Romney described using a touch pad to order a sub sandwich from a kiosk, appearing to marvel at technology that most of us would recognize from an iPad. Romney was actually making the point that technological innovation in the private sector needs to be adopted in the federal government, trumpeting innovation as a solution to government bureaucracy.
Mitchell, instead, used a partial clip of Romeny’s discussion to claim that Romney just had his “Supermarket Scanner” moment, referring to the famous clip of President George H. W. Bush marveling at the supermarket checkout machines that most of us who buy our own groceries had been familiar with for about a decade at that point. The clip was used to demonstrate that Bush, who still was denying the economy was having trouble, was out of touch with most Americans.
Mitchell, appearing to attempt to frame the debate for Romney in a similar manner, even quipped that Romney hadn’t seen “too many WaWa’s along the roadside in Pennsylvania.” On Tuesday, NBC announced that she would address the criticism on her show, only for her to say that Romney “had more to say” during his speech, then showing the full clip. There was no mention of the edit which changed his message. No mention of her editorializing about Romney being a man who, despite facing earlier attacks about his dog riding on the roof of a car during a cross country trip, would not be familiar with the inner workings of a convenience store.
Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show picked up the controversy. But he didn’t, exactly. There was no direct mention of Mitchell’s slight of edit. Instead, Stewart took on Republicans talking points used since Friday’s announcement of suspending some enforcement of immigration enforcement laws.
Republicans have been using a clip of President Obama saying he couldn’t just unilaterally change the law without Congress’ authorization. Stewart showed a clip from FoxNews of Obama’s December 2010 remarks where the President appeared to contradict himself. He then showed the full clip saying that he can’t change the law, but he can “prioritize enforcement” and choose who to prosecute, and whom to defer until Congress takes action. The full statement, constitutional or not, is consistent with President Obama’s policy remarks from last Friday.
On the surface, what we have is another case of the left and the right doing the same thing to win public opinion toward their side. The implication is that everybody does it, so no harm and no foul. But the problem is deeper.
News has become less about an attempt at pretense of unbiased journalism, and more about the industry of infotainment. FoxNews clearly has a business model that caters to conservatives, while MSNBC, where Mitchell’s show airs, targets progressives with their content.
In an era of multiple news outlets on broadcast television, cable, print, and digital media, the competition for news viewers is fierce. As such, factual and unbiased reporting has taken a backseat to creating a brand to which a customer will remain loyal. Bias is now part of the product, as evidenced by CBS President Les Moonves’ recent comment that “partisanship is very much a part of journalism now.”
The problem with selective edits and biased reporting of only selected facts is that it undermines not only the integrity of journalism, but on our political process as a whole. Conservatives have every right to be suspect of what appears on MSNBC. Liberals have every right to be suspect of FoxNews. The reality is, we the consumer should remain suspect of what we hear from all news sources. Truly informed consumers of news need more than one data point to weed out bias from actual news.
The lack of objectivity also contributes to the victim mentality in today’s politics. Conservatives constantly bemoan the fact that the major networks and programs such as The Daily Show are slanted against them, and trumpet that they can’t get their message out from various places like FoxNews, Talk Radio, and the internet – without any sense of irony. Liberals, likewise, complain about conservatives dominating talk radio and FoxNews number one ratings position as if they somehow don’t have access to most other direct and indirect news sources to get a message out.
Bias is present in almost every situation in life. The instantaneous nature of a 24 hour news cycle makes the former editorial process where others would (at least sometimes) attempt to filter biases from news long gone. The upside to instant access to information has created a competitive environment where bias is no longer just an embedded ingredient, but a product worthy of marketing.
Whining about bias will not change the world. Understanding that it is ever present will help us become a better filter of information and news we receive.