A Well Documented Study on Media Bias circa the 1990s
Everyone rants about Media Bias, or at least, anyone worth their salt who tries to keep with politics. The free press, and accurate information, are key to a healthy democratic society. But which way does the slant lean? Ask a a group of people even today, nearly two decades after the release of this brief film, and many will probably say the slant runs left. In this film, intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, contest this notion with case study examples and their own theory: the Propaganda Theory of Media. (For those curious to learn more, the two published a book called Manufacturing Consent which discusses the theory further) Chomsky's credentials as being the central "voice" of American leftism and progressivism are well known. This Documentary, while hardly thrilling in its content, makes a cogent argument for its central thesis. Chomsky notes that, while the oft quoted figure "80% of journalists vote Democrat" is used to justify the idea of a slant to the left (which he states places an erroneous amount of importance on their contribution in terms of which stories are run), and advocates, instead, to examine the messages presented with an almost scientific method, checking to see if messages presented in media conform or falsify the hypothesis that the media are liberal.
To begin, the two state that new organizations face more institutional pressures from ownership, advertisers, politicians and government interest to filter news in a way that matches their own interests, which are more conservative in nature. While going through each, they document examples of each pressure on media producers before examining case studies in policy areas, while giving concrete examples to support their point of view.
The examples vary in strength. One, that of a local newspaper retracting stories on bargaining with auto dealers due to pressure from advertisers, is interesting but not especially compelling. Meanwhile, documentation of the slant in coverage of domestic issues in Labor, Welfare, and Healthcare are more concrete, documenting not only that news organizations tend to exclude left leaning points of view on these issues, but also noting the remarkable homogeneity of opposing political candidates Clinton and Dole on these points (with neither advocating for a Single Payer health-care system, for instance).
The most damning examples, however, are of those areas of reporting where media organizations have the most ability to manipulate: foreign policy. Chomsky and Herman note the selectivity with which repressive dictators are covered by news media, in such a way that ignores the atrocities of pro-US dictators in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, while vilifying democratically elected bodies like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or leaders with wide popular support in their home countries, like Castro in Cuba.
The strongest example is that of Saddam Hussein, who was treated as a darling by the American government and largely ignored in media till his invasion of Kuwait launched the Gulf War, after which he was portrayed as a grotesque fascist. History has certainly not been kind to this dictator in the aftermath of the Iraq war, and many Americans are probably unaware of the wide support he enjoyed in the decades prior from the United States.
Is this documentary biased? Most certainly. It leans toward progressivism in an attempt to advocate a point of view it feels underrepresented in media. Bias, in this case, means only that it does not pretend to merely objectively present the facts.
This does not mean it is wrong. On the contrary, the argument is strong that the media is not, in fact, biased left, and that its use is predominantly not to inform, but as a vehicle to propagandize its viewers. And this problem continues twenty years later with the absurdity of cable news, while still no constructive progressive politics has arisen to counter the extremism of the modern American right.
So give it a watch, read the book, and "wake up sheeple" or something like that. All media, really, is propaganda of one kind or another, and it would beneficial for people to honestly examine the messages it presents.
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