A previous article in this series explored the reality gap in media organizations at large, but TV news programming is worth paying special attention to. Whereas the previous piece analyzed the organizational and financial structure of media, TV news is better characterized by political affiliation and analysis. It has less to do with money, and more to do with executive decision making and political persuasion. Basically, the media organizations’ richest and most influential members use the communication systems they own to forward specific agendas.
One might wonder what the motivation is for bias in major TV news stations such as Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. The answer lies in a conceptual model called the “propaganda model” developed in the late 1980’s. In it, scholars Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky analyzed major news organizations, and found that the executives’ personal political persuasion, the protection of certain corporate interests, and funding all contributed to the clear bias in TV news. Individual journalists and pundits, for example, find that they must align themselves with the political ideals of the owners of the company they work for in order to advance their own careers. As a result these extremely powerful channel owners essentially control what information is disseminated through TV news, and how it is presented.
The examples of the bias in TV news are much too frequent and pervasive to list individually. In fact, they are a constant in nearly all reporting that news channels do. It is generally accepted that MSNBC and CNN lean heavily to the left of the political aisle. The most applicable and recent demonstration of this is the two channels’ characterization of the recent conservative Tea Party movement in the United States. Tea Party members are portrayed as gun-toting, white, racist old people by CNN and MSNBC. One event occurring last year serves as a particularly powerful example. MSNBC, in a report of a man who attempted to come to a town hall meeting, cropped a Caucasian person’s photo in their story and characterized him as a racist fanatic. The reality, however, was that the gun-toting attendee was African American. Fox, on the other hand, has a right-leaning political persuasion. They have in the past two years been known to aggressively attack the Democratic administration that is currently in power. One instance of deceptive techniques used in Fox’s attacks on Democrats happened during the 2008 presidential elections. Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden, during a time of deep recession, was quoted as saying “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” What for didn’t report, though, was that Biden was actually quoting Republican candidate John McCain. The sound bite was purposefully taken out of context.
With TV news’ impossibly large barriers to entry and high concentration of ownership, one should expect the unabashed partisanship on networks to persist. They remain an important disseminator of information, but the TV news viewer should be vigorous in fact-checking and getting news from a multitude of sources to insure that they avoid the purposeful gap between truth and perception that major news networks have created.