The problem that the overwhelming majority of media members refuse to admit exists.
During the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen, Norway, in May 2012, the largest media conference in the Nordic region with 1600 delegates, Professor Frank Aarebrot voiced his deep concern over the fact that an increasing number of Scandinavians prefer websites that are not edited by proper, decent journalists. He considers this trend “disturbing,” since it leaves a confused audience to search for information on their own. The flock might presumably be led astray without qualified shepherds to guide their path.
Research done by him and others in Scandinavia proves that journalists have political sympathies that are far to the left of the general population, and have had so for decades. Yet Professor Aarebrot is quick to reassure us that this has absolutely no impact on the political profile of their journalistic work, none whatsoever.
As a matter of fact, if you believe that journalists with far-Left political sympathies might slant the way the mainstream media report issues, you’re just as crazy as those who believe that Elvis Presley is still alive or that little green men from outer space walk among us and built the pyramids in ancient Egypt. Yes, that was the exact comparison Aarebrot drew in court in his expert testimony during the trial against Anders Behring Breivik. This comes from an oft-quoted and respected professor of political science in his native country.
But if journalists have some special ability or gene that makes them immune to the weakness of personal bias that affects that rest of mankind, why can’t neo-Nazis make excellent journalists? That would be the logical conclusion if we truly believe that the personal views of journalists have no impact on their reporting.
After hearing the news of Breivik’s massacre at Utøya on a summer camp of the Labor Party’s youth league (AUF), the American television personality Glenn Beck found it distasteful that a party would have a political youth camp at all. As The Sydney Morning Herald commented, “Norwegians have hit back at former Fox News presenter and Tea Party darling Glenn Beck, after he compared the country’s shooting victims to the Hitler Youth in a radio show overnight. In a monologue on the syndicated radio show The Glenn Beck Program, the conservative commentator said: ‘There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth or whatever. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.’”
Frank Aarebrot, who has studied in the USA, retorted by calling Beck a pig, a “Fascist” and a “vulgar propagandist” leading the American public astray and trying to surpass Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. When Aarebrot is not presented as an objective scientist totally devoid of personal bias of any kind, he is also a Labor Party supporter and a lifelong honorary member of AUF.
To his credit, Glenn Beck did note that Breivik is a mass murderer and a terrorist who is just as bad as Osama bin Laden. Some observers might claim that his comments were in poor taste, but it is nevertheless a fact that Utøya is a place where Socialist politics and ideological indoctrination is combined with youthful hormones.
It is somewhat odd to label somebody a Fascist when that person advocates less political indoctrination of impressionable youths, not more. Let us leave aside the fact that Beck has earlier warned against the rise of European “Fascists” such as Geert Wilders.
Presumably, to people like Frank Aarebrot, “Socialist” and “unbiased” are seen as synonymous terms. Socialists and Social Democrats are simply honest, decent and honorable people working to spread enlightenment and all that is good to the masses. Sometimes they are opposed by irrational forces clinging to outdated myths or susceptible to the propaganda of evil forces.
Bernard Goldberg is the author of the bestselling book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. In it he documents how stories about the plight of the homeless, whose numbers were allegedly mushrooming in the USA, increased under the Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in the 1980s but then almost disappeared when Bill Clinton from the Democratic Party was US President from 1993 to 2001, only to resurface once more with the advent of another Republican President, George W. Bush.
The frequency of stories about homelessness was not directly related to the actual number of people living in the streets; they represented a bias in the mass media. Homeless individuals were often presented as innocent victims of a cruel and heartless capitalist society. Less was said about the fact that quite a few of them had problems with drug or alcohol abuse and might at least partially have contributed to their own situation.
Goldberg mentions a study from 1996 among journalists in Washington D.C. showing that fully 89% of them voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, more than twice Clinton’s share among regular voters. 50 percent said they were Democrats; only 4 percent identified as Republicans. This very pronounced left-wing bias among leading journalists has remained remarkably stable for many years. Similar numbers will probably be found in Hollywood and the American entertainment industry, too, which have a major international influence.
Goldberg contrasts the mass media’s reactions to the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001 with its response to Timothy McVeigh’s evil deeds when he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds of others. Political leaders such as US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair plus the Western press were quick to reassure the public that the acts of Arab Muslim Jihadists who murdered thousands of unarmed civilians had nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace.
Goldberg recalls that McVeigh’s misdeeds from the Los Angeles Times to Time magazine were blamed on the “hateful rhetoric” of right-wing groups or the popular American conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh:
I thought about how it took some of the media elites only a few days before they started to play one of their favorite games – connect the dots. What they found back then – or more accurately, what they convinced themselves they found – was a line stretching from Oklahoma City to the Republican Party to conservatives in general and finally to Rush Limbaugh. Dan Rather said, "Even after Oklahoma City, you can turn on your radio in any city and still dial up hate talk: extremist, racist, and violent from the hosts and those who call in.”
Dan Rather is the former news anchor for the CBS Evening News from 1981 to 2005 and has also contributed to CBS’s 60 Minutes, a prime-time television news magazine which has run since 1968. In May 2012, Rather canceled an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor at Fox News, instead showing up on the satirical TV program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where he argued that there is no left-wing bias in the mass media.
Goldberg, who worked with Rather for years, retorted that “His statement is a sham – he’s not telling the truth.” Much of the press is working to see that Obama is reelected, for instance. Bill O’Reilly looked back at the history of the powerful CBS broadcaster, noting that Walter Cronkite, the longtime anchorman of the CBS Evening News (1962-81), was a “very, very left-wing guy,” but he could hide it and wasn’t “some crank.”
Bernard Goldberg convincingly demonstrates with example after example how strong left-wing political sympathies not infrequently translate into lopsided reporting in real life, slanted in favor of left-wing politicians, organizations or causes, and how this bias colors reporting on men vs. women, whites vs. non-whites, or gays vs. straights. He repeatedly stresses, however, that most journalists honestly don’t see themselves or their reporting as “biased.” They tend to view themselves as smart, well-meaning and educated people without prejudice.
According to their own world view, perhaps we could call many members of the modern Western mass media and academia the Enlightened Class, who spread enlightened values to the masses while dispelling myths and warding off the evils of conservative backwardness, superstition and primitive dogma.
In every single Western country for which I have seen studies, journalists have political sympathies to the left of the general population, sometimes quite far to the left. The question is: Does it matter?
I think it does. The mass media are incredibly powerful. They are the eyes and ears of modern societies and affect how we collectively perceive the world around us. If they distort our senses by viewing everything through red-colored glasses, it becomes hard to accurately recognize and deal with problems. When faced with real enemies – and there will always be enemies – such a systemic distortion of reality could prove fatal.
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