Week 5: Media Bias

This week we had several readings pertaining to the quality of media coverage on the news. In particular, George Saunders describes the media as a deteriorating medium in his article “the Brain-dead Megaphone.” Saunders uses this metaphor because anyone with a megaphone can be heard despite their message or audience. In this case, the person holding the megaphone is the television media. Saunders argues that there message lacks substance, yet everyone hears them and listens because they have the megaphone and are louder than everyone else. Saunders sites examples such as FOX news and Rush Limbaugh, claiming their message is dumbing down the general public with biased opinions and news coverage. Saunders explains how the current media industry is one obsessed with ratings and revenue rather than engaged, in depth journalism. Large news corporations such as FOX are so successful because they are able to dominate in a monopolistic fashion. Audiences have few options to choose from, and as a result they are forced to listen to the “brain-dead megaphone.” Saunders urges viewers to question the information presented by these corporations and demand more professional coverage.


                Jeff Cohen’s article “Propaganda from the Middle of the Road” is an article based around the notion of centrism. As Cohen explains, journalists claim to be in the middle and avoid bias, yet they suffer from natural bias, which he defines as centrism. Centrists focus on portraying the United States as a neutral, unbiased nation to the rest of the world. Cohen also explains that the majority of society believes journalists favor the left.


                This week I actually enjoyed reading Graber’s chapter. Graber delves into the power of the media and describes the notion of muckraking. The muckraking model explains how journalist’s investigations arouse the public, in turn causing policy makers to act.  The leaping model occurs when certain steps of muckraking are overlooked. This particular model tends to be most common when television and media collaborate with public officials. The final model is the truncated model, occurs when no reform results from the investigation. As a result, Graber explains politicians tend to offer apologies and solutions. Reform tends to be the result of the public exposing wrong actions, gaining the attention of politicians and journalists to collaborate.


                Another article I enjoyed this week was Peter Johnson’s. In his article, Johnson explains how journalists and reported alike are beginning to demand unbiased news. They are working together to reveal bias and find solutions. Results from this are promising as more journalists are beginning to join the “campaign” are produce unfiltered news. These journalists are not agenda driven and are not manipulated by politicians. Agenda building is a result of a story gaining a lot of attention and television stations adding coverage. If the story is an interesting one, they will continue to cover it to produce higher ratings.




Overall I found the readings from this week to my favorite thus far. My favorite was the Saunders article as he exposed the lack of diversity pertaining to the television market, and how it directly affects the consumer. I believe Saunders could and should have attributed more blame to the consumer. In a profit driven market such as television, the consumer is the life line. Without the viewer, there is no profit, and thus, no pundits. I know it is a bit farfetched, but a solution would be to gather our information from independent, smaller sources. I thought of an analogy today as I was ordering coffee from Aroma Joes. Aroma Joes is a large corporation such as FOX news. They spread into towns and buyout the coffee market, similar to television stations buying out smaller ones and monopolizing the market. If the customers abandon the existing, small business coffee shops (the smaller news stations) then they will be left with no other options than Aroma Joes (Fox news) The quality of the product from Aroma Joes may be much worse and lacking (in terms of news, lack of investigation, articulation, substance) than that of the small business coffee shops (small news syndicates) but people will go to Aroma Joes because it is convenient and no other option.


This is what I believe happens to consumers and the news market. We as the consumer turn on the television looking for news, but only have five or six options. As a result we are lazy and just turn on whichever channel appeals to our ideologies and are in a sense brainwashed. We do not question what we are hearing, rather we just absorb whatever we hear and believe it to be true. My favorite aspect of the Saunders article is his critique of television and their inability to self-critique. I believe televisions do not self-critique because doing so they would see the glaring issues within their corporation. Rather than admit change is necessary via self-reflection, Saunders explains they neglect to do so because they are only concerned with revenue. In its current state, television corporations are booming and bringing in a great deal of money. If the only thing that matters at end of the day is money, why change it? That is why Saunders explains it is vital for the viewer to critique and demand better journalism. If they do not do so, the status quo will remain the same and television corporations will continue to profit off the viewer.


I found Graber’s chapter very informative and it made me think about our current media system. The chapter deals with the lack of monitoring of journalists and the lack of rules regarding news reporting. The media is in a sense an independent entity with no one telling them what to do. When a police officer makes an arrest he has to go through several steps and procedures to correctly and fairly detain the prosecutor. If one step is ignored or missed, that particular officer can get in a lot of trouble, such as the Rodney King incident. From reading Graber’s chapter, I do not get that notion that journalists are held to that standard. Rather, they are cold blooded, only concerned with revenue and agendas. If a story does not appeal to them or does not generate ratings, it will be ignored. If the story is “sexy” or as professor Soha stated in class, ‘sensational’ the media will go to several lengths to report it. An example of this is when the Sandy Hook tragedy took place. The news was reporting it twenty-four seven, rightfully so. It was generating high ratings and pundits were using it to discuss gun rights. The more I watched, the more agendas began to interfere with the core story. A couple days after the shooting it became Republicans vs Democrats, gun control vs the second amendment. The agendas of the given news stations were now more important than the twenty-six victims. Another thing I found interesting about this certain time period was a story about two volunteer fire fighters reported to a house call and were ambushed and murdered. Me and my mother heard the story once and never heard anything about it again. We switched to several different news platforms but could barely find anything. Perhaps this is what Graber was saying when she said only sexy stories sell. Perhaps it was not sensational enough to report.


The lack of monitoring of our journalists and news reporting is why I think blogs are so vital. In my opinion, blogs and social media are the police of journalism. In an industry where revenue and sensationalism determines if you keep your job, it is no wonder why journalists report what their bosses tell them to. They have very little freedom, they are forced to read what is placed on the teleprompter of they are fired. That is why social media and blogs, which have no boss, are such an intricate factor in altering the current climate of journalism. In the most recent debate between President Obama and Romney, a twitter account “fact checker” was created to expose any lies or exaggerations made by either candidate. In a debate, it is very easy for the viewer to lose track of what is factual and what is false. There are several numbers and policies thrown around that are plain and simple, false. In an up to the minute update, the fact checker twitter would clarify any claims made and report the truth. Instances such as these are why social media can act as the police. They can expose the candidates and reveal the truth for the general public so they are not manipulated. The more facts the public receives, the more knowledgeable they will be, resulting in a more educational presidential election.  Even after the debate, when political pundits would push their agendas of their bosses onto the general public, the fact checker kept going. Bill O’Reilly would attempt to twist the debate to make it seem as if Romney had won, but the twitter account would neglect every sentence he said, with facts. I believe facts are what are missing from the news, and television has transformed into nothing more than propaganda.


In sticking with the sensational desire of the media, Graber makes another interesting point when she says the media exploits individuals. When a candidate runs for office, all of his family and close friends are targets for scrutiny. Journalists dig up stories about their friends in order to make the candidate look bad. This made me think, who would ever want to run for president? Your most beloved friends and family, who should have nothing to do with your campaign other than offer support, are now targets. Instances such as these exemplify the current news climate. Substance and policies are not important; reality television is. This speaks to what professor Soha said in class, that candidates are getting younger and younger. The older you are, the more dark secrets you have in your closet from the past. The media wants to portray the president as a model citizen, which is simply impossible. The news tried to make a big deal about Obama smoking pot in college, but the general public simply did not care. I believe our culture is adapting to learn that people make mistakes and that we are not in search of the perfect man for president, rather just a human being.


Finally, I do not believe the media will ever be unbiased, it is impossible. As Jeff Cohen explains, everyone has a political ideology even if they identify as independent. The United States wishes to appear as centrist to the rest of the world, but I don’t believe it happens. The United States wants to be the big brother who helps everyone out and keeps the peace, but they pick and choose who they help as a result of who can help them. There is always a political motive behind who they help, and that will always remain.


Questions: 1) Do you believe laws should be established do monitor journalists?


2) IF you were to boycott the news because you were mad about bias, what platform would you rely on for your news? Why?