The Absence of Neutrality in the Media

The news networks have a bias. Neutrality is a myth; even for news. Every reporter, writer, director, editor, and publisher are either conservative or liberal, whether it be a slight bias or a heavy one. Recently, some of them admitted so. Albert Mohler has run a story on this issue on an episode (12-19-13) of his daily podcast, The Briefing, which is the source for this information. The following is his extremely insightful piece on this subject.

Dylan Byers, writing for Politico as he recently said that the top journalists from the New York Times, NBC News, and CNN acknowledged (in December) that, generally speaking, the national media has a liberal bias. On a playbook breakfast panel, he reports, the New York Times’ Peter Baker, Mark Leibovich, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and CNN’s Jake Tapper, all said “yes” to the question: “does the news media lean left?” Although, Byers says, all (of these panelists) agreed it was a nuanced issue having more to do with journalists’ life experience than with any particular agenda.

Mark Leibovich [NYT] said,

“most of my colleagues, I have no idea what their politics are, but think about it; I live in Northwest Washington. None of my neighbors are evangelical Christians. I don’t know a lot of people in my kids’ preschool who are pro-life.” He goes on to say, “when you have conversations, at all the newspapers I’ve worked at, about politics, it doesn’t happen often, but you see clues that there is a left-wing bias.”

Byers reports that Jake Tapper, the CNN host and former ABC News White House correspondent, said the bias was “much more complicated and complex than reducing it to the issues of liberal or conservative.”

Tapper went on to say,

a certain type of person becomes a reporter. Generally speaking, I’m not saying every reporter in the world, the kind of person of person who is a reporter in Washington D.C. or New York City has never worked at a minimum wage job outside of high school; has never experienced poverty; is not an evangelical Christian; like much of the country is.

Tapper continues,

“there are a lot of experiences that the kinds of people who are reporters, editors and producers in Washington and New York City have not had.

Mohler says,

“that is the kind of candor most of us haven’t heard from journalists involved in this kind of work, looking at themselves considering what they see and don’t see, hear and don’t hear.” Mohler points out there are a couple of interesting arguments here. First, is that the issue cannot be simply reduced to liberal and conservative. Mohler responds, “there is truth in that; most issues cannot be reduced to quite that simplistic. On the other hand, there is a great cultural divide in this country; an ideological, philosophical worldview divide, a moral divide, and as scholars such as Thomas Sowell has pointed out, there is a predictable progression in terms of where people line up. The pattern is very clear. There is a left and there is a right. Conservative and liberal are too simplistic, yes, but they are labels that make sense, as even these journalists allow when they say “yes, its true, the journalistic community leans left.” The other interesting thing to observe is that these journalists, looking at their own craft and tribe, say that the big issue here isn’t political bias, but life experience. From a worldview perspective, Christians looking at that kind of statement should recognize there is an enormous amount of truth in that. Life experience and this kind of perspective are inseparable, which is why we have to remember we are not disembodied minds; we are people who have experiences and ideas; we have intuitions and theories. We operate out of a worldview that is tied to life experience, which reminds us that one of the problems with the national media [especially the leading media networks] is that those who do write and edit those very influential periodicals, newspapers and news outlets usually don’t have the same kind of experiences as the people they expect to watch their programming and read their articles, and be convinced by their editorial coverage.

There is something else to observe here, as well: Our experiences are not accidents. They don’t just happen to us. We choose our experiences. And those who tend to be employed by and active in the elite media in this country, are those whose experiences would be predictably those that would prepare them for this kind of job; and would make those who hire those journalists and editors interested in their résumé. So, we aren’t talking about an accident. We are talking about a self-selected group that tends, like every other tribe, to select out of their own self-referential kind of people, and those people have the same kind of experiences; and those people who have the same kinds of experiences often times represent the same worldview, as well. A part of that worldview is a political and moral bias. [At least two of the participants in that panel represented the New York Times.] A very important article by Terry Mattingly, published at Patheos, tells us that the New York Times itself became a prime example of this very syndrome the very week this took place. Mattingly writes an article titled, “The Latest Coverage from the Church of the New York Times.” He goes to Baptist Press, not the New York Times, but the press service of the Southern Baptist Convention, and that denominational wire service’s coverage of the recent [federal] court case in Utah having to do with polygamy. And he goes to the coverage by Baptist Press and finds, predictably, it cited, as anticipated, Baptists; and not only that but moral, cultural and theological conservatives: the kind of people whom Baptist Press would be expected to turn to for analysis of this kind of situation. Dr. Russell Moore [president, ERLC of the SBC] was cited in the article and so was I. But we weren’t alone. Jonathan Turley, who was the attorney for the plaintiffs in this case, the man arguing for the legalization of polygamy was also cited in the Baptist Press news story. Responding to that, Terry Mattingly, himself a veteran journalist, writes “Bravo.” It “gladdens [his] heart to see hints of intellectual and cultural diversity, even in copy from a denominational wire service.” So far, so good. “Why bring this up?” he asks. He answers, “well in this case, its interesting to contrast the Baptist Press piece with the coverage of the same decision that was offered in the New York Times.” Mattingly goes to the coverage of the NYT’s decision and writes this, “the Times’ team does not quote any voices on the cultural right in response to this decision. The material is framed by the judge, the Times, and Jonathan Turley [the attorney], alone. It would appear that the content of the NYT’s story is, to be blunt, framed in a way that suggests classic advocacy journalism. In this case, to a degree that is just as strong if not stronger than the Baptist Press story.” Mattingly then asks, “why would the great Gray Lady [the NYT] use the same journalistic approach as a denominational wire service such as Baptist Press?” He goes on to ask in conclusion, “if the Time’s editors are framing their coverage in accordance with a set of doctrines, what is the name of the ‘church’ that determines the advocacy approach used in this case? The bottom line: has the Times’, on moral and cultural issues, evolved to a denominational news source?” The answer to Terry Mattingly’s question is “yes.” This is not a unique indictment of the New York Times. It is a realization [to recognize] that every news source, every reporter, every editor has a viewpoint. That view point might not come down to something as easily described, in the negative, as bias but there is no such thing as viewpoint neutrality. And these articles make very clear, there certainly is no pretension neutrality, at least in terms of the actual reporting that ends up in a newspaper even as illustrious and influential, as the most influential paper in the United States of America, the New York Times.

This is an important issue to keep in mind as we read and listen to news stories and because it affects and influences not just millions in our nation, but the rest of the world.


One thought on “The Absence of Neutrality in the Media

  1. Pingback: Opinion Polls Don’t Actually Measure Opinions | Dustin Wallace

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