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Credibility in Contemporary American Media by Kerem Ozkan A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorshipof Keith Fitzgerald Sarasota, Florida May, 2010
II Table of Contents Abstract III Introduction 01 Chapter 1 04 Chapter 2 22 Chapter 3 39 Conclusion 72 Bibliography 74
III Credibility inContemporary American Media Kerem Ozkan New College of Florida, 2010Abstract Since early in the 20th century, American media outlets have been shaped largelyby the mainstream ideology of the press; a loosely defined, yet commonly understood set of journalistic practices, beliefs and ethics enacted in order to convey a sense of credibility to audiences. In recent years, the media has increasingly deviated from thisideology. Prime time is dominated by partisan pundits such as Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann, while the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post push their ideologies online. A close analysis of such outletsrevealsthat they convey credibility by advancing allegations of rampant media bias. They also blur lines between facts and opinions, journalistic analysis and commentary, all the while presenting information in an authoritative matter-of-fact way. To the casual audience member, these partisan media outlets are able to effectively convey credibility, while not having to adhere to the ethical commitments that guide conventional journalism. Such developments complicate the mainstream ideology, and sugget that professionalized journalists need to revise their conception of objectivity in order to stay relevant in the 21st century. Keith Fitzgerald Social Sciences
1 Introduction This thesis is an explorationofthe rise of thenewpartisan mediain contemporary America, and its implications for the ideology of the press. A close analysisshows that the new partisan media signifies a substantial deviation from conventional means ofconveyingcredibilityto audience. While the professional practices and ethical commitments of reporting are often taken for granted, numerous scholars have agreed that a singular mainstream ideology can be identified. At the most basic level, this ideology can be identified as a commitment to providing audiences with the information they need to make informed decisions in a democracy through accurate, fair, balanced, non-partisan, independent reporting. There have always been partisan news sources that refuse to buy into the mainstream ideology. This new wave of partisanship, however, is notable first and foremost for its prevalence. Many observers have noted the decline in traditional journalism, manifest in CNNs ratings slip and the failure of newspapers across the country. Meanwhile, Bill OReilly and Keith Olbermann rule prime time, while the Drudge Report and Huffington Post are powerful players in setting the agenda. Moreover, the new partisan media engages in three particular practices that warrant a close analysis. First,they imitatethe professional practices and ethical commitments that come with the mainstream ideology of the news. Second,they useauthoritative journalistic voicesthatpresent opinions as
2 assumptions. Third, they make frequent allegations of bias in the mainstream media, effectively setting themselves and their allies up as the only credible news sources. The result, in David Foster Wallaces words, is a peculiar,modern,and verypopular type of news industry, one that manages to enjoy the authority and influence of journalism without the stodgy constraints of fairness, objectivity, and responsibility that make trying to tell the truth such a drag for everyone involved (2005, para. 12). These three methods of conveying credibility are highly effective, especially when audiences are inclined to agree with the partisan commentators. To understand the significance of this departure from the mainstream ideology of the press, it is worth exploringthe emergence of this ideology. Chapter One is devoted to just this,giving specific attention to the dominant conception of the function of the press and its role in democracy. Next, I discuss componentsof this ideology that are especially relevant to the websites and commentators discussed in this thesis: the pursuit of truth and the related notion of objectivity; and the press responsibility to service the public and the related necessity of credibility.Put in the historical context of Americas Industrial Revolution, it is plain to see that mainstream journalistic ethics emerged not out of some altruistic desire to serve society, but out of a necessary financial consideration of maintaining readerships by conveying credibility. Chapter Two is devoted to a discussion ofour contemporary media environment, andthe profound fragmentation of the American mass media that occurred in the 20 th century. Even as a single ideology of the press was
3 established into the mainstream, technological developments and increased competitiveness saw the media splintered in numerous ways. My argument is that the result in an epistemic free-for-allin the American media environment that has placed afurtherpremium on conveying credibility. Time magazine provides an early precedent for journalism that deviated from mainstream notions of objectivity. While their unabashed assumption of various political stances can perhaps find some justification in the work of Walter Lippmann, it is impossible to reconcile their conflation of news and truth fact and opinion. Chapter Three is divided into two parts. The first is an analysis of the ways in which Internet users consume news, paying specific attention to the five most popular sites that generate content for online consumption. The second takes a look atthree prominentpartisancommentators: Bill OReilly, Rush Limbaugh and Bernard Goldberg. Throughout the chapter, the emphasis is on understanding the specific deviant means by which these outlets convey credibility. It is clear that there is a large market for forms of journalism that deviate from mainstream notions of non-partisanship and objectivity.The new partisan mediais ableto convey credibility without an alleged adherence to ethical principle.All the while, through advancing narratives of media bias, they are able to diminish the credibility of mainstream journalism.If professionalized journalism is to stay relevant in thiscontemporary media environment, it is crucial to recognize thatthe notion ofobjectivity,as Americansknow it today, was born of another time.It is an outdated solution to yesterdays problems, and it must be revised to accommodate the journalistic voice that the market is demanding.
4 Chapter One Introduction What is the function of the media? Broadly speaking, what do practitioners, scholars and consumers of the press believe it ought to be doing? How are they supposed to do it? Journalists do not have an all-encompassing code of ethics (Altschull, 1994, p. 59). Some journalists, in fact, prefer to view themselves as neutral observers who dutifully serve the public by merely relaying important facts. The Fox News sloganWe Report, You Decide is an example of this attitude. Asked about the purpose of his journalism in a conference, Maxwell King, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer stated, We let our work speak for itself (1997, as cited in Kovach & Rosensteil, 2007, p. 17). The movement towards professionalization of the media that began in the late 19 th century found media outlets and schools of journalism demonstrating an increasing consideration of ethics (Ibold & Wilkins, 2008, p. 80). Yet even these codes typically consist of commitments to various professional standards and practices and ignore philosophical considerations such as the role of the press (Peterson, Siebert & Schramm, 1956, p. 86; Altschull, 1990, p. 17, 280; Ibold & Wilkins, 2008, p. 85). Several critical analyses by prominent practitioners and scholars of contemporary United States journalism posit that there are significant common points in the practice and scholarship of the press that comprise an identifiable mainstream ideology of the press (Ramey, 2007; Kovach & Rosensteil, 2007;
5 Peterson et al., 1956). Herbert Altschull commentsthat this ideology is often not made explicit because ittends tomanifests itself in assumptions.Americans tend to assume the press has a responsibility to the public (1990, p. 248-249). They assume that an adherence toa certain notion of non-partisanship, fairness and balance comes with this responsibility (Altschull, 1994, p. 64). These assumptions are so prevalent that enormous books alleging the mass media is not sufficiently objective have been published with only fleeting considerations of the definition of the term and the assumptions behind it. One example is Manufacturing Consent ,a highly esteemedbook by scholars Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman (2002). The authors argue that the media serves the powerful societal interests that control and finance them, notby direct manipulation, but through subtle structural factors. A massive work at 409 pages, it is largely devoted to a thorough analysis of the medias content. For instance, the authors analyze the reporting of five prominent media outlets and conclude that the mainstream media use the word genocide much more frequently when discussing countries less friendly to the United States military interests. The implicit criticism is that this unequal treatment is not objective. Such an analysis relies heavily on a belief that responsible reporting can only be achieved through a strict adherence to the mainstream ideology of the press and the journalistic practices that are associated with it. Even so, the only place in which the authors explicitly address the press ideology, function or responsibilities comes on page one, where they write: The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse,
6 entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into their institutional structures of the larger society. It should be noted that still, the authors are not addressing the dominant ideology of the press so much as the purported consequences of their reporting. It is my belief that any meaningful analysis of the current state of the media necessitates an acknowledgement ofwhat Chomsky & Herman leave unsaid:the mainstream press ideology. This chapter will explore this ideology, beginning with the dominant conception of the function of the press and its role in democracy. I use the term ideology in the spirit of Altschull, who describes it as roughly equivalent to a belief system. Citing the works of W. Lance Bennett and Mark Fishman, Altschull writes that professional ideologies are comprised primarily from four sources: the codes of conduct and practices that have developed throughout the history of the occupation, the opinions that have been arrived at on the basis of conscious thought, the attitudes that are rooted in feelings or emotions, and the public statementsof conscious thought and powerful feelings (1990, p. 15-17). The use of the word mainstream is important when describing the dominant press ideology. As Altschull has noted, islands of dissent do exist and new movements such as advocacy journalism and new journalism have sought to pursue truth by explicitly rejecting the common conception of objectivity. These are exceptions to the rule,however,as the mainstream ideology is promulgated
7 by most prominent media outlets and schools of journalism (1990, p. 316-318; 1994, p. 58-59). As I discuss in Chapter 3, the dominant contemporary narratives regarding media bias directly relate to the mainstream ideology, even as they undermine the mainstream medias credibility. The Function of the PressThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) states, The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. Later, they add, Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context (2001, A Statement of Purpose section). The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) asserts, Publicenlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues (1996, Preamble section). Farnaz Fassihi, a journalist and graduate of Columbia University, writes, The lofty ideas we were taught in journalism school represent the backbone of a free and independent press, one of the foundations of democratic society (2007, p. 166). Altschull contends that at the root of all American analyses of the press is the democratic assumption : the belief that the press provides the information that enables citizens to make appropriate democratic decisions (1994, p. 59). Reporting conventions and codes of ethics, then, are necessary means toward achieving this function. In The Elements of Journalism Kovach and Rosensteil
8 identify nine desirable elements of journalism that are commonly agreed upon by media analysts. Of particular relevance to this project are the first five: (1) Journalisms firstobligation is to the truth; (2) its first loyalty is to citizens; (3) its essence is a discipline of verification; (4) its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover; (5) it must serve as an independent monitor of power. Altschull and Peterson, Siebert & Schramms analyses find remarkably similar common points. These five elements are the dominant components of the mainstream ideology of the press. The Pursuit of Truth First, a consideration of this obligation to truth, and the array of ideas that might beassociated with itobjectivity, balance, fairness, empiricism, education, the marketplace of ideas, the publics right to know and so forth. In Altschulls estimation, the pursuit of truth is the key ingredient in the mainstream ideology of journalists and media consumers (1994, p. 62). The public expects any piece of journalism to reflect such a commitment; to neglect the responsibility of objectivity or fairness in journalism is to be biased.The aforementioned assumptions present in Chomsky & Hermans Manufacturing Consent reflectthis expectation; biased reporting is considered a substantial disservice to the public, particularly when it comes from journalists that striveto adhere to this truthfulness. Senator John McCains 2008 Presidential campaign was referring to this negligence when they wrote, "It's pretty obvious that the media has a bizarre fascination with Barack Obama. Some may even say it's a love affair, in an e-
9 mail to major press outlets that sought to undermine their credibility (Agence France-Presse, 2008, para. 5). In the mainstream ideology of the press, it is believed that objective reporting presents (or should present) each opposing opinion on an issue. The idea is that the presentation of each side demonstrates that there are multiple valid points of view, while giving the audience the ability to make judgments for themselves. Such equity makes a piece of journalism fair or balanced (Altschull, 1990, p. 165). The name of the Fairness Doctrine the former policy of the Federal Communications Commission that required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues, is a reference to this precise notion of fairness (Bagdikian, 2004, p. 139). The dominant conception of objectivity is tied to a faith in the marketplace of ideas the idea that allowing every voice and opinion to be heard reveals the truth. This excerpt from PEJs website captures the prevailing sentiment, albeit with more nuance than one might typically encounter: ... Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but it canand mustpursue it in a practical sense. This "journalistic truth" is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is builtcontext, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum (2001, Section 1). A Brief History
10 Where did this notion of objectivity come from? Benjamin Franklin wrote that the business of printing had chiefly to do with men's opinions. The staple of pre-Industrial European journalism was the polemical essay, which tended to be partisan and blend facts, interpretations and opinions (Altschull, 1990, p. 108). Ibold & Wilkins identify three roles that 18th century journalists assumed: a partisan, spectator, or reporter of events. The reporter role suggestedapublic service throughan adherence to empiricism and the provision of accurate and timely facts. Initially,however,this role was perceived as the least prestigious of the three. However, the reporter role would gradually rise in prominence(2008, p. 91-92). Benjamin Days advent of the penny press in 1833 revolutionizedthe relationship between the press and its audience. Day reduced the price of his paper, the New York Sun from six cents to a penny, makingit the first paper affordable to the population at large. The business tactic proved extremely profitable and rival papers were soon forced to drop their prices to compete (Emery, 1972, p. 166-168). The rising profitability of the business, as well as the increased competition for the same mass market induced publishers to invest more heavily in news reporting. They increasingly sought to obtain news themselves rather than from other sources, hiring more journalists and traveling longer distances for reports. As a result, the cost of maintaining a competitive paper rapidly increased (p. 192-193). James Gordon Bennett pioneered specialized reporting, hiring journalists full-time to cover various beats Washington, Wall Street, police, the church. The press quickly made use of
11 developing technologies such as carrier pigeons, pony express services, and later railroads, steamships and the telegraph (p. 196-198). The demand for current, comprehensive information during the Civil War particularly prompted sharp increases in news staff sizes (p. 326). The Harbor News Agency which later became the Associated Press (AP), was formed in 1849 as a joint venture of six papers. To a large extent, the agency was a means of lessening communication costs, primarily telegraphing. Soon, the firm began selling its telegraphic news reporting to others papers throughout the country (p. 198). The agencys mission soon became to attract as many members and subscribers as possible, making a perception of political neutrality a strong commercial benefit in reporting (Altschull, 1994, p. 66). Here, we can see the roots of our mainstream notion of objectivity(Emery, 1972, p. 168-169; Ibold & Wilkins, 2008, p. 90; Altschull, 1994, p. 66). The Industrial Revolution and the mechanization ofproduction led the rest of the countrys economy to mimic the press shift towards mass marketing. As outlets for advertising to mass markets, the press was well positioned to prosper during this shift. Furthermore, the population of the nation, its wealth, literacy rates and interest in national affairs were all on the rise, fueling the everincreasing circulation and profits of the press (Emery, 1972, p. 179-286). Even as many competitive industries in America came to be dominated by big businesses, the number of newspapers and magazines continued to increase throughout the 19 th century (Altschull, 1990, p. 272-273; Emery, 1972, p. 401403).
12 At this early stage,newspapers had different conceptions of what to cover and how to cover it. Commentsfrom pennypress editors such as Horace Greeley and James Gordon Bennett reveal profoundly divergent conceptions of public enlightenment and its relationship tothe pursuit of profit (Altschull, 1990, p. 207). There are dozens of trends in early journalism to speak offrom the journalist-led establishment of the Liberal Republican party in 1872 to what we know today asyellow journalismbut the dominant trend through the late 19th century was toward non-partisanreportingon issues perceived to be of greater consequence such as politics and economics ( hard news ). The shift towards mass marketing and the desire to be agreeable to a range of readers played a crucial role. While the movements towards the non-partisan journalist and hard news can be partly attributed to the shift towards mass marketing, it is important to note that they developed partly as reactions to contrary forms of journalism. As noted, the press of Franklins today was chiefly concerned with partisan, opinionated writing; aiming not to inform the public of recent events, so much as unabashedly asserting ideology to an audience composed of the upper class. The penny press had given rise to the human-interest story as we know it today, along with an emphasis on crime, sex, trivia and hoaxes. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzers battle for circulation contributed to the rise of yellow journalism a journalism of screaming scare-heads, faked news, pilfered pictures and cynical championship of the underdog (Peterson, 1969, p. 40). The increasingly large roles of advertising, entertainment value and the interests of
13 big businesses promulgated Franklins concern that a drive for profit would compromise the press usefulness as a source of reliable information. The notion gained popularity among the public and journalists. Several editors began to publish lists of desirable reporting practices. Among them was the highly esteemed Horace Greeley, who wrote at length of the dangers of pursuing partisanship and profit. Similarly, Henry Raymond of the New York Timesargued for an allegiance to principlesrather than political parties (Peterson, 1969, p. 4142; Altschull, 1990, p. 277-282). The Social Responsibility of the PressAltschull and Theodore Peterson agree that underlying such complaints was alargely unspokenbelief that the press had a social responsibility to serve the public, and that this responsibility ought to be prioritized above a pursuit of profit. Amidst such concerns, a movement towards formally professionalizing the media was underway in the late 19 th century. Stephen Banning (2008) writes that press associations, particularly the Missouri Press Association (MPA) spearheaded this movement. The New York City Press Club and the aforementioned Harber News Association were two pioneers of regular gatherings of practitioners of journalism in the mid-19 th century. In Banning's analysis, it appears that these clubs were formed entirely for financial considerations such as forming uniform advertising rates; there is no evidence to suggest that ethical considerations were on the agenda(p. 66-68). In contrast, Banning writes, the Missouri Press Association (MPA) specifically sought to address the low level of newspaper credibility in the post-Civil War years. The
14 concept of professionalism, characterized by associations, specialized education and codes of ethics,had started to gain steam in the fields of medicine, law and the clergy. The MPA sought to initiate a similar professionalization in journalism (p. 68). They cite Floyd Shoemaker's 1917 history of the association, where he writes that the primary concerns of the group were: "The perfecting of a publisher's and an editorial fraternity; the moral and intellectual elevation of the press; the founding of the State Historical Society of Missouri; the promotion and establishment of the first State School of Journalism in America, and in attendance, the largest; [and] the creation and continuance of the largest Journalism Week in the nation" (p. 72). The MPA was a key instigator of formal journalism education. In an 1879 speech, member William F. Switzler voiced a belief that editing newspapers is as much a profession as practicing law or medicine, and that a department of journalism ought to be established" (p. 77). That same year saw the creation of the first journalism course at the affiliated University of Missouri. The university went on to establish the first school of journalism in 1908 and their courses showed a focus on considerations similar to those of the MPA. Ibold & Wilkins (2008) contend that Walter Williams, the Dean of the new school, was one of the first to explicitly posit journalism as a public service and make an argument for the necessity of a public conception of the press as a public servant. "While all other public utility institutions have been regulated by law, he wrote in 1904, the newspaper is, in a special sense, its own regulator.
15 [...]Peculiar responsibility, therefore, rests upon journalism to recognize its mission as a public service" (p. 90). This notion was adriving force in the professionalization of the media. The various ethics that come with this public duty wouldaim toprevent the pursuit of profit from ruining the press. We are told again and again ... of what we must do to bring business into our coffers as if mere business was the end and object of human life. We need to have our ideals raised. ... this gathering of the world's journalists will strengthen the arm of him who strikes at iniquity entrenched" (p. 8586). To be sure, philosophershadsought to reconcilethe individuals selfish interest witha drive to work in the public goodfor centuries. Williams primary contribution is tying a notion of selfless public service to an ethical justification and impetus for the professionalization of journalism and accompanying ethical standards. Williams school was soon joined by journalism schools at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin (Altschull, 1994, p. 339-340). Many journalists initial reaction to formal education was tepid, stating a preference for on-the-job training. "The genius for the work is in [journalists]," wrote New York Tribune editor Whitelaw Reid in 1873, "It is not acquired at a college in Virginia or Massachusetts" (Ibold & Wilkins, 2008, p. 78). With time, more andmore publishers recruited from schools of journalism. In Altschulls estimation, this is largely due to the economic advantages; graduates came skilled in writing and reportorial technique and understood the principles of advertising, lessening the
16 cost of on-the-job training (Altschull, 1994, p. 336). In Four Theories of the Press Peterson, Siebert & Schramm (1956) address the same emerging emphasis on social responsibility. They write that achieving this social responsibility involved a commitment to certain journalistic practices. The focal collective commitments were to report accurately and to maintain an independence from partisan and commercial interests (p. 33, 56-57). They argue that the recognition of this responsibility represents aprofound divergence from Americans traditional libertarian theory of the press. Elsewhere, Peterson writes, Freedom of the press, as originally conceived, was essentially a negative freedom which implied no standards of performance orresponsibility (1969, p. 35). Peterson et al. write that three widespreadintellectualrecognitions contributedto the development of a new social responsibility theory of the press: (1) the inadequacy of the libertarian theory in modern society,inits failure to supply rigorous standards for the day-to-day operations of the mass media (Peterson et al., 1956, p. 27); (2) that absolutefreedom necessitated a degree of responsibility; and (3) that mans lack of rationality, or his lethargy to use it necessitated regulations of sorts.They go on to add, faith diminished in the optimistic notion that a virtually absolute freedom and the nature of man carried built-in correctives for the press (p. 76-77). Specifically, they write that the selfrighting process of John Milton and the invisible hand of Adam Smith appear to have become obsolete. In their account, the intellectual climate of 19 th and early
17 20 th century America played an important role in these recognitions. They quote Jay Jensen: The static and timeless World-Machine of Newton has been wrecked by the idea of evolution and the dynamic concepts of modern physics. Lockes doctrine of natural rights has been subverted not only by Romantic philosophy but also by present-day social science. Classical laissez-faire economics has been repudiated by most contemporary economistsand in practice by almost every modern industrial nation. Moreover, the Miltonian doctrine of the self-righting process has lately become suspect (1950, as cited in Peterson et al., 1956, p. 81). Expanding off his ideas, the authors write that the ideas that undermined Newtonian cosmology are in closer harmony with a collectivistic theory of society than the individualistic theory from which the libertarian system sprang (p. 82). In America, a society operating under the principles of individualistic theory, this movement manifested itself in a widespread belief that American businesses and industries must assume certain obligations and responsibilities to the community. Altschull notes that by the 1960s, just about every occupation in the country had produced codes of ethics and was running seminar after seminar in the practice of morality Journalism, of course, participated in this movement (p. 359). Other authors have focused on the Industrial Revolution, which brought about the mechanization of production and revolutionary technological developments such as electricity and the telegraph among many others. The emerging industrial economy spawned a rapid process of urbanization in the
18 United States. Emery (1972) writes that by creating economic and social interdependence, the Industrial Revolution marked the true nationalization of the country. Even so, he adds, it created and revealed uneven distributions of wealth, causing sharp questioning of the theory of individualism which permitted unrestrained exploitation (p. 280).Along similar lines, Banning argues that the cities produced by the Industrial Revolution appeared to create an erosion in communal standards: "As people began to be less familiar with their neighbors, he wrote,there arose a need for a trusted system to produce reliable practitioners in those fields deemed important to society. Journalism would be among them" (2008, p. 70). Four Theories briefly mentions several other factors: advances in psychiatric research that complicated Locke-sian and Rousseau-esque conceptions of humankinds rationality and intrinsic good (Peterson et al., 1956, p. 70); the emergence of first-wave feminism, as well as womens suffrage altered understandingsof gender and family (Ewing & Schacht, 1997, p. 67); the Great Depression and New Deals effects on the conception of capitalism and the self-regulating free market (Altschull, 1994, p. 138). To fleetingly lurk further into the treacherous territory of contentious terms: on the whole, the intellectual environment was characterized by the rise of postmodernism. One basic component underlying this broad movement that is widely agreed upon is an emerging view of reason, progress, scientific truth, and democracythe defining elements of the Enlightenment era paradigm shiftas fictions, mere stories the Western world has told itself to justify a pursuit of hegemony (Mann, 1996, para.
19 9). Altschull describes the environment as a completion of the disintegration of the world of faithin God, in ones fellow man, in the future, replaced by a fear of the future (1994, p. 141). According to Altschull and Peterson et al., these commitments were firmly pushed into the mainstream by the Hutchins Commission. Henry Luce, founder and editor of Time magazine, established the commission in 1946 with the stated intent of making the case for the free press, establishing appropriate journalistic standards and evaluating the press by these standards (Peterson et al., 1956, p. 86-90). The report, A Free and Responsible Press listedthree specific concerns: (1) The press had increased in importance and visibility; (2) the product of the press did not meet societys needs; (3) the few who controlled the media engaged in condemnable practices that undermined public trust in the press. Expanding on these criticisms, the Commission broadly objected to the concentration of media power into few representatives of big businesses with exaggerated drives for power and profit. In their view, this concentration led to commercial considerations superseding the publics interests. They also spoke of a common bias among large investors and employers, suggesting that an immersion in an elite culture resulted in reporting that was biased towardsbig business. As a means of countering these trends, the Commission suggested that the public had the right to five specific expectations; (1) an accurate, comprehensive account of the days news; (2) a forum for exchange of comment; (3) a means of projecting group opinions and attitudes to one another; (4) a method of presenting and clarifying the goals and values of the society; and (5) a
20 way of reaching every member of society. Each of these expectations were described in the report as ways of conveyingand achieving credibility to audiences, credibility rooted in a perception of the press as public servants. In conclusion, the Commission called for an independent agency, composed of experts, to monitor the press accountability to the common good. The agency would publish their findings in annual reports. They hoped this would serve as an impetus for media outlets to commit to the professional standards they had outlined, as exposing their failure to do so would result in a direct loss of credibility (Peterson et al., 1956, p. 87-94; Altschull, 1990, p. 138-142). While the Hutchins Commissions reports were by no means widely embraced by the public or the press, they are best understood as the cornerstone of a sweeping movement. Peterson et al., Altschull and Ibold & Wilkins agree that at the heart of professionalization and the establishment of journalistic standards was journalists desire to convey credibility. Peterson et al. write that the ideas of journalism as a public servicethe journalist as a nonpartisan reporter of facts; the rejection of commercial and partisan interests over those of the publicwere gradually embraced by the public, forming the mainstream ideology of the press (1956, p. 94-100). The introduction of the New York Times codeof ethics demonstrates that their professional commitments to practices are primarily prompted by a desire to convey credibility: The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible without fear or favor, in the words of Adolph Ochs, our patriarch and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and others fairly
21 and openly, and to be seen to be doing so. The reputation of the Times rests upon such perceptions and so do the professional reputations of its staff members. Thus The Times and members of its news department and editorial page staff share an interest in avoiding conflicts of interest or an appearance of a conflict (2004, p.3). 1 Conclusion We have seen in this chapter that the mainstream ideology of the press, aswe know it today, was a product of its times. Specific shifts in public thinking and journalistic practices can be identified as having served as its impetus. With this in mind, we can think of the mainstream ideology and its practices not as tokens of analtruistic devotion to ethical principles, but as a specific means to conveying credibility. 1 Emphasis is mine.
22 Chapter Two Introduction In this chapter, I will explore the fragmentation of the media that took place over the 20 th century. My discussion will focus on the emergence of new mediums of communication; the business dynamics of the mainstream media; and the variations of news, analysis and commentary that have persisted alongside the embrace of the mainstream ideology of the press discussed in Chapter One. I argue that,in many ways, the media has become fragmented, making it increasingly difficult foraudiences to find reliable information. Conveying a sense of superior credibility and authority has become a crucial component of attracting audiences in this media environment. Time magazines innovative form of journalism is discussed as an early example of this fragmentation. Many criticisms of Time founder Henry Luce have suggested a reckless abandonment of public service in favor of a pursuit of ideology and profits. Digressing momentarily, I turn to Walter Lippmanns critique of journalistic conventions and his distinction between news and truth The newsmagazine appears to be concerned with the same precise issues regarding the press and the pursuit of truth as Lippmann. My argument is that there is certainly a case to be made for Time s form of journalism; however, the fact that their journalism is presented as news in the conventional sense presents a significant complication. In conclusion, I note that the issues arising from my discussion of Timeare to be understood as exemplars of the ways in which the fragmentation of the media has severely complicated matters of credibility. These same issues will prove
23 relevant in my subsequent discussion of the emergence of various Internet websites and dominance of Fox News brand of commentary. The Fragmentation of the MediaAs discussed in Chapter One, various developments contributed to a drastic increase in the number of operating newspapers during the Industrial Revolution. The number of operating newspapers began to decline in the early 20th century, due in part to the effects of inflation during World War I (Emery, 1972, p. 448), and in part to increased costs of reporting and the indispensability of press associations(p. 465-469). Time magazine pioneered the newsmagazine genre in 1923. Central to Time s distinct brand of journalism wasits pursuit ofcogent, easy-to-digest reports that explained the weeks events for readers by puttingthem in a larger context. The newsmagazines use of literary style while covering hard news in a seemingly non-partisan fashion has proven influential. Cofounder Henry R. Luce is also responsible for introducing photojournalism and cover stories to the press. (Altschull, 1990, p. 81-89; Emery, 1972, p. 576-578). The significance of Luces brand of journalism will be discussed further momentarily. Radio emerged as a competing medium in the 1920s. Millions of Americans owned radio sets within a matter of years, and audience sizes increased significantly during the Great Depression, even as newspaper and magazine readership fell. By the early 1930s, Columbia Broadcast System (CBS),National Broadcasting Company (NBC) andAmerican Broadcasting
24 Company (ABC) had emerged as major media outlets. The development of technology to broadcast live from overseas conveniently coincided with events that created a demand for the immediate reporting of news, events such as the Munich Crisis of 1938, the rise of Nazi Germany and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For many Americans, radio became a go-to source for breaking news throughout the day, a significant departure from daily print medias model of summarizing the previous days events (Ramey, 2007, p. 4-11; Altschull, 1994; Emery, 1972, p. 587-596). With satellite transmission of news in the 1960s, television came into its own as a media outlet. By 1971, the nation owned 60 million television sets. The major radio networks, CBS, NBC and ABC expanded into television, and were unrivaled for national news coverage for years. Cable News Network (CNN) innovated the 24-hour news channel in 1980. Financial News Network (later CNBC) and CNN2 (now HLN) soon followed. In the 1990s, Fox News and MSNBC competed with CNN for 24-hour news coverage.Today,Bloomberg Television and Fox Business Network compete with CNBC for business news (Ramey, 2007, p. 4-11; Altschull, 1994; Emery, 1972, p. 587-596). Radio and television emerged as two of the most lucrative financial channels to wealth to ever appear in America. 40% profit margins were typical throughout the 1980s (Altschull, 1990, p. 104). Compared to other forms of media, television production costs were extremely high, putting larger enterprises at a significant advantage (Emery, 1972, p. 602). The advent of cable television in the late 1960s allowed smaller stations to reach wider audiences, evening the playing field slightly.
25 Network news programs have never matched the audiences of the top entertainment shows. Conversely, local news shows often make for the most profitable local programming. As a result, viewers can expect to regularly have a choice between local and national news (Ramey, 2007, p. 4-11; Emery, 1972, p. 587-596). Even as newspaper consolidation occurred and the APs brand of nonpartisan journalism emerged as thenorm for reporting, deviantforms of print media persisted. Columnists such as Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson placed an emphasis on national affairs, offering blends of literary style, wit, poetry and commentaryall of the things that were becoming increasingly divorced from mainstream news coverage (p. 490). A different set of columnists, labeled pundits came about in the early 1920s. Their columns were specifically presented as commentary, distinct from news, yet they mimicked news reporting in their story selection and their sober, serious-minded approach (p. 491). Tabloid papers such as New York Daily News continued to emphasize sensational topics such as sex and crime throughout the first half of the 20 th century, though the genrelost steam during the Great Depression (p. 555-561). The Nation the New Republic and the National Review continued a tradition of admittedly partisan reporting (p. 572-573). Interpretative reporting emerged in the 1930s as a form of journalism that sought to provide context; to go beyond who did what and ask why?Emery attributes the rise of the form to the impact of the political-social-economic revolution of the New Deal years. The old-style objectivity, which consisted in sticking to a factual account was challenged as
26 news coverage and commentary alike became more interpretative in newspapers, newsmagazines, radio and television. Time was an early example; the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post promulgated the form with wild success in the 1960s. Another factor in the development of the form was the growing emphasis on specialized reporting (p. 562-563, 657-658). The CBS show Minutes, the most profitable and influential news program in its heyday was a combination of interpretative reporting and investigative journalism with a heavy emphasis on entertainment value, not unlike McClures and Cosmopolitan in the muckraking era. Executive producer Don Hewitt once said the show packages news as well as Hollywood packages fiction (Altschull, 1994, p. 7374). Compared to the other big networks, ABC News put a stronger emphasis on commentators in the 1960s (p. 607-608). When Capital Cities took over ABC in 1986, they increased their focus on entertainment value (p. 124). In 1982, USA Today put forward an emphasis on color, easy-to-read layout and straightforward news coverage (p. 94). Ted Turners revolutionary creation of CNN in 1980 was posited as a less interpretative, more fact-based approach to journalism (p. 114116). Fox News presented itself as the centrist alternative in a media allegedly dominated by liberal bias, and sparked a movement towards featuring commentary on primetime cable news (Johnson, 2006). Much has been made of the ways in which broadcast media has transformed our world. The Hutchins Commissions worries over the increased power of the media have been amplified over time. Commentators and scholars
27 regularly attribute election outcomes and political developments to the media (Limbaugh, 2008; Bagdikian, 2004, p. 15-23). HaroldInnis put forward a historical, cross-cultural analysis of humankind that concluded that the powerful used both the material means of communication (the medium) and the language of communication to maintain power. Writing amidst the McCarthy era, Innis wrote that the protections afforded to the individual in the U.S. constitution had been compromised by the increased power of electronic media.More optimistically, Marshall McLuhan argued that electronic medias centrality in public affairs brought about a better world. Early in his career, he expressed concern that the media acted as mere mouthpieces for political propaganda. He came to embrace new media contending that the popular press is no longer fragmentary, but instead presented a global perspective,a mosaic of the postures of the collective consciousness (McLuhan, 1962, p. 272). He likened the electronic media to a literal expansion of the biological human being, writing that it represented a shift away from a linear world and made form and medium more relevant to meaning than content (McLuhan, 1964; 1967; Czitrom, 1982; Altschull, 1994, p. 339-342). In any case, it is clear that Americans today have more options for information than ever before. Yes, a singular ideology for the press permeated in the American media (Altschull, 1994, p. 62; Bagdikian, 2004, p. 37). Yet each medium and individual media outlet available to the consumer seeking information represents different criteria for story selection and its own balance of news, analysis and commentary (Wallace, 2005, para. 12). All media critics seem
28 to agree that for the average consumer, the task of sorting through todays media environment and distinguishing between reliable and dubious information however one might define thatis an extremely strenuous task. Allegations of widespread press bias are widespread. Surveys have shown Americans expressing less and less confidence in the press over the years (Gunther, 1992; Gunther & Chia, 2001). In David Foster Wallaces description, the result is a kind of relativism, an epistemic free-for-all in which the truth is wholly a matter of perspective and agenda (2005, para. 15). Many media outlets seem to relish the notion that the truth is elusive, so long as they are the ones audiences turn to. For instance,a 2008 commercial for CBS News commercial featured video of several politicians citing CBS's reporting while making legislation. The message for the viewer is that the station's reporting serves as a watchdog over government, forcing them to act on public issues that would otherwise go unrevealed. A 1994 NBC News advertisement stated, It starts with a desire, a commitment, a promise to get you the answers you need.A 2008 CNN commercial told audiences, The search for truth can take you all overthe world. There is no map but you can find a guide here. A 2009 New York Times article stated that CNNs 24-hours news competitorsMSNBC, Fox News and HLNhave found success in partisan, opinionated content during primetime. When asked about the development, CNN president Jon Klein is quoted as saying, There are several networks that reside in the cable news category, but only one that reliably delivers the news unbiased. We would do ourselves a disservice if we thought that our main competitors were
29 the other so-called cable news networks. They dont have journalists on in prime time (Carter, 2009). CNNs strategy, the article explains, is to stick with the mainstream ideology of the press by not putting partisan commentators on in prime time. Many of the mainstream news programs continue to attempt to convey credibility to readers through a commitment to the mainstream ideology. In this fragmented media environment, however, many outlets rely on other means to convey credibility. The rise of interpretative journalism represents a significant break from fact-oriented reporting. At this point, it is worth considering Walter Lippmanns critique of the press and the public, as it will prove profoundly relevant to a closer analysis of the new forms of journalism. Walter Lippmann One of the most important American journalists of all time, Lippmann was also renownedfor his social commentary. As the professionalization of journalism emerged, Lippmann arguedthatno public institution,the press included, couldpossibly provide the reliable informationnecessaryfora democracy to function. The central issue he saw arising from this necessity was "the failure of self-governing people to transcend their casual experience and their prejudice, by inventing, creating, and organizing a machinery of knowledge" (Lippmann, 1922, p. 365). Lippmanns trouble with the press began with Franklins concern; that the commercial press temptations to pursue profitmight supersedethe drive to
30 serve the publics interests. In contrast to Franklin, Sinclair and Villards concern with anindividuals conscious choice to neglect the public good for profit, Lippmanns focus was on the practices derived from profit seeking and their more subtle inhibition of the production of reliable information. He identified three distinct problems that created practices that compromised the press ability to produce the necessary reliable information. First, the nature of the press. He posited that for media outlets, readers are customers first, citizens of democracy second. As such, the news diet of the press, their story selection, tended to cater to readers partiality for the trivial, rather than the issues relevant to societal functioning: the actions of elected officials, economics and foreign affairs (characterized as hard news in contemporary press thinking). For Lippmann, this tendency is revealed prominently in the importance placed on local issues over national ones, and domestic matters over international affairs (1922, p. 21354). Second, the structure of the press. Here, Lippmann draws an interesting distinction between the notions of news and truth arguing that the news merely signalizes events, empirically reporting isolated occurrences. The truth relates occurrences to each other and brings hidden facts to light to "make a picture of reality on which men can act" (1922, p. 318). Additionally, Lippmann worried that self-interested parties like lobbyists and public relations people were allowed to present their own facts and truths in the press, amounting to a biased presentation of information that hardly helps citizens make responsible decisions. A related concern here was the role the journalists' convenience and the
31 constraints of time and space play in story selection and coverage. Lippmanns third consideration was the nature of the reader. Lippmann simply did not believe the average person was willing to invest the money or time necessary to reach informed, responsible decisions. As a result, reporters are forced to simplify and shorten events to hold readers' attention, exacerbating the problems of the news presentation of truth. Peoples unwillingness to pay a fair price for reliable information makes the press more reliant on advertisers, which, in turn, compromises the reliability and independence of the news. Rousseau, among others, had argued that in the marketplace of ideas, the people would always choose the truth. Put in these terms, Lippmanns concern was that people were not willing to sufficiently engage in themarketplace. Even the engaged citizen, he added, is susceptible to the bias of his or her own preconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. This outlook on the nature of humankind was part of a larger critique of the public. Lippmann wrote that the public,in the sense of a collective conscious, capable of independent rational thought and action, did not truly exist. there is not the least reason for thinking, he wrote, as mystical democrats have thought, that the compounding of individual ignorances in masses of people can produce a continuous directing force in public affairs (1925, as cited in Smith, 2004). For Lippmann, self-governments saving grace was scientific method and empiricism. He believed the solution to the failures of the common man lied in elite, specialized, independent intelligence bureaus committed to the scientific study of public officials and other information needed in democracies. By
32 informing the public, the bureaus would fulfill the watchdog role of the press. They were also to provide government with information needed for policy making. In this schema, the press role was relegated tomakinginformation easily digestible for readers; to turn the truth provided by the elite, into news. His call for institutionalized accountability is somewhat reminiscent of the bureau called for by the Hutchins Commission. Indeed, Luce, founder of the Commission, was heavily influenced by Lippmann (Altschull, 1990, p. 306-311). Henry Luce Henry Luce was innovative in several respects. His use of unsigned group journalism, literary stylistic devices, photojournalism and the cover story have all proven immensely influential in United States media. Perhaps above all else, Luce is responsible for pioneering the simplistic, authoritative tone injournalism that has become salient in the media. In the prospectus of Time Luce and Hadden declared, People are uninformed because no publication has adapted itself to the time which busy men are able to spend on simply keeping informed (Emery, 1972, p. 576). The magazines slogan became Time is written as if by one man for one man (p. 577). Time presented itself as news and at a casual glance, their reporting largely seemed to be in line with the emerging mainstream vision of the non-partisan reporter. Usually. Until Luces death in 1967, Time was somewhat blatantly partisan in favor of American hegemony, business interests and anti-communism. With World War I, the AP and New York Times had truly appeared as exemplars in non-partisan reporting (Emery, 1972, p. 469, 548).
33 Even as the mainstream ideology began to permeate throughout the nation, Time s unique blend of journalism was wildly successful, more so than the strikingly similar but less opinionated competitor Newsweek (Altschull, 1994, p. 85). This excerpt from a 1952 feature on the military power of Americas NATO allies is an example of Time s occasional disregard for the mainstream conception of objectivity: Italy : Spending 25% for defense, the bulk of it for military housekeeping. Under arms: 250,000 men (the peace treaty limit), 5 divisions. Available to NATO: none now, 3 pledged. Equipment: outmoded and inadequate, limited by treaty to light artillery, fighter aircraft, a few tanks. Morale: fair, despite strong Communist opposition ; great willingness on part of the government to do more, if permitted (Time, 1952). 2 Communist opposition translates to low morale? Notice how casually this opinion is included amidst a series of facts.Editorialization of the news was certainly nothing new in 1923, but it should be noted that much of Time s other reporting does not come across as overtly partisan. Any regard for non-partisanship seemed to fly out the window when it came to certain issues, primarily foreign affairs. Luce himself once said that noother publisher had offered such resolute calls for American hegemony. A cynical explanation would be that Luce tried to advance his ideology by way of Time and that the appearance of objectivity is merely a necessity of their propaganda. In fact, many have taken this view, 2 Emphasis is mine.
34 arguing that he recklessly abandoned a pursuit of journalistic excellence (Emery, 1972, p. 576-583; Altschull, 1994, p. 81-90; Baughman; Time, 1967). A former editor for Time called the magazine the greatest liar of all time (Ingersoll, as cited in Baughman, The Costs of Commitment section). Former writers have cited Time s meticulous selection of reporters and practice of formulating stories before any actual reporting has been done (Parenti, 1991, p. 46-48). Luce remains an extremely controversial figure among scholars and practitioners of journalism. Joseph Epstein wrote that Luce became a great grey eminence whom everyone, with tar brush in hand, painted black (1967, p. 35). Even critical biographies of Luce, however, have acknowledged his sincere commitment to the educational value of journalism. Even as he grew extraordinarily wealthy, he remained involved with the management of Time out of a sense of public service (Baughman, The Missionary section). My belief is that the issueat play with Luce is not a malicious abandonment of this cause in pursuit of ideology or profit. It is a convictionalbeit one not expressed explicitlythat for journalism to be of service to society, by way of public enlightenment, the recognition and promulgation of certain truths (i.e. the virtues of capitalism and the dangers of communism) supersede conveying credibility by a strict adherence to objectivity. Indeed, it was Luces Hutchins Commission that called for a method of presenting and clarifying the goals and values of the society (Altschull, 1994, p. 139). Time s appeal to readers was derived from the way it made sense of isolated events by putting them into context. This context often relied on assumptionsin the article quoted above, it
35 isassumed that communism is undesirable in a society. This was not presented as an opinion, but a truth by which events and facts could be understood. Luce believed that if the press is to serve the cause of public enlightenment, in the name of societal good, it must be informed by certain truths, or the goals and values of the society. Luce and the editors of Time considered the virtues of capitalism and dangers of communism to be straightforward truths. The publication of Walter Lippmanns Public Opinion preceded the emergence of Time magazine by only a year. The concepts put forth in it have an almost eerily profound bearing on Luces journalism practices. Lippmann worried that people are generally not willing to invest the necessary time and effort to obtain the information necessary for democracy. One year later, Luce and Time co-founder Hadden voiced a very similar concern in their prospectus: People are uninformed because no publication has adapted itself to the time which busy men are able to spend onsimply keeping informed (1923, as cited in Emery, 1972).When asked why Time didnt report both sides of stories, Luce once replied, Are there not more likely to be three sides or 30 sides?" ( Time 1967). His concern here is perhaps equivalent to Lippmanns: representations of selfinterested parties in journalistic reports, if not put into context, are likely to afford their opinions the aura of truth that journalism seeks to achieve. Lippmann argued that story selection and reporting inevitably involved the reporters prejudices and more significantly, the reporters consideration of the audiences prejudices.
36 Another reason Lippmann felt the press did not produce the necessary reliable information was that news usually represented isolated singular incidents. What people needed was truth that related occurrences to each other. As noted, one of Time s foremost innovations was relating the weeks events to larger trends, often depicted on the cover story (Baughman, The Press Revolutionary section). Dismayed by news failings, Lippmann sought truth in science. Luces version of journalism can be seen as a somewhat similar disavowal of the mainstream conception of news as Time clearly represented a departure from the emerging code of nonpartisan reporting. Luce was pursuing Lippmanns notion of truth that brings hidden facts to light, relates occurrences to each other, and makes a picture of reality on which men can act. It would appear that Lippmann offers a profound, nuanced intellectual justification for Luces practices. Time s journalism suggests Lippmanns dissatisfaction with news ; their pursuit of truth implies the same ambitions. Alas, there is a problem. The truths that Time relied on while reporting are, of course, actually opinions. Lippmanns truth had called for empiricismdevoid of opinion. Complicating matters is the fact that Time is not presented to the reader as an opinionated pursuit of truth but as news within the emerging mainstream ideology. For the 20 th century Time reader, the very presentation of news increasingly implied the non-partisan, empirical reporter. In the emerging mainstream ideology, it was thought that this non-partisanship that was supposed to give journalism credibility By not distinguishing Time from news as
37 it is commonly perceived, Luce took advantage of the credibility that came with that perception. Exacerbating the problem is the magazines omniscient, allknowing tone that compellingly conveys authority to the unquestioning reader, who is, after all, supposedlyreading Time because no other publication accounts for how very busy he or she is. The reporter is never present in Time and reporting practices are not discussed. The reader seeking information is led to simply accept what he or she reads, which also makes the opinions underlying them more subtle and agreeable. It is true that Luces journalism was somewhat deceptive. However, claims that Luce neglected a responsibility to the public to advance his ideology are dubious, as there is a strong argument to bemade that Luce was pursuing public enlightenment through an alternative understanding of news and truth. Conclusion As technological developments produced a fragmentation of the media in the 20 th century, the mainstream ideology of the press emerged as the dominant standard for the press. Even so, the fragmentation of the media created an epistemic free-for-all, where conveying credibility became a crucial component to maintainingaudiences. Media outlets sought to lay claims to the increasingly elusive truth in varying ways. In 2009, CNN sought to portray itself as the sole cable news network maintaining an adherence to non-partisan reporting. Time is an exemplar of other forms of journalism that sought to present news in simple, authoritative tones that led the reader to take what he or she read at its word.
38 Walter Lippmanns criticism of news reflects similar concerns, and can even serve as an intellectual justification for Time to an extent. Simultaneously, however, Time avoids calling attention to their deviation from the mainstream ideology. This presents an important complication for the mainstream ideology of the press means of conveying credibility. In Chapter Three, I will demonstrate that recent developments in the mainstream media have made this issue profoundly relevant to the contemporary media environment.
39 Chapter Three Introduction In this chapter, I discuss the significance of the increasing dominance of partisan reporting in the media.I begin with ananalysis of the Internetas a site for deviation from the mainstream ideology.I find that the Drudge Report, the Politico, the Huffington Post and WorldNetDaily each represent significant departures from the mainstream ideology of the press. In my analysis of the increasingly dominant forms of commentary that have come to dominate primetime television and talk radio, I specifically look at television and radios most popular media personalities, Bill OReilly and Rush Limbaugh respectively. I also examine the unique case of Bernard Goldberg, as a former CBS journalist turned Fox commentator who has come to define the liberal-media-bias narrative. My analysis reveals an emerging form of partisan news and commentary that diverges from the mainstream conception of objectivity, yet manages to enjoy the credibility associated with it by not calling attention to their partisanship and emulating the mainstream ideology of the press. The various means by which these commentators and websites posit authority, as well as their rampant allegations of systemic media bias present a significant challenge to the means by which the mainstream press ideology attempts to convey credibility. The Internet
40 Many media critics are ambivalent regarding the Internet as a medium of mass communication and its potential to meet democracys communication needs. Media critic Robert McChesneys (2000) concerns regarding the media are centered on the notion that it has become starkly antidemocratic. He writes that the notion that the Internet will serve as a counterbalanceto concentrated corporate control and hypercommercialization has been promulgated from writers ranging from Nicholas Negroponte to Newt Gingrich. This is not unprecedented, he adds, as every major new electronic media technology this century has spawned similar utopian notions (p. 119-120). Ben H. Bagdikian (2004) writes that the Internet remains ambiguous as a mass medium because of its multiple functions and individualistic usage (p. 56). It differs from most mass mediums because it has no centralized control deciding what shall be disseminated to the general public. The Internet serves as both a competitor and adjunct to the printed news industry. It is not clear how it can be regulated. McChesney acknowledges as much, but is more dismissive of the possibility that the Internet will liberate the public. He compares the tone of 1990 Internet activists to the 1930s opponents of commercial broadcast radio and notes that in comparison, corporate dominance and commercialization of the medium seems tonot even be up for debate with regards to the Internet (p. 136). Furthermore, he contends that such optimistic views of the Internets possibilities rely on a blind faith in capitalism and free-market principles (p. 125-132). As noted in Chapter One, these ideas are deeply embedded components of the mainstream press ideology. Carl R. Ramey (2007) shares McChesneys pessimism, writing that
41 while many experts initially doubted the sustainability of large-scale online ventures, a few established Internet giants have counter intuitivelycome to dominate the online sphere, continuing to grow in size and strength (p. 106-107). Most scholarly discussions of the Internet have neglected to address specific websites, discussing commercialization and whatnot in broad, generalized terms. A close analysis of the ways in which Internet users actually consume news is a necessary means toward understanding the true effects of the medium on mass media. At first glance, Alexa.coms rankings of the most visited news websites give credence to McChesney and Rameys pessimism 3 Old massive corporate media outletssuch as CNN, BBC and the New York Times dominate the top 100. They offer little original online content, primarily actingas online portals to the content that the media outlet already produces. The second most popular genre of news websites is the aggregate site that produces no original content. The owners of such sites do not engage in reporting themselves, focusing instead on presenting their viewers with the best or most popular of the content produced by others. Yahoo News, Google News and Mixx.com are the most popular aggregate news sites, respectivelyranked #1, #7 and #22 overall. The Drudge Report, ranked #38 among all news sites with over 3 million monthly unique viewers, stands out among these aggregate sites. Despite the fact that the site relies nearly entirely on news aggregation, it is widely perceived 3 Alexa.coms rankings are based on a complex estimation of the number of unique visitors each website receives. They are widely considered the leader in Internet market research, though there is some debate regarding their methods and accuracy.
42 to lean conservative (USA Today, 2003). The Drudge Report relies exclusively on the editorial discretion offounder Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart for story placement. Unlike the other top-ranking aggregate sites, Drudge imposes their own headlines on stories they link to, headlines that are often blatant editorializations. For instance, in May 2009, the pagedisplayed the words DRIP, DRIP, DRIP as the banner headline over a picture of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The words linked to an article from the Washington Post that discussed the series of revelations regarding the Democratic House Speakers knowledge of the use of harsh interrogation tactics. Conservatives believed the revelations undermined Pelosi and democrats criticisms of the tactics. With a mere three words, Drudge manages to compellingly evoke a conservative talking point and present it as news. The banner headline from July 24, 2008 also speaks to this point. On the day that then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Berlin, Germany before an estimated 200,000 people, Drudge s headline read LOVE PARADE. The headlineis referring to the prevalent notion that the mainstream medias coverage of the 2008 election heavily favored Obama over John McCain. This narrative was heavily promoted by the McCain campaign and widely discussed in the media, by personalities such as Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews and Charlie Gibson (Fox News, 2008, para. 4). On April 29, 2009, one headline read PEOPLE MAG MOST BEAUTIFUL: Baracks BeautiesMichelle, Rahm Emanuel, Geithner Here, the headline promulgates the idea that the mainstreammedia celebritized Obama. By casually evoking these narratives in headlines, Drudge demonstrate
43 an assumption that their readers are familiar with thema reader who had never heard the mainstream-media-loves-Obama narrative would not be able to make sense of the LOVE PARADE headline. If Timebegan a tradition of brief, matterof-fact, contextual, simplistic and subtly partisan forms of journalism, Drudge has perhaps perfected it by presenting opinions in the form ofheadlines. Traditional notions of objectivity areclearly dismissed here. Also ignored is the journalistic convention of providing readers with as much information about the sources of their information as possible (Society of Professional Journalists, 1996). Drudge occasionally posts brief reports on breaking stories; the site is perhaps best known for being the first to report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal in early 1998. In a fashion that is typical of the site, the story featured an omniscient, all-knowing reporter that made no mention of sources of information: The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top NEWSWEEK suits hours before publication; The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that tapes of intimate phone conversations exist (para. 2; 4). There is no way for the reader to know where this information came from, if it is reliable or if it has been verified. Presumably, Drudge is assuming that their readers have already afforded them the credibility thatan adherence to journalistic conventions would provide. The fact that criticism of the mainstream media is a regular feature on the site suggests that Matt Drudge expects his readers to be somewhat dissatisfied with the press and the mainstream ideology.
44 As of April 2009, there were five media outlets primarily focused on producing original content to be distributed online amongst Alexa.coms top 100: The Huffington Post, Associated Content (AC), The Politico 4 Helium and WorldNetDaily (WND). An analysis of these sites shows that they each represent a significant departure from the traditional ideology of the press. Among them, The Politico stands out as the most forthright regarding their departure. There are a handful of ideasanimating POLITICO journalism, they write. None of them alone is revolutionary. Cumulatively, we think they are distinctiveenough so to answer those who wonder how we'll distinguish ourselves in a world already glutted with news and commentary (Harris & VandeHei, 2007, para. 10). Among theseideas is an emphasis on backstoriesthose that illuminate the personalities, relationships, clashes, ideas and political strategies playing out in the shadows of official Washington (para. 4). They add that the austere, voiceof-God detachment of the traditional newspaper story tends to muffle the personality, humor and accumulated insight of politicians and journalistsall the things readers hunger for as they try to make sense of the news and understand what politicians are really like (para. 5). The similarities here with Mark Twains blend of commentary are striking. Pointing to the recent financial difficulties of the general audience, mass-market news organizations that dominated the previous generation, they posit the future is in those who feature 4 While The Politico also distributes content via their newspaper, the paper is only distributed in Washington D.C., and they are primarily known for the website (Harris & VandeHei, 2007, para. 11; Kiely, 2007; Comscore, 2008).
45 specialized coverage, written in fresh and revelatory ways to a specialized audience (para. 9). We live in an entrepreneurial age, not an institutional one. Until recently, most reporters derived their impact --and often their sense of professional esteem --from the prestige and gravity of the organizations they worked for. The Web, among other forces, has demolished much of the comparative advantage that big newspapers and networks once enjoyed. Today, many of the reporters having the most impact are those whose work carries a unique signature, who add a distinct voice to the public conversation. Their work, in other words, matters more than where they work (para. 13) They are careful to note a distinction betweenvoice and advocacyThat's one traditional journalism ideal we fully embracewriting that warring partisans who take their news from sources that cater to their existing opinions has led to a demise of shared facts (para. 15-16). It is clear that Politico is concerned with precisely the same fragmentation and issues of credibility discussed earlier. The outlet does not have a published code of ethics, but aside from their stance on voice and partisanship, their reporting generally demonstrates a consideration of prevalentjournalism conventions. Associated Content and Helium both purport to be changing the way information is disseminated by offering a platform that pays for content produced and edited by members of the public. They can both be seen as part of a larger movement towards citizen journalism, sometimes referred to as participatory or street journalism a movement that is also thought to encompass weblogs. In We Media authors Bowman & Willis (2003) of The Media Center at the American
46 Press Institute write thatthe movement seeks to provide the accurate, independent and relevant information that democracy requires, and argues that it achieves this by offering more genuine dialogue and conversation than mass media outlets do (Chapter 1). Although this statement is well in line with mainstream press ideology, the authors add that saying the Internet will force the media to undergo a paradigm shift. A democratized media, they write, challenges the notion of the institutional press as the exclusive, privileged, trusted, informed intermediary of the news and in doing so, redefines credibility (Chapter 5). AC originally billed itself as The Peoples Media Company and claims to offer authentic, useful and informative content on nearly every conceivable topic on their about page (para. 3). Similarly, Heliums slogan is Where Knowledge Rules. They emphasize that readers need the choice of viewpoints on diverse subjects that they provide. Both sites purport to be emerging as a source of news, though they do not make any mention of meeting democracys communication needs or suggest the democratic assumption in any way. Neither site features an editing component,and story selection is determined by the page views articles attract. One way to interpret this would be that the ethical considerations that might come with editing are superseded by the alleged benefits of opening the writing process to the public. Reliable, responsible reporting rises to the top through the publics natural selection. One can imagine the delight with which Jean-Jacques Rousseau or John Stuart Mill might react to such faith in the marketplace of ideas.
47 The Huffington Post and WorldNetDailys content is comprised of a combination of news aggregation and original content. It is widely agreed that the former is liberal (Kutz, 2007; Encyclopdia Britannica Online, 2009) and the latter is conservative and often evangelical (Ruble, 2004; Gumbel, 2005). Both sites seem to waver on acknowledging this partisanship. A 2009 Politico article quoted founder Arianna Huffington as saying we are increasingly seen ... as an Internet newspaper, not positioned ideologically in terms of how we cover the news (Calderone, 2009, para. 4). In a speech at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2008, Huffington said, our goal is to preserve what's best -thoroughness, fact checking, ferreting out the truth. You can never give that up, even for partisanship (para. 2). She adds that old media has given up a sincere pursuit of the truth for a fake neutrality. She specifically criticizes the convention of presenting both sides of all issues. There is considerable scientific consensus on global warming; for Huffington, reporting on such issues is hindered by a presentation of opposing views. She goes on to claim that new media is bringing transparency to news; everyone knew [Huffington Post reporter] Mayhill Fowler was an Obama supporter when she covered the campaign (para. 3). It is undoubtedly true that the sites reporting is oftenpartisan. A story about one Republican politicians apology to radio host Rush Limbaugh after making critical comments earned the headline: Limbaugh Still Controls the GOP: Video Proof. Another story was headlined The Next Smear Against Obama: Infanticide. One would be hard-pressed to label the characterization of a particular claim as a smear as objective in the conventional sense. In typical HuffPo fashion, the
48 reporter (Seth Colter Walls) stops short of explicitly stating his own opinions in the story, but inserts them into the story somewhat transparently by writing that another possible explanation is that McCain's campaign is perfectly happy to let Hudson go on about slashing at Obama's character without having their fingerprints too close to the weapon (para. 16). Even with the partisan reporting and Huffingtondisavowal of an attempt at fallacious non-partisanship, the reality is that the site is presented to readers as news; Walls partisanship is by no means transparent. HuffPodoes not have a mission statement or an about us section, but their masthead reads Politics News and Opinion.The site is comprised of several sectionsPolitics, Media, Business, Entertainment, etc. with each featuring a column for commentary, by bloggers and a column for news by reporters. There isno questioning that to the unfamiliar, casual reader, the site deceptively emulates the mainstream ideology of the press in its presentation. WND, in contrast, describes itself in detail on anabout page. They claim to be dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice and revitalizing the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty. They specifically evoke mainstream press ideology, writing: We remain faithful to the traditional and central role of a free press in a free society as a light exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power (para. 1). WorldNetDaily.com's editorial policy reflects the oldfashioned notion that the principal role of the free press in a free society is to serve as a watchdog on government -to expose corruption, fraud, waste and abuse wherever and whenever it is found (para. 7).Why?
49 "Because," as Joseph Farah says, "the world has a right to know" (para. 10). Time and time again, WND evokes the mainstream ideology of the press, very rarely acknowledging their reputationas partisan. Buried towards the bottom of the sites homepage is a link to a letter from a reader titled Why a liberal Jewish feminist loves WND. The letters author, media critic Donna L. Harper writes that the site is a conservative source that is valuable as a means of learning both sides of issues. WNDs reporting emulatesthe mainstream ideology as well. WND started a petition calling legal authorities to investigate the matter of where Barack Obama was born, an action that is not far from advocacy journalism. Defining the genre, Altschull writes, the journalist is here a frank spokesperson for a cause. He or she picks and chooses among the most available source material in search of weapons to help the cause. Objectivityin this situation is considered offensive and wicked (1990, p. 317-318). The difference here is that WND actually attempts to conveya sense ofobjectivity. The accompanying article is presented as news; the reporter never outright states opinions, but uses quotes from other sources. In one instance, the reporter notes that various revelations on the subject have raised important questions (para. 5). The reporter is portrayed as a neutral analyst of facts and opinions that are posited elsewhere. While both sides acknowledge that their journalism is partisan in some instances, their overall presentation strongly emulates the mainstream ideology of the news. Their failure to present themselves as partisan journalists while
50 assuming the guise of the mainstream ideology of the press presents a problematic, deceptive conveyance of credibility, similar to the issue with Time Criticism of the mass media is a regular feature on both sites, complicating their claims to credibility further. A 2008 blog post from Huffington was titled Surge Amnesia: The Medias Newest Affliction. Her post is primarily comprised of an explanation of why two Republicans portrayal of the surge strategy in the Iraq war is misleading. She only discusses the media twice, very briefly. And the media are swallowing this triumphalist nonsense whole, and washing it down with a pitcher of revisionist Kool-Aid. The result: a collective case of political amnesia. At the conclusion of the post she adds, As we continue on the long, hard slog until Election Day, John McCain and his supporters are going to claim again and again that the surge has worked. And it looks like the media are going to let that patently false assertion go unchecked. Which is pretty much how the war got started in the first place. This concluding statement is a reference to the belief that the press provided poor coverage of the Iraq war. This quote from Gary Kamiya of Salon captures the sentiment: Bush administration lies and distortions went unchallenged, or were actively promoted. Fundamental and problematic assumptions about terrorism and the war on terror were rarely debated or even discussed. Vital historical context was almost never provided. And it wasn't just a failure of analysis. With some honorable exceptions, good old-fashioned reporting was also absent. But perhaps the press's most notable failure was its inability to determine just why this disastrous war was ever launched (2007, para. 1-2).
51 A 2008 commentary piece from David Limbaugh (Rushs brother) onWND was titled, Election-altering media bias. In the piece, Limbaugh writes that the presidential polls would be very different if the mainstream media were not so liberal. He adds, Unlike the MSM, the alternative media are honest that they are in the opinion business and freely admit their ideological leanings. They don't pretend to exemplify objective journalism. But unlike the MSM, their ethical commitment to truth is not routinely compromised by their mind-altering bias, as with that disgraceful episode known as Rathergate.The MSM are a case study in psychological anomalies. They don't just deny their biases to us; they deny them to themselves, all while conspiring to affect the outcome of the election (para. 3-4). Interestingly, Limbaugh does not bother to explain the MSM abbreviation, which stands for mainstream media. He expects the reader to already be familiar with the term, as the liberal-media narrative evoked here is prevalent in conservative rhetoric. It is unclear exactly what media outlets Limbaugh is referring to with alternative media, but as an analysis of WND has demonstrated, the site does indeed evoke the mainstream ideology of journalism. I will address the significance of these allegations of media bias momentarily. Aside fromattracting millions of viewers per monthHuffPo attracted 8.8 million unique viewers in Aprilit is increasingly believed that these two sites, along with Drudge, have the ability to determine what mainstream outlets cover. A 2009 Politico article quoted Brian Rogers as saying, HuffPo and [Talking
52 Points Memo] really are the assignment editors for many in the Washington press corps particularly the cables. Thats not just a Republican hack saying it thats speaking as a press guy fielding calls and e-mails daily from the MSM that start with, Did you see this thing on Huffington Post? (para. 8). Similar criticisms exist on the other side of the aisle; when Fox News heavily promoted a 2001 radio interview of presidential candidate Barack Obama that they suggested was somewhat socialistic, campaign spokesman Bill Burton responded with a statement saying, "This is a fake news controversy drummed up by the all too common alliance of Fox News, the Drudge Report and John McCain, who apparently decided to close out his campaign with the same false, desperate attacks that have failed for months" (Fox News, 2008, para. 3). It should be noted that the interview first emerged on Drudge, only to be picked up by Fox and the McCain campaign shortly thereafter. TheCommentaryAs of May 2009, Fox News, MSNBC and HLNs news coverage during prime time p.m. to 11 p.m.consists exclusively of self-described, commentators, media personalities and analysts. None make a claim to be reporters, though as I will discuss momentarily, some have attempted to present themselves as non-partisans. Even CNN, the network that claims to be the lone upholder of objectivity features commentator Lou Dobbs at 7 p.m. Summarizing the trend, USA Today media critic Peter Johnson writes,
53 Oncable news, objectivity works well during the day. But as the sun begins to set, programmers have learned that viewers like some edge. And ranting helps. Fox News Channel was first to tap into this a decade ago when Bill O'Reilly began to sound off about his pet peeves. He is now the most popular talk-show host on cable. Others have since joined in, and their ratings have increased (2006, para. 1). There can be little doubt that commentary has come to dominate cable news. MediaBistro.com finds that according to Nielsen Media Researchs findings, commentators viewership regularly amounts to fourfold that of reporters. Of specific interest here are Bill OReilly, Rush Limbaugh and Bernard Goldbergs regular accusations of systemic media bias. A general note on the means by which commentators convey the everimportant sense of credibility: In the absence of professional standards, commentators are forced to derive their credibility from their individual circumstances and their presentation. The former is usually the case with contributing commentators; a vocational expertise in a given subject, or a perception that the commentator is in line with a specific ideology or demographic,are two of the most common qualifications for contributing commentators. Figures such as Bill OReilly and Rush Limbaugh rely primarily on the latter. Deriving credibility from ones presentation involves a complex skill set that is typically referred to as looking good on TV or sounding good on the radio. A media personality should have a voice viewers like to listen to, and if he
54 or she on television, a face viewers like to look at. They must be good speakers: intelligible; able to reason sequentially, in a way listeners can follow; well paced. That's not allto be truly good at reaching their audience, commentators should be stimulating and provocative. The audience should get the sense they are listening to a real person. Their commentary should provoke an emotional response from the audience. Compelling media personalities are often able to relate news to values their audiences are likely to hold (Tannen, 2007; Wallace, 2005). To be sure, presentation is important to all figures in the media seeking authority, but for media personalities, it is their primary source of credibility. A truly gifted personality can use disparate facts as proof of an opinion, and have the audience feel as if theyve come to a factual conclusion on their own.Bill OReilly As Johnson and MediaBistro.com have noted, Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor is by far the most-watched cable news program in the United States. He has been credited with leading the trend towards commentary-oriented primetime cable news programming. OReilly is widely considered a conservative, though he personally prefers the term traditionalist, a distinction that is reminiscent of Raymonds calls for allegiance to principles rather than political parties (OReilly, 2006). The About the Show section of the Factor s website labels OReilly as a broadcast journalist and refers to the show as an interview news show. When criticized, however, Fox refers to OReilly as a commentator. In a 2004 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal Fox News Channel president
55 Roger Ailes calls the Factor a news analysis and opinion show (para. 2) To put the statement in context, Ailes is arguing in the piece that critics of OReilly such as John S. Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times hold the show to journalistic standards that arent meant to apply. Indeed, the program is a careful balance of news, analysis and opinion that is captivating at first glance, and incredibly confusing upon further scrutiny, especially with regards to journalistic ethics 5 Part of the difficulty arises from the frequent criticisms of the far-left media. OReilly once claimed the New York Times used editorial opinion in a headline reading Memos Spell Out Brutal CIA Mode of Interrogation, calling the incident a breachof journalistic standards. OReilly immediately followed this with a segment entitled Pinheads and Patriots where he bluntly delivers his opinion on individuals in the news. OReillys media criticisms are driven by singular incidents; as such, the explanations given for media bias vary depending on the story. Most often, bias is attributedto ideology. OReilly frequently claims, without supporting analysis, that about 75 percent of all American media is committed left-wing, the suggestion there being that they see the media primarily as a means of advancing their left-wing agenda. A great example of this comes from OReillys February 03, 2009 segment on the New York Times. As you may know, he begins, The[New York ] Times and other far-left entities favor amnesty for illegal 5 The discussion section of OReillys Wikipedia entry features pages upon pages of debate as to whether he is best described as a journalist or commentator. Despite receiving an enormous amount of attention by Wikipedias standards, OReillys page is extremely short, largely because it has proven difficult to reach consensus on proposed revisions.
56 aliens, primarily as a way to gain political power. As you may also know, most Americans reject blanket amnesty, as was demonstrated when the immigration bill of 2007 crashed and burned in Congress. Legalizing immigrants, he goes on to explain, would benefit the Democratic Party, adding, [the Times ] want a oneparty system in America. Three notes of interest here, regarding OReillys remarkable persuasiveness. First, the effects of OReilly's frequent use of as you may know before analysis or commentary. The phrase serves to involve the viewer in the story, andto frame the analysis or opinion as a matter of knowledge rather than belief Second, OReilly is a master of essentializing notice how he casually refers to the Times as far-left. This kind of charged description is a habit of his; used virtually everytime he refers to a group he is critical of. MoveOn and Media Matters? Far-left. MSNBC? Hateful. The Daily Kos? Evil. Rather cleverly, OReilly is immediately informing the viewer of his opinion of the organization, delivering the sentiment not as an opinion, but a seemingly factual essentialization of the groups disposition. OReilly is responding in this quote to what he calls a vicious piece of propaganda, an editorial in the Times that contended (quite reasonably in this authors opinion) OReilly had assailed the immigration views of the far left (including The Times ) as racially traitorous. Readers of the actual editorial are invited to watch a particular YouTube video, where they could find OReillys exact words for themselves. In his response, OReilly says the Times editorial page director Andrew Rosenthal (a dishonest far-left zealot) frequently uses hateful tactics like implying people with whom he
57 disagrees are racist, intended to intimidate and harm (2006). It is worth pointing out that what OReilly interpreted as a false characterization of his views on immigration was actually a characterization of his opinion of the Times views. Third, when evoking most Americans, OReilly demonstrates his populist tendencies, which serve as a justification for both his characterizations of the group at hand and his opinions on the subject. Another example comes in his April 23, 2009 segment, where he cites a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that showed 46% of Americans define themselves as conservative, compared to 34% self-described liberals. This poll is later used to explain the financial troubles of the liberal New York Times (a frequent subject of OReillys criticism). In both cases, the gauge of popular opinion is a little dubious. Most 2009 polls find selfdescribed liberals increasingly outnumbering their conservative counterparts. In the prior example, he relies on the assumption that the actions on Congress necessarily reflect the sentiments of the public. To be sure, OReilly frequently cites alleged disparities between public opinion and Congress activities when it helps his case. At other times, OReillys comments suggest a media not driven by ideology so much as tainted by it. The media is usually referred to as elite in these cases. Heres OReillys response to a commentary (attack piece) written in response to statements OReilly made that argued Americans want, to some extent, government in their lives: The belief that we poor schmoes are waiting for the government to rescue us or for the media to explain life to us is extremely prevalent among the elite media.They really believe that, and their news
58 coverageis shaded by that belief (2001). On occasion, OReilly will link media bias to a corporations financial interests. His April 24, 2009 show featured a segment that claimed General Electric instructed NBC and CNBC to give Obama favorable news coverage because of a financial stake in one of his policies. Their commitment to helping Obama is demonstrated in supporting him in the election, and attacking his critics, along with emerging evidence showing GEs CEO and NBCs News chief told CNBC personnel to stop criticizing Obamas economic policies. 6 OReilly adds, most CEOs would have stopped NBCs corruption a long time ago, but Immelt may be looking for a big payoff Think about this. A failing corporation, General Electric, might reap billions of dollars if the feds OK the carbon deal. It is not a stretch to assume Immelt would want to help President Obama as much as possible This is a major story when a powerful company, which controls a major part of the American media, may be using its power to influence politics in order to make money from government contracts. That kind of corruption would make Watergate look small. We hope it's not true. On July 12, 2001, OReilly criticized CBS and ABCs lack of coverage on Democratic House Representative Gary Condits affair with a young intern. OReilly concludes the segment by saying, The American people need solid information so they can decide how best to make important decisions. This is virtually a textbook articulation of Altschulls democratic assumption OReilly 6 All of these characterizations are, in this authors analysis, imprecise at best and misleading at worst.
59 evokes the mainstream ideology of the press regularly when making allegations of media bias. His frequent claim of the medias pursuit of a liberal agenda refers to the standard of objectivity. As noted earlier, OReilly referred to an ostensible use of editorial opinion in a headline as a breachof journalistic standards. The standard OReilly summons is commonly described as an unequivocal separation between news and opinion. The aforementioned story on General Electric refers to issues regarding conflicts of interest and censorship, both of which are related to journalistic independence. In response to a perceived lack of coverage on the 2009 Tea Party Protests, OReilly said when the folks hit the streets in a big way, it should be covered, correct? Here, OReilly evokes the notion of fairness with regards to story selection. He goes onto add, That is why FOX News destroys NBC and CNN on cable every night. We cover the news. We don't ignore it. We don't denigrate it. And there was plenty of that going on Wednesday. OReilly frequently claims media bias manifests itself in ratings and sales, a convenient measure given OReilly and Fox News recent success. He says, Most Americans are smart enough to know what is important and industrious enough to make it on their own. That's what we believe, and that's why the The Factor has risen to the top (2001). As previously mentioned, OReilly attributed Times recent financial losses to their left-leaning politics. A posting on BillOReilly.com read, the Times has gone crazy left, attacking those with whom the paper disagrees and demonstrating a hatred for conservatives (particularly President Bush) that is almost pathological often using personal invective to smear perceived
60 opponents In this very intense marketplace, insulting half the country on a daily basis may not be a great business plan. Rush Limbaugh Choosing where to begin with Rush Limbaugh is a delicate matter, owing to the fact that so much criticism has been leveled at the enormously popular radio talk show host over the years. Much of this criticism concerns professional responsibilities: factual inaccuracies and unreasonable analysis. Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen (1999), prominent figures in progressive circles of media criticism, make a neat list of Rushs most verifiably inaccurate statements: The poorest people in America are better off than the mainstream families of Europe; Not one indictment resulted from Lawrence-Walshs Iran-Contra investigation; I dont think the New York Times has run a story on [Whitewater] yet; and so forth. FAIR has been issuing reports onhis inaccuracies since the early 1990s; Media Matters literally has a page titled Limbaugh Wire: Hour-byhour coverage of The Rush Limbaugh Show In addition to pointing out factual inaccuracies, Media Matters frequently highlights statements and opinions their listeners are likely to find morally reprehensible: [Obama] is poison to prosperity; Obama is terrorist attack number 2; Obama is the follow-up to 9/11. These criticisms fail to address an underlying issue. Perhaps more than any other commentator in the history of the mainstream media, Limbaugh has managed to convey truth in Lippmanns sense. He articulates an extremely specific political world defined by series of indisputable morals, facts, and crucial
61 analyses. Furthermore, Limbaugh demandsthat his listeners completely buy into his political world. Consider the following exchange with a caller, worth presenting here at length. Mike from Chicago phones in to the show to ask why Limbaugh acts as if no Republicans are against the Iraq War. He explains that he is a Republican himself, and while he agrees with much of Limbaughs content, he feels the war is not winnable. Limbaugh states his case for staying in Iraq, presenting it, as usual, as a matter of simple facts and analysis. Things get interesting when the caller retorts. CALLER:Are we ever going to take care of it, though? How long do you think we're going to have to be there to take care of it? RUSH:Mike, you can't possibly be a Republican. CALLER:I am. RUSH:You can't be Republican. CALLER:Oh, I am definitely Republican. RUSH:You sound just like a Democrat. CALLER:No, but seriously, Rush, how long do we have to stay there? RUSH:As long as it takes. CALLER:How long? RUSH:As long as it takes. It is very serious.This is the United States of America at war with Islamofascists.Just like your job, you do everything you have to do, whatever it takes to get it done, if you take it seriously. CALLER:So then you say we need to stay there forever? RUSH:No, Billor Mike. I'm sorry. I'm confusing you with the guy from Texas. CALLER:I used to be military, okay, and I am a Republican.
62 RUSH:Yeah. CALLER:And I do listen to you, but -RUSH:Right, I know. And I, by the way, used to walk on the moon. CALLER:How long do we have to stay there? RUSH:You're not listening to what I say. You can't possibly be a Republican. I'm answering every question; it's not what you want to hear, and so it's not even penetrating your little wall of armor you've got builtup.I said we stay to get the job done, as long as it takes. I didn't say forever.Nothing takes forever.That's not possible, Bill. Mike. Whatever.Nobody lives forever, no situation lasts forever, everything ends. We determine how do we want it to end,in our favor or in our defeat? With people like you in charge, who want to put a timeline on everythingdo you ever get anything done in your life? Or do you say, "Well, I wanted to have this done by now, and it's not, so screw it"? You don't live your life that way. Well, hell, you might, I don't know. But the limitations that you want to impose here are senseless, and they, frankly, portray no evidence that you are a Republican. Suffice to say, Limbaugh demands that his regular audiencebuy into his political views and afford him the credibility to say just about anything. In Limbaughs first nationally televised speech, he begins by acknowledging that many viewers are hearing him speak for the first time. The entire speech is framed as an opportunity todefine conservatism, and to address common misconceptions about it, in an admitted attempt to advance the ideology. In the speech, Limbaugh alludes to the notion of a partisan media 16 times, specifically calling it the Drive-By Media five times. At no point does he providethe slighted explanation of his claims. Rather, he expects viewers to be familiar with the liberal-media-bias narrative, so much so that he can evoke it with an unfamiliar term and still expect it to be an effective means of strengthening a variety of other analysis and commentary, which are, in trademark Limbaugh fashion,
63 delivered as facts. His brothers use of the MSM abbreviation presents the same issue. It is important to note that when Limbaugh evokes media bias on his show, it is usually done casually, in the course of addressing another subject. Alleging a media bias is used as a means of strengthening another argument, or of dismissing criticisms of the right. As such, the nature of these claims variesa little depending on thestory, sometimes even contradicting each other, depending on what strengthens Limbaughs argument best. Talk radio, by nature of the medium, does not lend itself especially well to careful analysis. It is worth considering the chapter (eight pages) of Limbaughs first book, The Way Things Ought toBe(1991) that is devoted to the media. The underlying points are difficult to extract because the book is written in a somewhat conversational tone, with relatively little regard for a cohesive argument or organization. On page 267, Limbaugh writes that the problem in journalists conceptions of their accountability and responsibility comes from the fact that The Media will not even admit that they have an impact on the outcome of events. By page 271, he is writing that many journalists are utopians, trying to alter the world to fit an impossible vision. In one instance, Limbaugh points to CNN correspondent Bernard Shaws refusal to debrief the government on any valuable information he may have observed while reporting during the Gulf War, on the grounds of his journalistic integrity and neutrality. Limbaugh writes, That attitude illustrates the haughty arrogance of people in the news business. If they dont realize that their freedom lies in the United Statesof America and that
64 therefore they should defend this nation, they are hopelessly misguided and, may I suggest, flirting with megalomania (p. 272). Limbaugh is thus arguing, albeit inexplicitly, that notions of journalistic purpose, integrity and neutrality are misguided if they are not grounded in a recognition that defending their nation is a higher priority than the integrity of their journalism. Later in the chapter, he cites a number of instances that suggest a double standard in the media for regarding information as factual. Mitch Snyders claim that 3 million homeless people in America was allegedly never questioned by The Media, nor did they ask he cite his source. In contrast, when Limbaugh claimed he had the largest radio audience on earth, and gave information that proved this, they still do not accept it as fact. Journalists accept without question pseudoscience about the ozone hole, the myth of heterosexual AIDS. The underlying point Limbaugh is trying to make is that the scientists and experts that the media get for their facts are in reality no more reliable than talk radio. He does not explicitly say so, but the suggestion is that the media accept facts that confirm their worldviews and fit their agenda. It is not clear in this instance whether this is, in Limbaughs view, a matter of irresponsibility, or a manipulative attempt to advance an agenda. On a day-to-day basis, it is the latter view that seems to drive Limbaughs criticisms most often. For example, consider his interview with Fox News Channel s Sean Hannity. Limbaugh, as is usual, referred casually to the DriveBy Media while describing their cult-like adoration of Barack Obama. He explains the term only when Hannity asks him to, saying, maybe one or two people have not heard it.
65 It's like a drive-by shooter except the microphones are the guns and they drive into groups of people, they report a bunch of totally wrong libelous stuff about people. They create a giant mess. Sometimes people get really harmed. They go out and try to destroy people's careers. Then they get in the convertible, head on down the road and do it all over again, while people like you and me are left to clean up the mess with the truth. So I call them the Drive-By Media. Consider one final quote, thistime on his show: Powell's not a Republican. McCain's not a Republican.These guys are not even mavericks.They are Washingtonians. Washingtonians have their own culture and their own desires, and it is to matter. They don't care who's in power, they just want to be closely associated with whoever is. That's the name of the game and they want press adulation. The key to understanding Limbaughs criticism of the media is that it most frequently comes from a larger narrative regarding an elite, self-interested Washingtonian culture that is divorced from the realities of American life.In Limbaughs cohesive worldview, the vast majority of mass media can be characterized as liberal. Bias exists because the media, like most liberals, are ideologically driven.They are willing to overlook professional standards, as well as simple matters of fact (which are, of course, actually Limbaughs personal analyses and opinions) in an effort to drive their agenda. In September 2007, it was revealed that Jesse Macbeth hadfabricated his accounts of war crimes during the Iraq War.
66 Limbaughs solution to the mainstream medias biases is his own show. In his chapter on media he writes, With talk radio, there is a greater degree of audience participation. And dont forget, the people dont know whats good for them. To the extent that Talk Radio allows them a voice, that is detrimental to the public good. So there we have it. We need the Major Media in order to protect people not only from government but from themselves(269). Alas, the brilliantly complex authority of Rush Limbaugh. He expects his listeners to be familiar with a variety of narratives, and furthermore, to not second-guess the factuality of his facts, analysis and opinions that are derived from these narratives. The effect is a cohesive worldview that can immediately dismiss any criticism of conservative views and rally his listeners in support of his causes. In terms of attracting and maintaining listeners, this may appear to be a risky move, owing to the fact that Limbaugh is typically not in line with mainstream American thought. The upside here is that listeners who afford Limbaugh this authority get a strong dose of the liberal-media-bias narrative, and subsequently come to consider conservative talk radioto be the only reliable source of information. The more authority vested in him, the easier it becomes for Limbaugh to fit any criticism of the right or himself into his worldview, and subsequently dismiss it. Bernard Goldberg
67 Bernard Goldberg is an extremely prominent figure among the promulgators of the liberal-media-bias narrative, widely considered one of the most authoritative and powerful voices in the business. His authority derives partially from his experience, as Goldberg spent twenty-eight years as a producer, writer, reporter, correspondent and commentator at CBS News. His first book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (2001) is a well-written, intimate story of what led Goldberg to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about media bias, and the immense backlash that ensued. In his own description, his allegations of media bias are attempts to point out what is obvious to the American people, in hopes that journalists will realize the truth and act more responsibly. His primary claim is that a vast majority of the media is liberaland that despite their good intentions, bias inevitably works its way into their journalism. In Bias he writes of CBS News Correspondent Eric Engbergs editorial masquerading as real newson presidential candidate Steve Forbes and his proposed flat tax. His criticisms focus on Engbergs use of language like scheme and elixir to describe the tax, his reliance on three experts who oppose the tax, and his David Letterman-inspired list, Forbess Top Ten WackiestFlat-Tax Promises. Engberg does not even try to hidehis view in the piece, Goldberg argues. Where was the fairness and balance [Dan] Rather was always preaching about? (p. 16) Goldberg attributes the Letterman spoof to entertainment superseding responsibility as a priority, writing, In the United States of Entertainment there is no greater sin than to bore the audience. A TV
68 reporter could get it wrong from time to time. He could be snippy and snooty. But he could not be boring (p. 17). Later, he specifically focuses on journalists use of experts, writing, a reporter can find an expert to say anything the reporter wants anything ... Its how journalists sneak their own personal views into stories in the guise of objective news reporting (p. 20). Goldbergs main explanation of this bias is that news people are immersed in an elite, liberal environment, where they are not exposed to people of different opinions. After a while, he writes, they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way they and their friends do. As a result, they dont merely disagree with conservatives; they find them morally deficient. Their own beliefs are not liberal, but simply the correct way to look at things (p. 24). As evidence, he points to the famous 1996 survey by the Freedom Forum and Roper Center survey that found that among 139 Washington reporters, only 7% voted for George Bush and 4% identified themselves as Republicans. They are only human, and it is natural that their views are reflected in their reporting. He writes, News, after all, isnt just a collection of facts. Its also how reporters and editors see those facts, how they interpret them, and most important, what facts they think are newsworthy to begin with (p. 121). Other instances of bias cited by Goldberg: Reporters in the media frequently label subjects as conservative, while they neglect to make note of liberals. This is because reporters believe
69 conservatives are out of the mainstream and need to be identified. Liberals, on the other hand, are the mainstream and dont need to be identified (p. 59). This speaks to the heart of the difficulty. Reports on Americas homeless population featured a misrepresentative sample of homeless, exaggerated the number of homeless, and attributed homelessness to social or political conditions, rather than mental illness, crime or substance abuse. This was done to gain the sympathy of viewers, which drives up ratings, but effectively means journalists are engaging in advocacy, rather than objective reporting. Goldberg goes on to point out that the number of reports on the homeless sharply went down during Bill Clintons presidency, suggesting reporters run stories as a means of criticizing Republican presidents. Reportson AIDS spreading to heterosexuals are very similar. Reporters focused on getting viewers to believe people just like them could get AIDS. Concerns over race and gender lead to double standards in reporting. In 1995 CBS producers worried that footage of looters in Virgin Islands only depicted blacks, despite the fact that a vast majority of the island is black. The same issue wouldnt come up, Goldberg argues, if only young white men were doing the looting. The looters dont reflect all black people, and the only people who would think so are either stupid or racist. Goldberg concedes that many journalists were not sensitive about race in the past, but the pendulum has taken a long, long swing over the years (p. 105). When it comes to making minorities
70 the subject of stories, however, reporters tend to prefer whites, as they have more appeal for viewers. On the other hand, Goldberg notes, reporters readily criticize and make jokes about whites and men, a tendency he calls the License to Overkill. Any group that feels it has been oppressed can say just about anything about the oppressors and get away with it. Katie Couric gets away with making a joke about castration, but one couldnt make a similar joke about cutting off a womans breasts. The media does a million stories on deadbeat dads but ignores angry women who use custody and visitations as weapons to punish their exhusbands. Very important stories, such as the trend towards children taking care of themselves while their parents work late, are ignored. Four reasons are given: they dont make for interesting stories, reporters are lazy, they dont want to run stories that are critical of a great number of their viewers, and they dont want to take on feminists. For the same reasons, stories on day care tend to ignore experts who say toddlers are better off with their own mothers. In summary, Goldberg argues that when covering social issues, the liberal media are biased in their analyses, their story selection, the ways in which stories are presented, and the experts they consider worthwhile. Pressures to please viewers have a lot to do with these things as well.
71 A big part of the problem, for Goldberg, is liberal reporters taking offense to those who reasonably point out their bias. In Bias he describes one instance in which CBS News President Andrew Heyward was angry over the op-ed. Allegedly, Heyward had agreed with Goldbergs concerns about liberal bias. Goldberg points out that he had done Heyward a favor by omitting this fact. Heyward reportedly responds that doing so would have been like raping my wife and kidnapping my kids! (p. 28). Goldberg argues that such sensitivity is hypocritical coming from media elites who routinely stick their noses into everybody. Chapter 13 of Bias is devoted to the argument that liberal media bias results in lost ratings. Between 1980 and 2001, the percentages of TV sets watching ABC, CBS or NBC went from 75% to 43%. Bill OReillys success is attributed to a balance between views from the right and left: ...this, I think, is what throws the critic of OReilly and Fox. Theyre just not used to hearing so many diverse views on TV, most of them fairly intelligent (p. 190) (a fairly audacious claim in this authors opinion). At other points, Goldberg claims that Americans simply trust the news media less in general.
72 Conclusion How widespread are notions of media bias in America? A 2002 poll from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found 47% of the public expressing a belief that news organizationsin general are politically biased in their reporting, compared to 35% who disagreed. A 2008 poll from the General Social Survey showed 9% of U.S. respondents expressing a great deal of confidence in the press, the lowest among any public institution, demonstrating that mistrust of the media goes beyond a general trend of cynicism. The Washington Post columnist David Broder once said the public had more faith in the competence of people who run local trash collection than in those who controlled television of the press or even the Supreme Court or Congress (1973, as cited by Altschull, 1990). In a great deal of the media produced by partisan commentary, as well as websites such as Drudge, HuffPo and WND, feature narratives of media bias evoked so casually that a listener must be already familiar with the idea in order to understand the show. When Fox News was launched in 1996, a New York Times article stated that owner Rupert Murdoch conceded to seeing a liberal bias in television news, and stopped just short of championing an explicitly conservative alternative (Miffin, 1996, para. 5). The channel was branded as the only non-partisan news channel, using slogans like Fair and Balanced. Today, it is widely agreed that Fox falls well to the right of its competitors and that this is a large part of the channels appeal to its audience. Supporters of Fox, such as journalist and commentator Bernard Goldberg (2001),
73 contend that the station is objective and balanced in its reporting, and that competitors havea far-left balance. In any case, Foxs ratings far exceed their competitors (Forbes, 2009, para. 2). The financial success of outlets that posit themselves as alternatives to mainstream media sources while frequently alleging media bias compellingly suggest that the means by which the mainstream ideology of the press seeks to derive authority are becoming obsolete. Throughout this thesis, I have referred to outlets and individuals who emulate the mainstream ideology and fail to be adequately transparent about their partisanship as problematic. My primary concern here is that partisan journalism presented as within the mainstream realm of news presents the risk of a loss of factual knowledge. In the epistemic free-for-allthat is Americas media environment, it is more important than ever that the press adheres to a process of verification. With that said, there is certainly an argument to be made for deviant forms of journalism, partisan commentary included.It is my belief that there is room for a reinvigorated, unabashed partisan press that harks back to the pre-penny press journalism of the 18 th century. Such journalism has certainly proven to have remarkable market appeal. It is difficult to imagine Fox News suddenly deciding to make OReilly and Goldbergs partisanship explicit, or HuffPo changing their masthead to read Liberal Commentary. In this media environment, calling attention to your partisanship is seen as suicide in terms of obtaining credibility. The solution would seem to lie in a rethinking the mainstream ideology.
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