The Myth of the Unbiased Press

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Looks like this is a long standing tradition

Looks like this is a long standing tradition

There is an idea in modern America that the press is supposed to be unbiased and only report the straight facts. Republicans complain about organizations like MSNBC and the New York Times, while Democrats do the same with Fox News and AM radio. Both sides act as if the press was once a shining beacon of impartiality, which has only recently become “corrupted” by bias. This notion is simply untrue. Human beings are completely incapable of being totally objective, and always have been. We tend to tell our version of the story first and foremost, and tend to give more credence to the side that we agree with.

Even at the founding of the United States, the press was extremely partisan. Most, if not all, of the early publicans were either Federalist or Republican. The Federalist Papers were initially published through several newspapers sympathetic to their viewpoints. Early politicians often used various partisan newspapers to disparage and mock their rivals. Phrases like “frog-eating, man-eating, blooddrinking cannibals” were regularly used to describe the opposition party and its leaders. When scandals, such as the one involving Alexander Hamilton’s mistress, came to light it sent both sides of the press into a frenzy. The Federalist newspapers did everything they could to minimize and distract from the scandal, while the Republican ones devoted most of their resources to exposing it and find more “dirt.” Scandals involving Republicans produced predictably similar results.

If anything, the news media has become less partisan to cater to a very fickle subscriber base that only wants to hear sensationalist stories and things they agree with. Even though each member of the press has their own slant on a story, it runs a distant second to ratings and readership. That means if a sensationalist story breaks about “their guy” they are still going to pull out all of the stops to report on it. It also means that if the American people are largely in favor of something then the press will likely be as well. Nothing evidenced this more then the run up to the Iraq War. There was very little question of its wisdom in the press, even “liberal” standard bearers like the New York Times. It wasn’t until popular opinion began to shift about the war that the press followed. At the end of the day, ratings matter more then anything, even to the members of the press with the largest ideological axes to grind.

It falls to the American people to decide for themselves, what they want to read, hear, and see from the news media. If a certain viewpoint that enough people want to hear is woefully under represented then the market will see that and someone will fill the void. We do not need government oversight in the form of a “Fairness Doctrine” or agency to make sure that every thing is “fair and balanced”. Who would decide what is fair anyway? People regularly find reporting that they agree with to be unbiased, and everyone else to be slanted or not telling the whole story. The market can do a fine job of proving media for people of all viewpoints if it is allowed to. In fact, Fox News is the highest rated cable news network, and it caters to the segment of America that is the most vehement about the “Main Stream Media” being biased and not representing them. Remember, the Constitution promises us a free press; not an objective one.


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