There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about media bias or “fake news” (as some have phrased it). Some say it’s real, and some say it’s a myth – though I haven’t really heard many lately even trying to claim the later. So, as a longtime member of the media, I’ll try to clear it up for you.
Media bias is real, and it’s becoming more and more pervasive – at least when it comes to national level news media sources. Not so much for little small-town media outlets like this one.
But media bias is certainly not a new development in America.
Shortly after James Madison and Thomas Jefferson started butting heads and polarizing an infant nation’s political landscape behind their two different political philosophies, this country’s media sources – which consisted of just newspapers, books, and printed pamphlets back then – started taking sides.
As time went on and American politics settled firmly into a two-party system, that trend continued with competing newspapers (most aimed at appealing more to one side or the other) popping up in cities and towns from sea to shining sea. In fact, many of these newspapers had the words “Democrat” or “Republican” right there on the masthead. Some of our own local communities once had newspapers of that kind.
With the inventions of radio and TV, electronic media became an increasingly popular alternative to printed media, and, for a while, these new media sources mostly shied away from obvious political bias and tried to appeal to a broader, more universal audience.
But by the 1960’s, journalism (which had previously been a working class trade) had become more of an education-based profession with a college or university degree being expected of those entering that career field. And with that development, journalists and newsrooms increasingly started reflecting the more liberal and progressive ideologies that were on the rise on college campuses around the country.
Many embraced the progressive notion that – rather than seeking to be a somewhat objective purveyor of information and just letting people make up their own minds about what that information means – it is a journalist’s moral responsibility to try to steer people’s opinions away from old, backwards ways of thinking toward a more progressive mindset.
By the time the 1990’s rolled around, the mainstream news media had drifted far enough to the left that conservatives were starting to feel neglected and disenfranchised – which led them to start establishing and promoting their own media sources. With the rise of conservative talk radio and FOX News, our country entered into a sort of media cold war with the liberal-leaning mainstream media and the newer conservative media sources wrestling for control of the national narrative, each working hard and finding creative ways to frame news-worthy events in a way that helped their side of the ideological argument and hurt the other.
The advent of the Internet has since added a multitude of new news and opinion sources to the mix, and social media makes it possible for single individuals to have influence comparable to entire media organizations.
The media war went into high gear with the 2016 election of Donald Trump, who made it part of his political strategy to directly confront and antagonize the mainstream media, and the already divided American media dug their trenches along rather obvious anti-Trump and pro-Trump battle lines. One might say our current media environment has become downright toxic, and, even with Trump now out of office, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
But I think it’s important for everyone to see their own part in all of this and realize that media bias flows from a very simple, basic reality of human nature. People like to hear and see and read things they already agree with, and they don’t like to be exposed to ideas and opinions they don’t agree with. Having our own beliefs and views affirmed makes us feel good about ourselves, and having our beliefs and views challenged or contradicted tends to make us angry and defensive.
You might say that media sources are adapting the way they package and present the news according to the invisible law of ideological supply and demand. And, to be brutally honest, there doesn’t seem to be a really big public demand for truly fair, balanced, and objective journalism these days. Most people seem pretty entrenched in their views, and, more often than not, they’re going to gravitate toward media sources that make them feel like they’re right or correct or in the majority when it comes to the way they see things.
But we all still have a choice. We can take the easy path and just blindly buy into whatever our preferred media sources are selling – or we can keep our eyes open and our brains turned on, apply some wisdom and discernment, and exercise our God-given right to think for ourselves.