Monday, April 20, 2015

Unbiased News

I recently watched most of the movie "Good Night and Good Luck".  The title reflects the sign-off phrase used by Edward R Murrow at the end of his shows.  I know I have seen the movie before, in its entirety, but only caught the last half this time.  The main thrust of the movie details the shows which Murrow ran (along with his producer, Fred Friendly played by George Clooney who also directed the film) about Senator Joe McCarthy and his hearings to unearth and publicly out communists working in the United States government. 

In retrospect, we have the advantage on knowing that while McCarthy may have found a few communists hiding in our midst, his bullying tactics, his use of accusations without proof, and his apparent belief that only through denying Americans the freedom to choose their political affiliations could America be free, did more harm than good, ruined countless innocent lives, and even led to the suicide of people who were either not guilty of being traitors or were guilty of making foolish choices in their youth.  In the end, McCarthy did become famous, or perhaps infamous, but not because he saved America from an internal nest of communists, but through the term McCarthyism defined in Wikipedia as "the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism". 

While many still argue that the Communist Party in America in the 1940's was controlled by Moscow, and that there were indeed Communist spies in our country, it may be said that McCarthy's use of guilt by association to detect those individuals, did far more damage to America by diluting the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  And, while comments such as that made by then president George  W. Bush in regards to the fight against terrorism - "you are either with us or against us", make a good sound bite, and are great fodder for rallying around the flag, I believe that most Americans realize now that the strength of our country is our ability to recognize our differences, to accept that true freedom means acknowledging the rights for others' to express opinions contrary to one's own, and that the more repressive we become to shut out constructive criticism of our country and our policies, the less free we all become.

Which brings me to the point of this post, unbiased news.  First, one may argue that there never has been such an animal, that all news is biased, first through the actual choice of what is reported upon, and second through the presentation, i.e length of time, tone of reporter, background of the story, etc.  That being said, one might counter that the heyday of responsible journalism may have begun during the time of Murrow, and perhaps peaked in the 60's and 70's when the abuses of government and business were revealed through the Watergate scandal, the Pentagon papers, and the release of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. 

Are there more news sources than ever?  Yes, certainly.  But are the breaking stories fact based, important, incisive, or more gossip than news?  And, are the sources legitimate journalists or a one issue fanatic typing away in his basement?  In a previous post, I mentioned Edward Snowden, and a story perhaps just as important to American freedom than those mentioned above, yet coverage of Snowden and the abuses of our individual privacy as legalized through the Patriot Act seem at best ignored, at worst presented as one man's traitorous act against the United States. 

So where can one go for news, that is, the reporting of events without opinion.  I have mentioned more than once that, in my opinion, most shows presented on the Fox channel as news belie the term.  Even the business news which one might think would present facts such as low unemployment, record stock market, strong US dollar, one of the strongest economies in the world, instead presents guest after guest and one statement after the other by Lou Dobbs about how horribly President Obama has run the country.  And, on the other side of the coin, most shows on MSNBC, while not presenting themselves quite as news programs, still lean heavily left and present opinions and stories that reflect well on the president and the Democrats a large percentage of the time.

In the past, major network news anchored by the likes of Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and respected  newspapers like the NY Times and Washington Post were trusted sources of news for the general public.  Again, biases existed via the topics chosen to be broadcast and printed, but the news was less colored by opinion, more dependent on fact.  With the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle and the desire to be first with a story, facts seems less important than the presentation and the salaciousness of the story.  Also, and again, I am sure it has always been true, there is a real effort being made by some pseudo-news organizations to present lies as truth, using repetition as a way to increase the likelihood that the lie will be believed.  How many people still believe that President Obama is a Muslim, born in Kenya?

Of course, as I have always said, much of the blame lies in us, the public.  If we are dissatisfied with the news we are getting, we must remember that networks, newspapers, radio stations, magazines, etc distribute such news to make money.  If no one watched, listened or purchased the products, they would not exist.  We get the news we deserve, I guess, and if the news is full of half truths, opinion based "facts", slander, and fluff, then I guess that is what we want.  Add to that the fact that so many of our media sources are owned and operated by corporations and individuals who are wealthy and have an agenda of their own that may or may not coincide with the truth of the news of the day, and it is very easy to understand why so many people do not know Edward Snowden, do not know the vast amount of money being spent on corporate welfare, do not know just how close we are to the tipping point for our environment to change dramatically, do not know how many people our government has killed and continues to kill in the guise of the war on terror, do not know that a scary percentage of our laws are written by lobbyists, and do not know just how insidious our financial system is in regards to providing advantages to those with, and locking out those without. 

Or perhaps, we prefer not to know.  They say that knowledge is power but with power comes responsibility.  Perhaps our problem is that by not knowing we can more easily look to blame.  And, since those controlling our news are very eager to tell us who to blame (and deflect the blame from those truly responsible), then, I guess, the circle is complete.  We prefer to know who the next American Idol will be, and who hates America, and who thinks the cat is going up the stairs rather than down the stairs, but avoid news about serious subjects or subjects that require reflection and thought.  And, as for the most critical problems of the day for which there are no simple answers, well, there is no money in trying to address those issues through a series of programs, and besides, who has the attention span for that anyway?

At the end of "Good Night and Good Luck", parts of Murrow's speech at a news organization function are recreated.  He admonishes the crowd to encourage those in TV to use it as a way to educate, enlighten and entertain Americans, not merely to pander to their most base instincts.  He sees it as a tool, and like all tools, it eventually will be defined as being used for good or bad, and, ultimately, as a way to define the society itself which used it thusly.  I wonder what Murrow would think, specifically of TV now, and in general, the news media as a whole.  I sometimes fear he would say "good luck" but with a sad shake of his head and downcast eyes.  



No comments:

Post a Comment