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Spot the Lie: Mainstream Media Edition

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” — The Wizard of Oz

One of the reasons for Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina Republican Primary win has been his debate performances. And a key element of Gingrich’s debate performances has been his willingness to attack the mainstream media. Gingrich has not shied away from voicing what many conservative voters deeply believe: The American media is biased.

Gingrich’s stance may have reached its zenith in last week’s Republican debate. After a question from CNN’s John King about allegations from Gingrich’s ex-wife, Mr. Speaker went off, claiming that the media has protected President Barack Obama and spins reportage in accordance with their ideologies. (You can see the exchange HERE. )

For the record, I’m not a Gingrich fan. But his rebuttal had me rolling. And cheering. Conservative politicians have long debated whether it is expedient to play the “media bias” card. Consensus was that it is better to let media watchdog groups and pundits make the charge rather than to look like a whiner. Apparently, this election cycle, things have changed. The liberal media is now fair game.

And I like it.

Whether or not you believe there IS liberal media bias, you should agree that the American media shapes the populace in unhealthy ways. The man behind the curtain contributes far too much to our perception of the world. Like the Great and Powerful Oz, their pyrotechnics and amplification have convinced us that they are something more than little men. Sometimes, I wonder if we’d even know what to believe if a talking head didn’t tell us.

Yeah, I’m conspiratorial that way.

When I was a youth pastor, I used to play a game with my students called “Spot the Lie.” We would watch a music video or commercial and I’d challenge the students to detect values, messages, and inferences that were false. Signals that were subtly or not-so-subtly being sent. Things like, Being cool means owning THIS product or Being uncool means believing THAT. The value of “Spot the Lie” was that it encouraged discernment and healthy distrust of those who shape our culture. No celebrity, radio personality, news outlet, comedian or commentator should be above this scrutiny.

They are ALL spinning.

Frankly, I wish more adults would play “Spot the Lie” when we approach news outlets. When did we become so trusting of our media as to believe they DON’T have an ideology that frames their reportage? I mean, do we really believe in such a thing as objective journalism anymore?

Maybe that’s why I am so tickled by this trend to put the spotlight on the mainstream media. It’s about time someone checked the checkers.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Nicole January 23, 2012, 5:50 AM

    Indeed and Amen.

  • BK Jackson January 23, 2012, 5:51 AM

    It may not be true, but the media seemed more under control when you just got to watch the 6 o’clock and the 11 o’clock evening news. Since there are now I don’t know how many 24 hour news channels–of course they have lots of opportunities to spin. It’s not like there’s THAT much news in the world. They’ve got to fill up the time somehow…

  • Jay DiNitto January 23, 2012, 7:51 AM
  • Mike N January 23, 2012, 8:01 AM

    “its about time someone checked the checkers” Great point!

  • Katherine Coble January 23, 2012, 1:47 PM

    It’s a really weird world altogether, that of the “News” media. I have several friends, both liberal and conservative, who have been or are employed in media positions. (Journalists, on-air personalities, news production, editorial staff.) The conservatives all say that the media is Liberal. The liberals all point to the conglomerate ownership of news outlets and say that it is Conservative. Both sides have it in for The Media for not telling things the way that side sees them.

    BK Jackson nails it when s/he says that with there being more hours to fill there is more garbage to fill it with.

    I stopped watching news about four years ago and I don’t miss it. I find out essential things from print articles. That clip you linked to was the _first_ piece of televised newsish I’ve seen regarding the Republican election.

    It’s obvious to me that whether or not the media is biased for or against any particular side (and I personally believe the hour-to-hour coverage skews more left) that the media is first and foremost THEATRE. It is not news. Its purpose is no longer to inform on issues but to spread tawdry gossip. That’s the lie I spot. The “lie” that all this stuff is actually NEWS.

  • Julie @ My Only Vice January 23, 2012, 3:47 PM

    Well said!

  • Marta Daniels (@Marta_Daniels) January 23, 2012, 5:57 PM

    I am the Anti Newt Gingrich Fan. However. You have to admire that the man stands exactly the same way on every issue as he did 20 years ago. He’s certainly not a Flip-Flopper, and I think he’s the only Republican with the juice to give Obama a run for the presidency. He’ll lose, but he’ll give Obama a heck of a good fight. Great post! God bless!

  • Jonathan January 23, 2012, 7:45 PM

    I saw a blurb across the bottom of the screen at lunch today where some 24 hour news channel was debating if the GOP needed a “mean” candidate to be Obi. Now I understand, it was there way of saying the tables turned and someone telling the truth about the media could be the next nominee instead of the guy they’ve been promoting as the guy.

  • Bob Avey January 25, 2012, 7:42 AM

    I agree 100%, Mike. For you that don’t believe, try to recall the last time the media went after a democrat.

  • London Crockett January 25, 2012, 9:05 AM

    Gingrich is hardly original in attacking the “mainstream media.” It’s been a populist attack on the right for a decade. While being skeptical of your information sources is good, the attack on the mainstream media by political leaders is troubling for two reasons.

    First, it simples a complex narrative. The mainstream media is hardly a monolithic entity. The New York Times has a very different ownership and editorial position than the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal. Lumping all of the established press together misleading or just an outright attempt to slander reporters who don’t agree with you or to steer you to intentionally biases opinion journalism.

    Within individual media outlets, there isn’t any hegemony of thought. The “liberal” New York Times published all of the Judith Miller pieces that were the most influential media support for the invasion of Iraq. Yes, they were all later proven to be false, but the problem was not one of bias (the NYT opinion pages were opposed to the war), but of the impossibility of verifying some information.

    Secondly—and more troubling—blaming the media ignores the most insidious source of informational bias we have: ourselves. Most people who criticize the mainstream media, either from the left or the right, are people who don’t want to have their own cherished opinions challenged. Gingrich gets angry with the mainstream media because it points out truths about his past he doesn’t want voters to remember. His attack is not a valorous defense, but an obfuscation of inconvenient truths.

    The too-cool-for-school cynicism of “They’re all spinning” just allows us to use our biases as the filter for what is “real” and “not real.”

  • Mike Duran January 25, 2012, 9:44 AM

    Thanks for commenting, London. The mainstream media may not be a “monolithic entity,” but polls of its occupants, their voting records and such, consistantly reveal far more liberals than conservatives. If you’d like, I can provide you some links. As to your second point, if “the most insideous source of informational bias” is individuals, then it is naive to assume those biases do not influence the reportage of the individuals holding them.

  • London Crockett January 25, 2012, 10:22 AM

    You’re welcome, Mike. There’s an irony in you sending me links to prove that sources are biased :p I’m aware of the research and trust it. However, the fact that people vote one way doesn’t mean that they are, organizationally, biased.

    The reason people go into reporting (instead of opinion journalism or the much more lucrative PR sector) is that they value finding out the truth more than politics. I know a number of journalists and every single one of them is far more committed to accurate reportage than a political agenda (which varies widely). The fact that they tend to be liberal may be explained by the the tendency for liberals to value lower-paying public service jobs while conservatives value either military service or well-paying corporate work. A conservative journalism student is more likely to go into opinion journalism or PR work than a liberal one.

    Yes, that creates a certain amount of bias, but large media news corporations sell trust more than anything. They have a very strong profit motivation to be accurate (note, I would exclude FoxNews and MSN from the category of “news corporations” as they are more devoted to opinion journalism). They fail, of course, as all human endeavors do. However, when we surrender to cynicism, we’re ignoring our critical facilities, because most people who disregard news media turn to opinion media, which has a profit motive to support one political, religious or other worldview over fact-finding.

    @Bob Avery, let me point you to a piece published today, but the centrist liberal opinion site Slate.com that is highly critical of the President’s job plans presented in the State of the Union last night: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2012/01/state_of_the_union_president_obama_s_muddled_plan_to_boost_employment_by_hindering_trade_.html

    The press was faster to take down Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner about their infidelities than they were to go after Gingrich. Your basic hypothesis appears to reinforce mine, which is we’re more likely to have bias impact what we view as “truth” than the media is to be biased in reporting.

    Also note the lack of negative press Romney received about his wealth and Bain connection before Gingrich raised the issue. The press is often reactionary on these kind of issues, waiting until the public at large becomes interested in them before digging into them.

    This is overly long and I need to get back to writing fiction :), but I’d also like to note that the idea that the press “attacks” one candidate is often a matter of what is considered news-worthy. Newt Gingrich’s extra-marital affairs are news-worthy because many voters value marital fidelity. They report economic figures because they are something that concerns readers. Neither of those things are attacks on Newt nor Obama (or whomever you want to blame for the current economic situation). They are facts that have been substantiated as well as it possible to do. As readers, we give them political meaning.

  • Kate {The Parchment Girl} January 26, 2012, 9:55 PM

    I completely agree that the media shapes the way Americans think in unhealthy ways, but I think it does so much more with entertainment shows than news programs. It’s the subtle ideology/theology that works it’s way into primetime TV that affects our thinking the most.

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