Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Truth in Reporting – If Only We’d Insist On It

Presenting true and accurate information is crucial to enabling the public to make proper decisions, yet it’s increasingly clear that this is of little concern to today’s mainstream media. But as inexcusable as their distortions and slanted coverage are, they come as little surprise. What is astonishing is how conservatives never take the time to take the media to task, especially when their mantras can be easily countered by simply pointing out a few undeniable facts.

Some media bias is subtle and comes in the form of a misrepresentation of public opinion. For some unfortunate reason, many people are more inclined to see what everyone else is thinking and follow in lockstep, as opposed to analyzing issues to form and logical and correct decision. The media uses this herd mentality to their advantage.

One recent example of this was an ABC report by Martha Raddatz in which she interviewed numerous troops regarding their presidential preferences. While poll after poll shows that the military is heavily Republican, to the point that Sen. McCain leads almost exponentially over either opponent, all of Raddatz’s subjects supported Obama, with one or two being for Hillary Clinton and none for John McCain. While it would be easier to find 10 Obama supporters in a row at the Republican Convention than by randomly interviewing ten active duty soldiers, Raddatz managed to pull off this amazing feat and did so unchallenged by ABC. And they’re the least biased of the three major networks.

But this is a minor example. It’s miniscule and doesn’t do justice to the level of media bias that truly permeates television and print news coverage. It is, however, the latest in a constant pattern of misrepresentation. Such a pattern is what leads the media to feature only the handful of ex-generals who side with the Democrats on Iraq, instead of the far greater percentage who side with the President and believe that our actions were far more humane than the previous 12 years of sanctions that starved the innocent population while doing nothing to Saddam. Case in point: Does anyone remember Gen. Jack Keane? When he was outspoken against the administration’s policy and in favor of the surge, there wasn’t a TV news show that didn’t have him on as a regularly featured guest. Now that he says that the surge is working he no longer exists. At the rate at which voices friendly to conservatism disappear from the airwaves, the mainstream media should demand that the Pulitzer be replaced by the “Put Houdini Most to Shame” Award.

The above is true on virtually all issues. The conservative viewpoint is routinely skewed, with its weakest arguments put forward as its only ones. The media, charged with presenting all sides of the issue, are content to state what they believe the conservative viewpoint to be, so dictating it to their listeners and then setting them straight with the best of the liberal argument. That’s their version of presenting all sides of an issue, and if you stray from it, you’re biased.

Let’s take their logic to its natural conclusion. Suppose one of the networks decided to host a presidential debate to which they’d invited only the Democratic nominee. To be “fair,” after playing up all the talking points of his own party, the nominee would make sure to articulate what he thought the Republican position might be, would proceed to rebut them and then go home after having presented “both sides.” If you believe this scenario to be absurd, how is it different from the daily routine of networks getting all political news from Democratic National Committee talking points? To be sure, on occasion, they will give token mention to the Republican point of view, provided it be a weak one. Even then, they make sure to rebut such points quickly in the name of presenting both sides, a noble rule that is only important to follow if a conservative viewpoint somehow reaches the airwaves.

Take any issue. On Iraq, if Al Gore (who railed against George H. W. Bush in 1992 for not deposing Saddam, saying at the time that no dictator who’d already murdered 2 million people could be contained by the type of loose monitoring that was put in place and therefore demanded his removal) had been elected and gone to war under the same circumstances, the media would have reminded us almost daily that despite the fact that no WMD were found, the mission was needed based on UN documents at the time, which showed mass stockpiles of chemical weapons that were clearly in Saddam’s hands in the early 1990s and that hadn’t been destroyed.

We’d be told that at least with regard to poisonous gases, Saddam may have sent these materials to Syria or Libya, hid them in one of his famous underground cities or otherwise removed them in such a way that he could call them back at a moment’s notice. The media would invite top Gore strategists to be interviewed, who would remind the public that had we not attacked Saddam after 12 years of warning, the last 18 months of which had been delivered almost daily, our reputation and future negotiation power with other rogue leaders would have been destroyed. They would have told viewers that if they’re against this unfortunate war they should blame Saddam, who defied the world by continuing to breach the demilitarized zone, who kept yelling that he had weapons and who refused to allow inspectors anywhere without at least a week’s notice. They would rightly state that unlike Iran and North Korea, who would only attack if they had first developed nuclear capabilities, Saddam would have been satisfied by launching even a small terror attack against the US, as evidenced by his attempt to assassinate a former US President.

There’d certainly be no in-depth profiles of every US soldier killed. The media would know that such stories tug at the emotions of the public and might even have turned public sentiment against WW2 if featured at the time, as such emotional highlights take peoples’ minds off whether the war effort is needed (based on the possibility of a madman giving gases to the wrong people or based on prewar intel that could not be discounted because a dictator refused to comply with inspectors) and focus it on individual tragedies. They would know that such heart wrenching individual stories would make America hesitant to ever defend itself and would take the focus off of which course of action would save more lives in the long run.

If Al Gore had gone to war against Saddam we’d be told how all but 4 provinces in Iraq enjoy relative peace. We’d be shown the real atrocities and hunger that sanctions caused before Saddam was removed (which were then seen as the only alternative to removing Saddam while still containing him, an alternative that turned out have cruel ramifications and that was woefully ineffective), as well as a video made by the Kurdish provincial government thanking us for their new and far better conditions and we’d ask why we didn’t save the Iraqi people sooner. Instead of asking whether we should leave with our tail between our legs, thereby emboldening terrorists everywhere, we’d be asking how to improve those areas that are still affected by the upheaval.

Notice that the media only started featuring how life really is in most of Baghdad, its restaurants and its office spaces, when they started featuring stories on its dwindling economy and power outages. Before that they were happy to portray Baghdad as being in middle of an all out civil war, not just the victim of instances of sporadic violence. The recent problems with al Sadr would also have been portrayed in their true context, that of the US military finally being able to take the fight to places they couldn’t go near to for the past two years. You can be sure that a far different picture would have been painted had Gore been elected and stuck with the policy he favored in 1992 that is now known as the Bush Iraq policy.

When the media asks Republicans about polls and public opinion, they should paint the above scenario and counter with “How can you expect anything different after running a daily drumbeat of negative and skewed coverage for years? Where are all the pictures of Iraqi civilians going about daily life, of US soldiers playing with Iraqi children in Iraqi parks and playgrounds, of which there are many? After highlighting every American death, of which there’ve been far fewer than in any other war, after highlighting every instance of possible soldier misconduct over a 5 year period, of which there’ve been far less of than in any previous military campaign, none of which was ever rehashed on a daily basis before, what exactly do you expect the public to feel? Have you once mentioned the reasons for the war or any of the accomplishments made in Iraq? Have you told them of the horrors of the Saddam regime, its threat even without nukes? Have you explained the equally horrific effects of sanctions, the only alternative to removing Saddam? Based on all of this, what exactly do you expect the public to think, especially after you’ve highlighted every death in a way that would have made us pull out of WW2 had you guys been around at the time?”

Whether one is for or against the war, everyone should agree that the facts that are portrayed shouldn’t change whether the war was started by a President Bush, Clinton or Gore. Yet when Republicans are questioned about any Iraqi events or about the war in general they shy away. They speak only of the mistakes (and no war and no general has ever fought without making many blunders), yet refuse to call a spade a spade or to point out that had the media once employed the tactics they’re using now, we’d still be mad at Roosevelt over the Battle of the Bulge (which was not his fault, but neither is al Sadr the fault of Bush).

The above is with regard to Iraq, but the same is true of all other issues. When two states wanted to force 6th grade girls to receive HPV vaccinations, sanctimonious liberal anchors announced that conservative groups opposed the plan “because they believe it could lead to promiscuity.” Yet if you asked most conservatives, they saw the difference between a vaccine, which does not promote a particular act and condom distribution in high, middle and elementary schools, which does. If the vaccines were safe or even tested, few would have opposed them, although some would have asked that it be given as part of a routine medical exam instead of making a special production out of it in school.

The main reason conservatives rallied against the measure was because, except in the event of a possible plague or massive outbreak, parents have the right to protect their children from unsafe, minimally tested vaccines whose long term effects are impossible to document. And that’s aside from the dangers of over-vaccination in general, dangers that go well beyond mercury content. But why bring up these issues when the media can present the vaccine as a cure all, opposed by conservative groups over worries about implications that aren’t apparent, at least unless liberals make them so by stressing the promiscuity aspect to the kids? To be sure, the media eventually did bring up the more prevalent issues, but credited them to health groups. “Conservatives” still opposed the measure for the reasons the media had decided upon. If it were up to the media, the coming McCain-Obama debates really would feature Obama talking to himself and rebutting his arguments with what he wishes McCain would say.

The same is true on all other issues, be it abortion, the Second Amendment, school choice, Intelligent Design, global warming and all other issues. Hundreds of respected scientists can present a scientific case for their arguments that is much more thorough and scientific than that of their opponents. Yet because they don’t parrot the liberal political agenda they are marginalized. In fact, liberals and the media have launched an assault on real science that is greater than any unleashed since the state powers of the time opposed Galileo. As one minor example of this, one should research the 2005 study that documents a cyclical period of global cooling that started in 1998. Is there any reason this study, which has been widely available and even received token media coverage two years ago has been buried ever since? There is, and the answer is self evident.

And what do liberals propose to do about all this? They seek to institute the Fairness Doctrine on the radio to monitor opinion shows that don’t pretend to be news (yet who somehow manage to present more facts than the network news, even though it’s not their job). After all, the right of Reuters to doctor photos and of CBS News to air forged computer text files that were supposedly written on a typewriter in the 1970s must be protected. It’s radio talk show hosts and conservative writers on the internet who need to be curbed as, unlike the rest of the media, they may actually present some real news.

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