News is supposed to be exactly that: news, not a platform for preaching political preferences.
I’m not talking about the liberal talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” or conservative radio talk show “The Rush Limbaugh Show.” Neither of those shows disguise their attempts to push a political agenda. Someone watching either of them knows he or she isn’t getting a “balanced” perspective; that’s not why the shows are aired.
No, I’m talking about opinion sources that label themselves as news.
The two biggest instances of this come from opposite sides of the political spectrum. This isn’t a problem with just the right or the left: This a problem with the entirety our modern media system.
The instances I’m referring to, of course, are Fox News and MSNBC.
For both of these so-called news sources, party politics clearly trump actual news reporting. Perhaps most infuriating is how disingenuously they promote themselves as objective. To wit, Fox News’ slogan is “Fair & Balanced.”
But don’t take my word for it; just take a look at the rhetoric each site used when they covered President Barack Obama’s recent visits to swing states to speak on college campuses about student loans.
Fox News’ coverage led with this: “President Obama’s push to hold down interest rates on federal student loans has rapidly turned into an election-year standoff — as congressional Republicans counter-punch with their own debt-relief plan and accuse the president of exploiting the issue for his reelection campaign. The latest GOP play has been to call on the president to reimburse taxpayers for this week’s college tour, where he touted his student loan plan.”
Meanwhile, MSNBC framed the president’s tour like this: “Courting college voters, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Congress needs to keep the cost of college loans from skyrocketing for millions of students, taking an important election-year message to three states crucial to his bid to hold onto the White House. … The emphasis on his personal experience set up a contrast with his likely Republican presidential opponent, Mitt Romney, whose father was a wealthy auto executive.”
Two supposed news channels are covering the same subject yet with profoundly different angles. They aren’t being objective; their partisan agendas are clearly visible for anyone who gives the articles more than a cursory glance.
The former message pushes the idea that Obama is only looking out for students because he wants to get re-elected, and then brings up a — while valid — completely unrelated issue that reflects negatively on Obama. The latter acknowledges the fact that Obama is going partially because it’s an election year but emphasizes his deep concern about young voters. More shamelessly, it then segues to a recurring criticism about Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, and just like on Fox, it is something completely unrelated to the actual news value of the event.
And beyond that, what is headlined on each of their online sites is also a clear indicator of where they stand and whom they support, catering to the liberals or conservatives under the false guise of journalistic impartiality. One site had a headline, “EPA official apologizes for call to ‘crucify’ oil companies, senator investigating,” while the other had a headline, “Obama retains electoral edge.”
Gee, I wonder which site published which.
I’m not saying people can’t have opinions — that would certainly make me quite the hypocrite, wouldn’t it? But don’t portray yourself as an unbiased new source and then self-servingly promote your own political agenda.
So much for journalistic integrity.
Reach opinion columnist Nathan Taft at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @OpinionDailyUW
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