Barack Hussein Obama. “I can see Russia from my house!” Photoshopped images of incidents abroad that no one in America could ever confirm. These are just a few of many examples of media’s injection of political opinion and mindless banter into its representation of a wide variety of topics. The media tends to latch onto small and otherwise useless facts, blow them out of proportion and effectively exert left or right forces on the public’s opinions.
While it is good that journalists recognize they have that power, they should not abuse it as terribly as they have in recent years, and should instead use it to inform their followers to the greatest degree. Anything from word choice to the exaggeration of an otherwise small incident to a decision to not report a major incident can shift the public’s perspective on a single person or an entire demographic.
Additionally, well-informed viewers of different media sources can recognize and sift through the editorializing, but the apathetic masses are susceptible to flipping channels through a biased report and ultimately submitting to uninformed opinions and voting patterns. From a factual perspective, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s approval ratings were consistently above 90 percent prior to her selection as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election. Additionally, as a previously little-known figure to the masses, Palin drew large amounts of attention to the McCain campaign, but the media completely tore her apart, taking advantage of her personal characteristics that were easy to mock, such as her accent and her striking resemblance to actress/comedian Tina Fey.
Even worse, journalists turned Palin’s daughter into the subject of hundreds of gossip columns. Her children’s lives should never be brought into political discussion. That is a cheap way of attacking a politician, and any dip or rise in any politician’s approval ratings should be solely based on the politician’s political convictions.
The liberal media is not the only institution to blame either; the right-wing press’s continuous question of Obama’s true religion and emphasis on his middle name brings irrelevant discussions to political circles. While a large number of voters are religiously driven in stances on social issues, equating Obama’s middle name to his “real” religion and connections with terrorists is a long stretch with no factual foundation other than just that—his middle name. While this type of middle school girl gossip did not deter Obama in his bid for the presidency, “Hussein” continues to appear in places other than Obama’s biographies.
On a smaller scale, a recent voicemail caught of CBS reporters’ attempt to find a registered sexual predator among a sea of supporters for a particular politician reflects the blatant disregard for unbiased journalism. Still, even my knowledge of that incident may itself be the result of biased media.
Based on these examples, the answer to the question “To report or not to report?” often and unfortunately indicates a news source’s political interests. In this sense, journalists should fully and factually report on every story deemed relevant to the viewers (and by the viewers).
These descriptions reflect a bias in fairness and political opinion, but other types of bias may be introduced by a lack of “interesting” events. Admittedly, sometimes sensationalizing stories is the only way to grab viewers’ and readers’ attentions. Today’s perpetually plugged-in world is bored to tears by facts and numbers, but is drawn to a state of hyperactivity in re-tweeting Britney Spears’ latest updates.
On the same train of thought about attention-grabbing stories, journalists in other parts of the world may present in a fashion that makes their locations and stories more relevant or time-worthy than they may actually be.
What’s more is that there are fewer easily accessible places to confirm events across the world, making it harder for the viewers to question what is being reported.
Additionally, the newly found dependence on tweets and iReports takes an interesting spin on media bias. Since the generators of this type of content neither train in journalism nor invest themselves in unbiased reporting, they have no reason to present factual stories.
While journalists have every right to have political beliefs and ideological investments in the topics they discuss, these stances must be completely removed from reporting and should not advertently or inadvertently exert forces on public opinion.