Tag Archives: news bias

“It’s Not Cool To Not Know What You’re Talking About.”

The title is a quote from our president, when he spoke at commencement at Rutger’s (“Full Text of President Obama’s Speech at Rutger’s Commencement”, Mark Mueller, NK Advance Media for NJ.com, 5/15/2016).  You might want to read the whole transcript, as it’s positive and uplifting (and not boring – heck, I don’t even remember who spoke at my commencement, let alone what he said).

This quote just about sums up what a lot of people think, when they watch anything having to do with the presidential election these days.  I happen to think that a majority of Americans think this way, despite the heavy press that seems to suggest that most Americans are…well…stupid.

Turn on the TV these days, and you will see an astoundingly large amount of discussion about Donald Trump and his latest “news”.  But, most of the time, it’s not really news, it’s free publicity. Trump uses the strategy of “say or do at least one outrageous thing each week, so that your name continues to be bandied about in the press.”

There’s a reason he has spent less on ads than any other candidate – it’s because he uses the press and gets publicity for free.  According to the Huffington Post, Trump has received $1.9 billion in free media coverage, but has spent only $10 million on ads (“Donald Trump Has Received Nearly $2 Billion in Free Media Attention”, Michael Calderone, Huffington Post, 3/15/2016). 

The reason he can spend so little is because he is constantly calling attention to himself.  If he doesn’t make some kind of outrageous statement in a speech, he Tweets attention-seeking tidbits or even calls news shows.  He makes himself completely accessible to news media, seemingly at all times.

“But isn’t that clever?” you might be wondering.  Well, I suppose it is, in terms of how to “get stuff free”, but I am banking that this will hurt him in the long run.  For one thing, every time he has to answer for some dumb thing he’s said, he either denies he said it, changes the subject, or in some cases just ends the conversation.

The main reason it bothers me, however, is that I am seeing more and more bias in the media regarding Trump.  As other Republicans fall in line to back Trump – despite the fact that he really doesn’t have a lot of support amongst the general population and despite the fact that he has skewered and bullied every Republican who ran against him or questioned his ideas – I see news outlets doing the same, falling all over Trump (or at least not pushing the hard questions).

They give Trump hour-long interviews, they report on every tiny thing he says, while ignoring the issue-oriented statements and Tweets the two Democratic Party candidates make (Clinton and Sanders).  Then, sometimes, the pundits discuss amongst themselves how uninformed the public is, how “low information” they are (which some even equate to being lower in native intelligence), and so on, without admitting how much they themselves contribute to the problem.

Even if you see a reporter, say, on MSNBC disagreeing with a spokesperson for Trump (because I rarely if ever see them do this to the candidate himself) on a show, it takes the form of that reporter shouting over the other person.  I can’t count how many times I have yelled at my TV, “Let him answer the question!” as Chris Matthews or Joe Scarborough asks a question and then continues to talk when the person tries to answer.

No one learns anything like that.  It’s as if these reporters use Trump supporters to shore up their own egos, nothing more.  They are no more interested in educating the public than Fox News is.  Not that a Trump supporter answering a question would be particularly enlightening, but it might actually tell a voter something about the candidate.  If nothing else, it would provide fodder for the reporter to refute him or her with a fact-check of some sort.

Some might say this indicates a negative bias against Trump.  But I see it as a “wink wink” kind of attitude, the kind of fascination people can have towards celebrities behaving badly, almost as if being a total jerk is endearing somehow.  They’re still not taking him seriously.

He’s not just a celebrity anymore, he’s running for president.  If elected, he can do some real damage to this country, not only domestically but on the international stage.  And sometimes it seems as if the only people who are really worried about this are the Republicans.

Why the Republicans?  Well, they’re afraid Trump is making them, and their candidates for Congress, look bad.  They don’t want to lose control of the Senate and the House, and those with long memories or a knowledge of history do not want a repeat of what Goldwater did in 1964.

I was 8.  I remember this ad:

I remember the “duck and cover” stuff we had to do in school, and I remember adults talking about being scared.  I couldn’t sleep election night, because I was so terrified Goldwater would be elected and my young life would be over.   Even though the ad itself was only shown once (as an ad), the news picked it up and we saw it over and over again.

Goldwater wasn’t elected, obviously.  Also, the GOP lost 36 seats in the House, and dropped 2 seats in the Senate, giving the Democrats a majority in both the House and Senate (“The Goldwater Mirage”, Dennis Sanders, The Moderate Voice website, 2009).  

It was a disaster for the Republican Party.  Due to the extremist positions Goldwater held, particularly his opposition to the Civil Rights Act as “unconstitutional” and his suggestion that “low-yield atomic weapons” could be used in Vietnam (“Barry Goldwater, GOP Hero, Dies”, Bart Barnes, Washington Post, page A01, 5/30/1998), many people described him as a lunatic who had no business being near the “red button”.

In context, this was 3 years after the 1961 Bay of Pigs incident (which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis), which was another extremely scary experience (because people were afraid the Soviets were going to launch nuclear weapons at us from Cuba), and only 19 years after we dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which showed the horror those weapons could unleash.

People were very, very afraid of nuclear weapons.

The positive side of that is it spurred people to vote against Goldwater, and it also forced a political dichotomy on the American public (remember the Pete Seeger tune, “Which Side Are You On?” – a pro-miners workers’ union song, it was also sung at anti-war, May Day, and other demonstrations in the 60s and early 70s).

People were very much on “one side” or the other.  Riots were sparked over political stances.