Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

Media bias and democracy

Having now lived most of my life in Silicon Valley, I've known of Michael Malone as a local writer at the Mercury News and host of his own shows on Silicon Valley technology news and developments on one or more PBS affiliates. I also knew he went on to work at the ABC Television network news division as an expert on high technology, but since I've been tacitly boycotting the "Desperate Housewives" network for years, I haven't seen much of him since then. When I saw him in earlier local venues, he seemed a typical liberal with some bright ideas but with not enough substance to make reading or watching him a habit of choice. So I was surprised to find that the most important opinion piece/column I've read in a long time is written by him, and posted (though obviously reluctantly) on the ABC News website. He begins with this bombshell:

The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I've found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.

But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I've begun -- for the first time in my adult life -- to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was "a writer," because I couldn't bring myself to admit to a stranger that I'm a journalist.

And a bit later, Malone admits that he is not a supporter of McCain/Palin but he fears for the future of journalism and, because fair and balanced reporting is essential for the democratic process to work, he fears for the future of democracy in America. Though I don't see this lapse in judgment and fall into blatant hypocrisy on the part of the mainstream media (abbreviated as MSM these days in a number of blogs) as cause to panic, I think Malone is right on both issues. Their blatant disregard of their responsibility endangers the media themselves and the democratic process. The good news is, at least from my jaundiced perspective, that those same media are fading fast. A far more democratic kind of mass medium is supplanting them. Newspaper circulations have been falling quarter after quarter for years now. Network television is also continuing to decline in viewership and shows no signs of having found a strategy to reverse the trend. But blogs, news aggregator sites, and networking sites on the Internet, that often out-research, out-report, and generally out-earn the respect of viewers over the jaded MSM, continue to thrive. The New York Times is already forecasting its own demise; long live the Drudge Report and its many kin.

In a week of posts here shortly after the terrorist attacks that killed thousands and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, I addressed media bias and what I believe is both its Christian and its humanist alternative. I advocated abandoning the pretnse of impartiality in the media but at the same time opening them to a structural pluralism approach to balance, fairness, and accuracy. You may want to review these short articles here:

A commentary on mass media
Desperate times reveal media's "relgious" biases
The media's betrayal of trust
The myth of media "neutrality"

Malone ties the decline in newspaper subscribers and network television viewers to the media's bias, but surprisingly he sees the current extreme MSM bias against everyone but Obama as not a cause of a defection of audiences, but a reaction on the part of the media managers to their failing fortunes. He weaves this explanation:

Why? I think I know, because had my life taken a different path, I could have been one: Picture yourself in your 50s in a job where you've spent 30 years working your way to the top, to the cockpit of power & only to discover that you're presiding over a dying industry. The Internet and alternative media are stealing your readers, your advertisers and your top young talent. Many of your peers shrewdly took golden parachutes and disappeared. Your job doesn't have anywhere near the power and influence it did when you started your climb. The Newspaper Guild is too weak to protect you any more, and there is a very good chance you'll lose your job before you cross that finish line, 10 years hence, of retirement and a pension.

In other words, you are facing career catastrophe -- and desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play. Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here. After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway -- all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.

And then the opportunity presents itself -- an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career.

With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived fairness doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.

Worse than simple betrayal...selling out First Principles for selfish interests. And ABC News adds its chilling post-script:

This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Usually, the MSM qualify opinion pieces by their staff writers with "the opinions of the writer may not reflect the views of this organization." But Malone's editors are leaving no doubt. They're on the other side.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.

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