Fair and Balanced News

As a true independent voter who has and will vote for Democrats and Republicans, I seek to find as much truth and data in the news I watch and read. I steer clear of the more strident, politicized news sources because what they are portraying as news is more editorial or a version of a story which often times it is not the real story. As many of our issues are complex, the solutions need a deeper dive than what most news channels are willing to give. On Thursday’s “Rock Center,” Brian Williams and Ted Koppel did a story on the “Partisan Media’s Impact” on the news. I hold both Koppel and Williams in very high regard, but I did find interesting their choice to include Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Bill Maher as guests to espouse on their views. I think the choice to include those three invites biased points of view from the outset.

Yet, what precipitated this post were two comments made during the story. First, the acknowledgement that the more conservative bent news channel contributes $1 Billion in annual profit to its network. This profit margin perpetuates that appealing to a conservative base giving them what they want to hear makes money. This recognition forced Williams’ employer to start a similar so-called news network that does the same thing to a more liberal base. The key takeaway, if portraying editorial as news and bending the news and data a certain way make so much money, then that is what is going to be done. Koppel went on to add that the talking head shows are very inexpensive to produce, hence even more profit margin can be gleaned. Having seen first hand CNN’s research engine on a tour of its facility, getting the real story costs more.

Second, Ms. Coulter was very strident in her views that all other media are liberally biased. She even included Koppel who was interviewing her in that mix. As noted earlier Koppel is one of the best news people around, so he was floored. He said you do not know anything about where I stand on issues. She dismissed that and said he was part of the liberal news media. When he asked which news channel provided the most fair news reporting, she quickly responded “Fox News.” She even cited their catchphrase of “Fair and Balanced.”

In my view, the news channel “which must not be named” is the most biased news channel in the US. It is unabashedly filled with propaganda, disguises editorials as news and includes guest speakers and hosts who have either been in or run for office rather than people who are knowledgeable about a topic I also find their use of data to be quite loose to prove points. So, its claim to be “fair and balanced” is as untrue as many of its news stories. I do not tend to watch this news channel for these reasons, but I don’t watch its counterpoint on the liberal side either. I find they tend to sensationalize the news and focus on items that are not as news worthy as the key issues. And, while the mainstream news channels are better, especially CNN, they do not cover the news in an in-depth fashion and spend more time on sensational issues such as the game of politics.

As I noted before, the most fair and balanced news reports are “PBS Newshour” and “BBC World News America.” They are the Alvus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall to the news channel “which must not be named.” PBS Newshour has a great combination of in-depth reporting with the news of the day. And, without commercials, you walk away well-informed from their hour of news. The other two keys are very experienced and knowledgeable reporters and anchors as well as very knowledgeable guests. Typically, on any subject, they will have one, two or three SMEs (subject matter experts) that know what they are talking. And, they top it all off with David Brooks and Mark Shields, who are highly conversant and civilly discuss issues of the week.

BBC World News America is also quite good. The added value they bring is the “outside looking in perspective.” Katty Kay and her other anchors are very knowledgeable and question things from an outsider’s perspective. This is very refreshing and illuminating as America’s needs that perspective on its problems. For example, the rest of the world finds of interest our disdain for national health care, when it works reasonably well in so many countries. The rest of the world finds of interest our unhealthy embrace of guns without better gun laws. And, the rest of the world wonders why one of the major political parties in the US cannot publicly admit global warming is real and man-influenced.

When I hear people say they watch the channel “which must not be named,” for their news, I encourage them to watch the above two news reports. They will get a much deeper and holistic perspective on the news. Our problems are complex and we are owed the real story, not a biased version of the story meant to gain political points. To illustrate my seriousness of purpose, I left the GOP back in 2006 for three primary reasons:

– the GOP’s public stance on global warming;

– the GOP’s unhealthy embrace of the evangelical and gun-toting crowds; and

– the GOP’s strong propensity to make things up.

I found the news channel “which must not be named” to be one of the biggest contributors to this propensity. I found politicians who would say things, have them repeated on the news and say them again and the story would become news. This is why I use the term propaganda when describing their news. If you were fair and balanced you would dig deeper when a politician is giving you a line not parrot the line. We need news reporters, not stenographers.

When Newt Gingrich does a national TV commercial with Nancy Pelosi to say he was wrong about his earlier stance on global warming and then, when he runs for President say he was wrong to say he was wrong, the media should have been all over him. What made you change? To go on with Pelosi is a major step, so to change your mind again, seems highly political – why? Senator Jim DeMint likes Romney Care so much with its mandate, he writes a letter to President Bush encouraging him to adopt this for the country. Why did you change your opinion? And, Governor, why have you changed yours, especially when this is your greatest success? The data clearly shows we are one of the least taxed countries in the world. Why does the Tea Party say we are taxed enough when we are 10% below the global average and were 6% below the average when our budget was last balanced? I would also ask the President and Congressional leaders to tell us why Simpson-Bowles is not being considered more.

These are the kinds of questions we should be asking rather than looking for sound bytes to argue over. A substantive change in policy is important. We need news reporters to help us get to the bottom of the issues. We do not need to glean news from editorialists. I would also tell Ms. Coulter, I looked up “fair and balanced” in the dictionary – the words individually or collectively do not mean people who agree with you. If it is all the same, I will continue to watch PBS Newshour and BBC World News America. Even when I don’t agree with them or their guests, I feel I am getting a better understanding of the issues. That is fair and balanced. We folks at Hogwarts deserve to hear from Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall and not “he who must not be named” or even his liberal mirror image.

10 thoughts on “Fair and Balanced News

  1. Fair and balanced news is an oxymoran in today’s profit driven, newsrooms. CBS, once considered the tiffany network for its stellar news department, was considered the leader in this arena. Now, the networks are beholden to corporate sponsor, the same corporations who can now freely contribute to the elections, thanks to Citizens United. Think there is a link? I certainly do.

    Roger Ailes, the head of the news dept. for Fix News, is an unabashed republican, since his days in the Nixon white house. No question what his agenda is.

    And Ann Coultier, in my estimation, is the devil reincarnated. She make Palin look like the archangel. Like Rush Limbaugh, she will say or do anything, and has, in order to sell books. Why anyone would invite her to a discussion on fair news is beyond me.

    Thanks for writing a great post. You will see a similar message in the near future.


  2. When I was in school in the mid-1970s, I had a retired hippie as a civics teacher – if, in fact, one can technically “retire” from being a hippie, that is. She had us play a game called Propaganda – it is a game that has been around for many years, and is used to teach critical thinking skills and persuasive speaking skills. it’s very helpful in training for debates, since part of the game play is a bit like a mini-debate in itself. (fun trivia fact: One of the people who originally developed this game was “Bonanza” actor Lorne Greene.)

    I wonder why we don’t have something like this in civics classes now. Teaching young people how to analyze the information they receive in the media, and how to recognize persuasive techniques like rationalization, quotes taken out of context, ad hominem attacks, etc. seems like a skill that would be useful now more than ever.

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