October 2018, Vol. 245, No. 10

Editor's Notebook

Deciphering Today's Media Bias

Saying President Donald Trump has had some major differences with the mainstream media is an understatement. Recently, the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed piece by a “senior official” in the administration who claims administrative attempts to hold Trump back are very real. “Fake News,” Trump repeatedly cries. 

I am neither a defender nor an accuser, but merely pointing out changes that have occurred in the profession. As a former member of the media, I have seen firsthand instances where media members have embellished, exaggerated and sensationalized their stories to make them more enticing, exciting and dramatic at the cost of being less than honest. 

I once saw a reporter do a stand-up for a high-water story on his knees in a ditch to make it appear the water was up to his chest.  Early in my media career, I took part in a few ambush interviews, which rarely provided anything newsworthy other than a stunned look on the face of the unassuming victim.  

The old-school journalism 101 where every story has two sides is no longer at issue here.  Journalists today have picked sides, and nothing is sacred as long as their perspective/bias is splashed to the public masses. Being first to report is now more important than getting the story right. 

In 2008, I accompanied pipeline mogul Richard Kinder to a live satellite interview with Mad Money’s Jim Cramer. It was an election year and I reminded Rich that he was likely to get a question concerning who he would rather have as president in the upcoming election. Toward the end of the interview, Kramer did indeed ask Kinder who he would prefer in the White House.  

Without hesitation Rich said he really didn’t care who won as long as they were pro-business and made decisions that would be beneficial to strengthening the economy. Kinder’s response, while true, was only a part of the whole truth. He most likely would have preferred another eight years of George Bush had that been possible. But a live interview allowed Kinder the opportunity to get his message across without being edited. Viewers were able to decipher the information for themselves without having an editor, reporter or producer add their bias to it. 

Social media platforms really took off in the earl 2000’s. Communication via social media is now much more common place as evidenced by President Trump tweeting more than most 14-year-old girls. I used to think that was a major mistake on his part but not so much anymore. He is using one of today’s most popular communication tools. In the 1930’s, FDR was heralded for his fireside chats? Roosevelt was a great communicator on radio, and the fireside chats kept him in high public regard throughout his presidency. 

I believe Trump is merely attempting to do the same by using the most current communication tool, social media. According to Wikipedia the number of worldwide users is expected to reach 3.02 billion monthly active social media users by 2021, around a third of Earth’s entire population. The region with the highest penetration rate of social networks is North America, where about 70% of the population has at least one social account. As of 2017, 81% of the United States population had a social networking profile. Trump’s ability to Tweet, Skype, Instagram or Facebook his unedited message to billions is a luxury in today’s politically divisive world.   

While his unorthodox style is off-putting to some, it is heralded by others. Trump has no previous experience as a politician so his communication style lacks, to put it nicely, polish. Social media is a perfect platform for him. Still, Trump’s odd personality, demeanor and style makes it easy for journalists to pick a side. What is becoming more difficult for media consumers is finding fair and balanced reporting rather than agenda-biased propaganda. If he were still with us, Walter Cronkite would be tweeting “SMDH” (shaking my damn head).


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