A Balanced Media?
December 29, 2014
December 29, 2014
“There are two sides to every story.” We learn this very early on in our lives. We are told this to humble us; to breed empathy and understanding; to take anything we hear with a grain of salt and in doing so, to push back on the status quo to better ourselves and our communities.
Unfortunately, we often take this phrase as the end all-be all. We don't see the other side of the story that this phrase is telling. The reality is that, while there are two sides to every story, those sides are not always balanced.
When we take the “there are two sides to every story” theory as gospel, we tend to ignore any evidence to the contrary. This includes dismissing science, morals, and popular opinions. We have taken to playing devil's advocate. Partially to blame is the emergence of the internet and social media. It is the price we pay for a true democracy.
This is also true of television. Before the social media explosion and before the creation of cable news, networks reigned supreme. We had less choice but also less bias and fewer special interests. There were fewer pundits and political experts, less powerful advertising, and more honest journalists.
With the emergence of cable, news stations could afford to create networks that blatantly leaned in one direction or the other. As they began to mask themselves as unbiased news stations, and as politicians and the public began to call them out for this bias, the country as a whole wondered whether or not their stations were actually telling the truth… well, presenting a “fair and balanced” understanding of the news.
Knowingly or unknowingly, these cable networks made us believe, both through visuals and through misguided reporting, that the issues were both balanced and correctly argued.
Global warming is a perfect example. Ninety seven percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is manmade. But networks tend to discuss the issue like this: one liberal political pundit vs. one conservative political pundit. Each of them gets an equal portion of the screen, each of them yells and interrupts, and so neither one gets their point across.
The first problem is that they are political pundits, not scientists and not climate experts.
The second is that a larger percentage of scientists believe that global warming is manmade than do believe that cigarettes are bad for your health, so displaying a split screen that conveys that both sides are on equal footing is wrong. The third is that there is an argument at all.
At a time in our society when sound bites end up on Buzzfeed and Upworthy and as links on Facebook and Twitter, a yelling match fuels that fire of short attention span.
Worst of all, the hosts and anchors of the shows that allow for these debates do not interject with anything substantive. It was not taboo for Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite to share their opinion on the news, and they were trustworthy because they reported it so well. It is taboo in today's media landscape that is so hung up on “fair, balanced, and trustworthy” to inject any real opinion for fear of being labeled as biased, so we see two extremes: Hosts that do no reporting and only opinionating and hosts that share no opinion even when the situation demands it.
So we're back at the beginning. There are two sides to every story, but not every side is balanced.
We as citizens need to be aware that, for some time now, we have not been served well by our news and that is no longer acceptable to simply be fed. We must seek truth and reveal imbalance ourselves. We must be more careful and more aware until we can again trust the people who are supposed to inform us.