Monday, October 27, 2008

Media bias: It's real, says ABC News journalist; but this ill goes way beyond liberal/conservative

When former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg wrote a book earlier this decade revealing media bias toward conservatives, it was roundly ridiculed by his former colleagues.

I agreed with him, which ostracized me from my colleagues locally and nationally in the news media.

While the bias in the presidential election can be seen as for Obama and against McCain and particularly Sarah Palin, I believe it has evolved into a bias of elitists in the news media looking down on people who are NOT part of the journalists very narrow circle of experiences and friends.

Most journalists dislike -- particularly among decisionmakers -- people without titles. And if you didn't go to their alma mater or one of equal prestige, then you really are a leper. You are considered uneducated, not knowing what is best for you and your community. So let the journalists tell you.

I've seen this attitude in The Tennessean newsroom most greviously where I worked for a decade, and even in supposed close-to-the-people newsroom of Williamson A.M., its bureau in Franklin, TN. The humor-laden ridicule of the common people and people of faith in their readership was real and disturbing. Yes, there are some notable exceptions in both newsrooms. But the general attitudes there are indicative of the profession in general.

It is hard to write these things. I wish someone else would step forward to testify to this truth. But for the good of the people I love and respect in neighborhood and on Main Street, they need to know how they are viewed. And for the good of my profession to turn around its depressing fortunes, there must be a respect for the people supposedly being served.

A big part of the problem for The Tennessean's supposed leadership is that the people in charge come and go like the latest brand of breakfast cereal or Britney Spears' haircut. They make decisions based on marketing surveys, not knowing the people by getting out among them every day and listening. They don't really want to be among you, no matter what they write in their Sunday Issues' columns. Their decisions really are not to better serve you; profits come first.

The people making the decisions on what you read in your newspaper are mostly white and older. Yes, there are women now. But they also suffer from the same elitist virus.

As far as minorities, the Tennessean just a few months ago had all white people on its list of executives featured at the bottom of the editorial page. The addition recently of an African-American editorial page editor is merely a matter of black window dressing.

That editor has left no legacy beyond his own career of black journalism at The Tennessean. Consider that Nashville has an African-American population of 25% and two historically black universities. So what is happening? The answer is apparent. And that's why black journalists only stay at The Tennessean for a few years, then move on to places with more opportunity for their skills and respect for their experiences.

As far as the presidential elections, liberal bias has a lot to do with McCain and Palin not having the education pedigree and the right inside-the-beltway friends. They don't fit into the elitist crowd. And elitism is what the media generally is about.

On the conservative side, FOXNEWS is trying to deliver payback, not objectivity. But I have to give Bill O'Reilly credit for trying to give both sides, even if his is most impoverished. And the network does try and deliver dueling experts on news segments.

Pity Americans of Hispanic descent. We get no respect from either side, or much air time either. And when we do get noticed as on CNN, it features Hispanic political experts who are Republicans. Yet more than two-thirds of Hispanic voters are Democrats.

Media watchers say that we're headed toward newspapers as in the old days, officially labeled Democrat or Republican. And TV already is there, with MSNBC for liberals, FOX for conservatives, CNN(with the exception of Lou Dobbs) for liberals and NBC for liberals. CBS and ABC are only starting to go left.

Our profession must resist this temptation. It is an easy way out instead of just going out and getting to know real people and their concerns, joys and their heroics. And my profession should take heed from these comments by ABC's Michael S. Malone:

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.

He's right. It is increasingly an embarrassment to claim to be a journalist. To admit so is to unleash a torrent of complaints from real and good people outside our the elitist clique determining news coverage.

If I have to make a choice, I'll pick the real people outside my profession I am blessed to know. And I hope they'll pick me and my blog and reject a news media that has no desire to know or respect them.

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