Thomas D. Segel
Harlingen, Texas, August 15, 2010: For more than twenty years the American public has been saying news coverage is left leaning and extremely biased. Those within the media have consistently denied that such one-sided or opinionated reporting is true.
Back in those days of yore when I first took journalism classes, one of the first things pounded into my empty skull was the definition of news. According to my professor, news was “A heretofore unreported fact of significance to the public.”
It should be noted he said unreported “fact”, not rumor, idea, opinion, or feeling.
Today the reporting of facts seems to be a lost art. The news of the day has been molded into reports that are often so far removed from reality that they can no longer be accepted as truth. If the event cannot be tilted in the direction needed for political expediency, it is often ignored completely. Thus, today’s news reporting is tarnished either by distortion or the sin of omission.
As Americans become more and more disenchanted with the mainstream or traditional media, they are seeking out the Internet to obtain their news and information. In 1995 more than 60% of the people went to television for their news. Just four years ago 57% of the people still claimed they obtained the majority of their news and information from television. That number was divided between cable and network news. By 2007 that figure had slipped to 31.5% of the public using television news as their main source of information. Among those who still accept television news as a trusted source, FOX leads the pack drawing 28.4% of the audience. It is followed by CNN with14.9%, NBC and ABC draws about 12% and lagging way behind is CBS with only 7.4% of the news watchers. Those numbers continue to decline and the Internet numbers steadily increase.
In 2006 it was estimated that 23% of the public obtained its news online. The reports from 2007 show 33.2% of the public going to the Internet for news. By 2008 that percentage had grown to 50% and today it is estimated that 84% of the American public find their most trusted source of news on the screens of their computers. As this big shift in the acceptance of news sources is taking place trust in television reporting has dropped to about 20%, newspapers to 16% and radio news to 14%.
The puzzling thing is, why has the business side of television and newspaper publication allowed misinformation, slanted coverage and blatant bias to poison the media well? Years ago I published a small weekly newspaper. My half of the partnership was editorial content. My partner handled all the advertising. At one point I took it upon myself to attack some local politicians and unattractively compared their conduct to that of used car salesmen.
We had no sooner hit the street with that issue than my partner came rushing in screaming at me. Two of our used car advertisers were offended by my characterizing of the politicians and had canceled their contracts with our newspaper. I couldn’t repair the damage I had done to us financially, but I was very careful in future commentary about how I gave negative descriptions.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why similar rages from mainstream media owners have not altered the tone of both print and electronic media.
So, do we have an answer to the question of media’s lack of fairness and unbiased news reporting? Traditional or mainstream media spokespeople still insist it does not even exist. The American news audience, by its migration to the Internet, is saying just the opposite.
Thomas D. Segel