Editorial by John Ziegler

Biased about Bias

12/12/2001

As a conservative critic of the news media, I applaud Bernard Goldberg's "controversial" new book "Bias" in which the former CBS correspondent "blows the lid off" the overwhelming and insidious "liberal bias" that pervades the television networks. However, I have to chuckle at the notion that his revelations are anything new or particularly earth shattering. After all, in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 35 % of respondents said the media are careful not to be politically biased, with a whopping 61% of Republicans saying that the news media are indeed biased (interestingly, 42% of Democrats said the same thing).

I wonder, what will be the next big "untold" story to finally be exposed? Female anchors get chosen based on their looks? Pro Wrestling is rigged? Athletes from Africa tend to run faster and jump higher than those from Europe? Santa Claus is a myth?

No matter how underreported, The liberal bias of the news media seems so obvious that it is almost not worth discussing anymore. In fact, I believe that there are many other biases in television news coverage that may be even more important and are still far less talked about.

Celebrity Bias:
This is why the deaths of Princess Diana and JFK Jr. were SO overplayed, why what Barbara Streisand and Rosie O'Donnell think about politics gets reported at all, and why Jesse Ventura gets more coverage than any other Governor.

Simplicity of Story Bias:
Television executives crave a simple story because they figure both the uneducated masses and their blonde headed anchors can handle it. This explains the Iran-Contra, Whitewater, and Campaign Finance scandals never really having legs, how Clinton's perjury and obstruction of justice was reported as just a "sex scandal," and why, until recently, the Middle East Peace process was getting progressively less time on the evening news.

Trend Bias:
Anything that happens as part of a supposed trend exponentially elevates the importance the story. This phenomenon exists even when the alleged trend isn't even real, as was the case with school shootings, church burnings, and shark attacks.

Future More Important than the Past Bias:
Television news will spend days or even weeks analyzing what MIGHT happen in the future, but then only a matter of minutes talking about what actually DID happen. This is why the second question the winning coach of the Super Bowl gets is "what about NEXT year?" This bias was particularly acute during last year's Florida recount when every court ruling was quickly tossed aside so that the next battle could begin to be immediately dissected.

New York, D.C., LA, London, Jerusalem Bias:
Anything that happens in one of these five cities automatically takes on far more importance than if it occurred anywhere else in the world. This is partly because so many of those who work in TV are stationed there, but also because those who cover news tend to think that these really are the only places that actually matter.

Pretty Pictures Bias:
Why a story on avalanches or movie special effects will beat out one on campaign finance or social security reform almost every time.

Fear Bias:
As anyone who watches local TV news closely can tell you, any story that can convince soccer moms that their children might be in harms way is a sure ratings grabber. It seems to be especially helpful if the potential danger comes in the form of something that can't be seen, such as anthrax.

Timing Bias:
A story that the media might treat as terribly important one day, may become irrelevant the next, based on what else is going on. This is closely related to the "Short Attention Span Bias" that dominates TV news and its audience. Expert testimony on the benefits of this particular bias can be provided by Gary Condit, Robert Blake, and the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey.

Mystery/Drama Bias:
This is why Bill Clinton was actually LUCKY that Monica saved the "blue dress." Without that evidence, the mystery surrounding the story would have survived a lot longer and the media would have remained far more engaged in the "drama." This is also why "live" coverage of any sort of police chase will preempt a much bigger story where we already know the final outcome.

Pro-Jesus Bias:
No matter how vehemently the Southern Baptists would howl at the concept that the news media is biased in their guy's favor, it is absolutely true. No other religion has our nation's biggest holiday named for its leader, and no other is more immune to real scrutiny than Christianity. If you don't agree with me, try to remember the last time you heard Catholics referred to as "cannibals" because they believe that they eat the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ at Mass each Sunday.

Sound Bite Bias:
Nothing makes the TV news unless it can be said in less than about fifteen seconds. Even the "sound bites" that survive are chosen mostly for their entertainment value. Just the other day, at least 20% of an NBC story on John Ashcroft's testimony before congress was spent on the Attorney General describing a (mildly humorous, but irrelevant) political cartoon where he is depicted as Santa Claus.

Anti-Partisanship/Pro-Moderation Bias:
The news media in general seems to have almost a pathological fixation with demonizing "extremists" and deifying "moderates." This may be why, apparently with a straight face, someone at AOL News actually placed party-switching Senator Jim Jeffords' name on the ballot for a "Time Person of the Year" poll. Thankfully, he received less than 0.5% of the vote.

"Even" Reporting Bias:
Many media types seem to lack an understanding of the difference between "fair" and "even" when it comes to balancing their cover. If one side claims that 2+2=100 and the other side insists that 2+2=4, it is "fair" to state that side A is lying and that side B is telling the truth. Unfortunately, most of the time what gets reported in the name of "even" reporting is that 2+2= 52. This way, the liars always win.

Happy Ending Bias:
While TV news definitely has a bias towards negativity, it also loves a happy ending, especially when women or children are involved. This is why when watching that scary "Dateline" about the baby who almost died, you can rest easy. Everything is going to turn out okay. Otherwise it never would have aired.

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