TIM SKUBICK: Bias in the eye of the beholder
Today’s lesson boys and girls is on media bias.
Alright. Alright. Everyone settle down now. No one wants to be sent to time out for acting out even though the temptation is real.
It is truly amazing that so much time and energy is spent in blog-o-land debating the political bent of those writing political analysis. In fact, it often surpasses the substance of the stories themselves as if the “bias” of the writer is somehow more important than the actual content in the piece.
Media bias is nothing new, but it takes on greater importance now that a click of a mouse means everyone can freely offer his or her opinion which often produces more bluster than insightful dialogue.
Sure some writers have a slant and they get paid to slant it. FOX and MSNBC are prime examples.
But does every journalist display his or her bias for everyone to see?
Of course not, because if they did, especially in the political arena, they’d be out of work. If reporters, not commentators, who lean left or right did that at the state capitol, no one from the other side would give them the time of day.
Editors would soon discover that only one party was being written about and pretty soon, that reporter would be in the unemployment line.
Are you sitting down? The vast majority of those practicing this trade want to be fair, get the story right and leave their personal predilections out of the story.
Yet the perception of bias is so deeply embedded in the political dialogue, not only here, but elsewhere, that it seems foolish to even to try to provide some perspective on where the bias really resides.
Years ago when Gov. John Engler roamed these halls, there was no middle ground. Either you loved this guy or you hated his inerds.
So when he would show up on the telly and was grilled, there were usually two distinct responses.
If you were a conservative and liked the Beal City native, you viewed the questions from reporters as disrespectful, unfair and loaded, and you would say so.
“Why were you so tough on Gov. Engler?”
Ah but if you leaned the other way and could not stand the ground he walked upon, the response went along these lines, ”Why were you so easy on him? How come you didn’t ask those snotty and direct questions like you do on all the Democats? Why did you let him off the hook?”
Mind you, everyone watched the same broadcast but came to different conclusions concerning the alleged political bias of the interviewer - the exact same program seen through your selective perception.
The fact of the matter is, if you monitor the questions of any reporter over time, you will discover that they ask the same kind of questions regardless of whom is sitting in the hot seat. But depending on your political bias, you interpret the leanings of the person asking the question to fit your biased conclusion.
So if there is a bias in the political arena, it may reside more with the audience than the messenger.
This self-bias plays out on another front as consumers seek out media outlets that re-enforce their personal beliefs. Consequently, conservatives hang on every word uttered by Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reily and others. And liberals can’t wait to hear what Rachel Maddow has to say.
Whatever happened to listening to all sides and then forming an opinion?
No wonder we are a red and blue country.
You may find this difficult to swallow, but neither political party has all the correct solutions. And the democracy works best when everyone listens to everyone else and doesn’t automatically reject.
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.