Photo: POTUS Obama and White House Press Corps–
When watching TV during an election year, I am always astounded by the lack of balance in news programming. Tactics range from subtle to blatant, but I can usually sniff out any network’s bias and trace that bias right back to the political views of the person with the most voting shares. How did US media become so unbalanced? So unprincipled? So bought-out?
A LITTLE LITE HISTORY
In 1986, when Ronald Reagan ruled the White House and the internet was just a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, a series of catastrophic events dominated the news: the Challenger exploded during launch, a radioactive cloud blanketed Chernobyl; the Iran-Contra Scandal broke; and Rupert Murdoch created FOX News Network. That same year the 99th Congress ordered the FCC to “re-examine” the Fairness Doctrine of 1949, which:
“required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was — in the Commission’s view — honest, equitable, and balanced.“(1)
Perhaps the most catastrophic event of all: this “re-examination” led to the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine by the FCC the following year (1987), thus devaluing the ethics that had governed the industry for nearly 40 years. (1)
Then came the consolidation of American media into the hands of a few billionaires with rare bipartisan support from Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43, all of whom raised or eliminated caps on how much media a single entity could own.(2 & 3)
“In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by fifty companies; today 90% is controlled by just six companies.” (4)
With ethical bounds removed, limits to single ownership raised or erased, we, the watchers, have been manipulated for decades by an elite group of media moguls who have masterfully employed the Effect-to-Cause Production Model to achieve their agendas.
EFFECT-TO-CAUSE PRODUCTION MODEL: ASSET OR CURSE
Built into the Studio Production curriculum and the broadcast industry, the Effect-to-Cause Production Model teaches us to design our programs around the audience effect we want to achieve. Even as fledglings we learn to chose guests, questions, and even camera shots to promote that desired effect. Knowing the message we wish to convey narrows the scope of a project, focuses our time and resources, injects energy into all stages of production, and allows us to evaluate the success of the message.
Agendas do not have to be nefarious. If I want to produce a segment trumpeting “Our Town’s” many music venues, with the desired effect of growing audience and shining light on businesses that support local musicians, where’s the harm? As long as all venues supporting music are given equal time and production quality, this kind of segment would, hopefully, benefit the venues, the musicians and tourism in general.
But what if the owner of one of the clubs is a good friend and I secretly want people to favor his club over the others. What can I do to cause this effect? By giving him a longer segment, by scripting and rehearsing his interview; by lighting the club professionally, by shooting footage at peak hours on a night when a really smashing band is performing.
Suppose the owner of another club offended me in some way and I want his business to suffer? What could I do achieve that effect? Pretty much the opposite of what I did for my friend. Understand, my ethics bar me from either of the above scenarios, but I have been studying TV production for about ten minutes and already have identified ways to promote self-interest. Imagine the tactical arsenal of TV professionals who have worked in the industry for decades. Imagine the agendas of Rupert Murdoch, (FOX) Michael Bloomberg, (Bloomberg News) and Clear Channel Communications (iHeartMedia).
NO TRUTH LIKE AN OLD TRUTH…
In 40 years of watching TV, I have seen our beloved Free Press corrupted by the oligarchs who own it. Not all but some of these media moguls have worked to change laws, erode regulations, and weaponize the US media to suit their own interests. Recently, with phrases like “Alternative Facts,” “Fake News,” and “Conspiracy Theory,” any news, no matter how authentic and factual, can be summarily dismissed as false. With the internet, any meme or falsehood can be trended into truth. How in the world are we, the watchers, to know the difference?
The best answer I could find, timeless and indisputable, comes from 12th century French Scholar and Logician Peter Abelard:
“The key to wisdom is this — constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to questions and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” (5)
And always, always–Consider the Source!
- Wikipedia; Fairness Doctrine;https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine
- Moyers, Bill; Big Media; http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/mediatimeline.html
- Egerton, John; FCC Officially Raises Ownership Cap to 39%; March 1, 2007 http://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/news-articles/fcc-officially-raises-station-ownership-cap-39/82019
- Wikipedia; Media Cross Ownership in the United States (Last update 2015) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_cross-ownership_in_the_United_States
- Abelard, Peter; http://www.searchquotes.com/quotes/author/Peter_Abelard/