By JAMES H. "SMOKEY" SHOTT
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A major factor in this year’s presidential campaign is something that should not be a factor at all: the media.
What the nation needs, what the media are expected to provide, and what some Americans think they are getting, is objective, balanced and fair coverage of the events of the day.
That, of course, is what the Society of Professional Journalists intends its profession to provide, and so stated in its Preamble: “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.”
America suffers mightily because the media have largely abandoned their ethical and moral obligations in favor of pursuing political goals; no longer information purveyors, they are partisan players, who instead of providing accurate, objective news now push deliberately distorted partisan messages.
This has earned the media a few derisive names: the lame stream media, the drive-by media, the lapdog media or press, the Ministry of Propaganda, the Talking Point Monkeys, presstitutes … the list goes on.
The bias exhibited by the major media exists not only in how they present information, but also in what information they present, what they don’t present, and the amount of emphasis certain items receive.
The issue is further clouded by the fact that many media outlets provide both news and opinion. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as news and opinion are carefully handled and kept separate, and opinion is clearly labeled as such. Far too often, they get mixed together.
It doesn’t get much worse than when the media take sides, as they have done in the presidential campaign. One recent example resulted from a meeting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held with a few supporters in a private home in Florida. Speaking to a group of like-minded supporters, Mr. Romney made comments that on the surface conveyed a message that seemed to show his apparent lack of concern for approximately half the country.
Such an interpretation doesn’t pass the smell test, of course, as indicated by the high level of charitable giving the Romneys donate each year — nearly 30 percent of net income in 2011 — but it makes a good story and helps the media boost their candidate, Barack Obama.
Some facts need to be considered: First, it was a private, off-the-record meeting; no press invited, and he spoke to people who understood that his comments were not intended to be taken absolutely literally. Furthermore, a whole lot of the people in that 47 percent that Mr. Romney mentioned not only know what he meant, but agree with him.
Second, a spy secretly — perhaps illegally — recorded his comments, and then an openly left-wing publication edited the comments and published them without explaining the circumstances of the meeting or confessing that it had doctored the contents.
The recording became a handy Romney-bashing tool for other media outlets, which either didn’t research the source or notice the clandestine nature of the recording, or just didn’t care about the lack of honesty and forthrightness.
There can be no reasonable doubt that this cheap-shot episode was designed solely to hurt Romney to the benefit of Obama. Such “reporting” is dishonest and beneath responsible journalists, who are now in short supply.
However, stripped of the spy’s and the media’s disreputable conduct, and the media’s opportunistic parsing and misstating of his beliefs, what Romney said was true, and important: Half of the country pays taxes to the government and half receives money from the government. In fact, 70 percent of federal spending goes to 47 government dependence programs, according to the Heritage Foundation, and that is a serious problem.
The national media largely reported the Romney non-story rather than objectively cover the nation’s fiscal crisis and the disastrous presidency of Barack Obama, whose administration danced, dodged and twisted into knots to avoid admitting that the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya was a terrorist attack.
The public has taken notice. Distrust of the mass market mainstream media — newspapers, TV and radio — hit a new high this year, with 60 percent in a Gallup survey saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly,” while only 8 percent have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence.
Last year, Gallup found that almost half of Americans (47 percent) believed the mainstream media had a liberal bias, but in the 1970s trust in the media was as high as 72 percent.
Alas, the good old days of the media, like the good old days of many other things, are long gone, and the American media seems not to care about its reputation.
James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.