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What's wrong with the American news media?

By Daniel G. Jennings
web posted November 4, 2002

Bashing and criticizing the news media has become a national sport in the United States. A whole library full of books attacking every aspect of the news media has been written and published, and a small army of commentators including Rush Limbaugh, Steve Brill and Bill O'Reilly is making a good living attacking the news media. These observers have done a good job of identifying many of the symptoms afflicting the news media; unfortunately, they have failed to diagnose the disease that is causing them or to offer a cure for it.

Therefore, I shall attempt to identify the disease, the main problems with the news media, and the way it gathers, reports and presents the news. I won't offer any solutions, I'll just try to state what the fundamental problems with the media are and put them out for discussion. I've identified these problems through years of working in the media and in my own reading and watching the news.

The first and most serious problem with our news media is that of dishonesty. The American news media has become fundamentally dishonest. In fact, a culture of dishonesty now prevails in American newsrooms. We can see this in the media's claims of objectivity: the big three TV networks, the cable news networks, PBS, the major newspapers, the wire services, and the news magazines all claim to be objective and unbiased. Yet it is obvious, to all but the most naïve reader or viewer, that they are biased in favor of left-wing positions.

Other examples of this dishonesty abound. The news media claims to champion the underdog and the common people, yet it espouses and promotes an ideology that is hostile to the values and beliefs of the common people. Those who work in the news media claim not to be interested in money or the trappings of wealth, yet they compete ferociously for huge salaries and the trappings of wealth. News management claims to champion the cause of diversity and equality for people of all races, yet CBS news executives only ran news stories that featured white faces as veteran CBS newsman Bruce Goldberg revealed in his excellent book, Bias.

Going hand in hand with the fundamental dishonesty of America's news media is the second problem: hypocrisy. The news media claims to disdain capitalism and profit, yet most media outlets are part of huge for profit corporations that engage in fierce, often cutthroat, competition. Media figures draw huge salaries and their news reporting often reflects the interests of the big corporations they work for rather than the public interest. The media claims to operate in the public interest, yet it often operates in its own interest.

For example, most media professionals favor so-called campaign finance reform, basically restricting the amount of money political candidates and their supporters can spend on advertising and campaigns. The news media claims that its support of such reform is motivated by a desire for "clean" politics. But, as Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, restricting campaign funding will greatly increase the news media's power and influence as it becomes the sole source of information about political campaigns.

The third fundamental problem facing the news media is that of arrogance. Journalists no longer feel bound by the same rules and values as the rest of us. They feel free not to participate in their communities, and, even worse, believe that they have a moral right to force their values upon the rest of us. Many journalists now feel that they have a moral right to manufacture stories and distort news coverage in order to promote the causes they believe in. Some journalists now believe that they are superior beings who have a right to dictate what the rest of us believe. To make matters worse, most journalists spend much of their time and effort trying to impress the media elite so they can join it to share its wealth and power rather than really trying to report the news.

The dishonesty, hypocrisy and arrogance that is prevalent throughout America's news media poses a serious danger to our country's future. A nation like ours needs a free press that is willing and able to present its citizens with an honest and unbiased picture of the world around it. There is no way that today's American news media, which is so dishonest, hypocritical and arrogant, can fulfill that role.

Daniel G. Jennings is a freelance writer and journalist who lives and works in Denver, CO. He has worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in five states.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Telling the whole story by Steven Martinovich (January 7, 2002)
    Steve Martinovich reviews Bernard Goldberg's Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, an whistleblowing account of media bias
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