Saturday, May 06, 2006

Journalistic Subjectivity, Part 1

Originally Published 30 January 2006

Through the course of 2005, there was a dichotomy of manpower within the armed forces. While reenlistments of existing Marines and Soldiers were at an all time high, both the Marine Corps and Army fell short of their recruiting goals for new members during several months of 2005. Why were those members being deployed to Iraq desiring to stay in the service at record levels, while finding new recruits had become difficult? The answer is simple. What was actually happening in Iraq was not the picture being presented to us by the mainstream media. And no, it wasn’t reenlistment bonuses.

What was actually happening in Iraq inspired Soldiers and Marines to reenlist. They knew better than anyone that we were winning the war. However, prospective members being pursued by recruiters only saw daily U.S. death tolls, destruction, negativity, and pundits condemning the war on the news each night.

Why the disparity between what was actually happening and what was being reported? Where did the bias come from and why does it persist?

I had been asked those questions on numerous occasions. I responded with what I knew. First, most reporters in Iraq were not energetic enough to go get the whole story. Bob Woodruff, Oliver North, and Jill Carroll would be the exceptions. Secondly, 90% are liberal and belonged to organizations which were liberal, biased toward a political agenda, and thus portrayed news to fit that agenda. To report events objectively and at face value would have meant reporting success for our military and the Bush administration; two things that are clearly at odds with their political ideology. But I personally didn’t feel that answer fully addressed the question.

While still pondering the issue, I was reading a detailed biography of a famous Marine when something became very apparent to me. It was the conduct of the media during and immediately after WWII compared to their conduct during and after the Korean War. The questions and lines of reporting had switched from being focused on the facts of what happened. Instead, they had turned to how individuals felt and an aggressive subjectivity which also probed for negativity; much as it is today.

So, I focused my search for a better answer on that time period. I knew that post WWII social change and advances in media, especially television were influential, but eventually found the philosophical force that drove the press toward a more subjective style of reporting.

Up to about 1947, the goal of the press was to be objective. It was the standard to which journalists strove. Getting all the facts and getting them right defined the ideal news story. But, in 1947, a report titled “A Free and Responsible Press” was released by a commission on the freedom of the press. The report had noble intentions of developing a framework for the constitutional application of the freedom of the press by the press. However, what was ultimately interpreted from it was a decree for journalists to find “the story behind the story” rather than just reporting the facts of the story. The focus was to develop a story behind the statements and events rather than reporting the statements and events. It admonished journalists who simply reported the facts of the story, and instead advocated them telling us what they saw or thought the story was.

The philosophy was rejected at first, as it contradicted the standard for objectivity. But, since it played to the ego of journalists and promoted a role of self-empowerment, it quickly became the guiding principle for journalists and news organizations. Objectivity was gone.

It took a few years to develop, but by the end of the Korean War the process was in use. By Vietnam, it had grown beyond the standard and had become an ideological tool; case in point: the Tet Offensive. By the end of the Tet Offensive, we had crushed the VietCong, both by their own accounts and recorded North Vietnamese history. But, U.S. news organizations reported it as a devastating loss for us because of the ferocity with which the North and the VietCong had launched it. The ideology and subjectivity had overridden the facts to influence public opinion.

In the last 5 years, the bias of the mainstream media has grown and reached a full gale. Their disdain for President Bush has ignited an inferno of biased reporting. It has not only driven the subjectivity of reporting on Iraq, but has even driven some reporters to out and out lies. This has been experienced at USA Today, the New York Times, and CBS. All had cases which led to the firing of employees, public embarrassment, and further degradation of credibility.

Subjectivity of the press is not a new thing. It was influential in our own independence. It drove us to a quick war in Cuba in the late 1890’s. It’s well understood that we all see things through a different prism and have those things which drive our perspective. That’s fine and certainly acceptable. But when a news organization presents itself as objective, and then manipulates facts or withholds parts of the story in order to create a story which fits their ideology, while also publicly attacking those who disagree or possess an opposing ideology, that’s a problem.

The arrows pointing to a left framed subjectivity are numerous. I have noted 5 examples from an endless list of possibilities to further establish the premise.

First, a recent study from UCLA scientifically quantified and ranked news organization bias. It found that only 2 of the 20 major news programs and organizations studied were right of center. Of the five UCLA titled as “centrist,” four of those still scored left of center.

Second, many mainstream news outlets endorsed John Kerry for President. When a news organization endorses a specific candidate, they openly admit to supporting the ideology presented by the candidate. This publicly proclaims they are not objective; their coverage follows suit.

Third, the press coverage Cindy Sheehan receives. Compare that to the coverage of those “Gold Star Families” who support the honorable memory of their loved ones, the administration, and continuing toward victory. The press doesn’t give their side very often do they?

Fourth, John Murtha receives copious press coverage for his anti-war views. However, Sam Johnson, a Republican Congressman from Texas who is a highly decorated veteran and a former POW, is a staunch supporter of the war and our victory, but gets no exposure at all.

Fifth, my own experiences from Iraq in which events were skewed to fit the template of us losing or being the bad guys. Maybe just as bad, is what didn’t get covered: the water we provided to villages, electricity, rebuilding of schools, distribution of school supplies, clothing, food, and how we worked hand in hand with local Iraqi’s to get rid of terrorists in our area. When I returned from Iraq, I was appalled to see what was being reported compared to what I had just experienced for the previous 7 months.

We live in a society which has been taught from sometime after 1947 to see events through a liberal prism by virtue of subjective mainstream media coverage. From that perspective, anything reported from an objective view is labeled as biased or leaning to the right.

Oliver North and other reporters embedded during the initial assault into Iraq were criticized by their non-embedded peers for their unbiased reporting. They were part of, and objectively reporting an army moving through an opposing force faster and farther than any other army in the history of warfare. However, they were criticized by their non-embedded peers and accused of “flag waving” instead of reporting. They weren’t giving their opinions or digging for stories behind the actual story. They were simply reporting the progress of the war. They were reporting facts and events, which were by nature primarily positive, during such a successful endeavor.

But, mainstream media journalists are conditioned to be cynical (especially about anything not liberal), so they accused those reporting objective facts of being biased. The embedded reporters did not conform to the mold of being critical of the military and Bush administration. They did not report with the negativity and subjectivity their peers adhered to, thus their reports were given less credence.

Today, a news organization like Fox News is labeled by those on the left as not even being news, as strictly opinion, or not credible news. Rather hypocritical isn’t it; organizations which provide a liberal view claiming that conservative news lacks credibility?

Meanwhile, the same mainstream media outlets are taking a ratings, revenue, and distribution nose dive. The bastion of liberalism, The New York Times, experienced a 40% drop in revenue last quarter; other left leaning papers are experiencing the same setbacks. The CBS Evening News is rated as being quite far to the left, and is also the lowest rated prime time news program. These are called clues; clues that much of America does not subscribe to the liberal agenda being forced upon them.

Whether you see Fox News as objective or conservative, the fact remains they have surpassed all other cable news sources in market share. Fox News, centrist and conservative web sites, blogs, and talk radio are experiencing huge gains, enjoying leads in audience size and market share. They fulfill either the objectivity some were looking for, or the alternative to the left others were looking for.

I believe what America really wants is to have the facts objectively reported to us so that we can decide how we see the world according to our own prism and ideology. We crave the kind of coverage we find with local journalists; those closer to their audience, in and around our hometowns.

America is full of smart people. All of us, liberal and conservative, deserve to have all the facts and allowed to make up our own minds. If we’re not accommodated, we’ll go find the facts elsewhere. Or, we’ll at least look toward organizations we know will be biased toward our ideology, whatever it may be. In the meantime, the mainstream media, lost in its cynicism and subjectivity, will continue its nosedive.

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