Debt debate highlighted fair reporting issues

I listened to a Washington Post reporter being interviewed on the debt ceiling debate, and it was a fascinating glimpse into the challenge of covering politics in the current highly partisan climate.

Observers of national media would expect a Washington Post reporter to be critical of the Republicans for their beat-Obama-at-all-costs approach to the negotiations.

They appeared to be willing to damage the U.S. economy and its standing in global financial markets, rather than give in and let Obama have a victory.

But the Post reporter was adamant that he wasn’t going to appear biased either way. He complimented the Republicans for following their campaign promises – they said they weren’t going to raise taxes, so why should anyone expect them to agree to tax increases – even when the stakes are so high.

It was almost comical at times how hard the Post reporter was working to say equally good and bad things about both sides.

That continues to be the biggest difference between mainstream media and conservative media like Fox News. While many Fox reporters aren’t shy about openly showing their bias, reporters for traditional media – like the networks, CNN and the big eastern newspapers – try to maintain at least an appearance of balance.

 Their biases are more subtle, coming from socio-economic factors largely out of their control. They were raised by progressive parents, attended liberal universities and hang out with liberal friends.

No matter how hard they try, they’re coming to the table with a perspective they can’t override.

With Fox, a conservative perspective is a business decision. Rupert Murdoch knows that he can dominate audience share within the large segment of America that is conservative by speaking their language, giving them the angle they’re looking for, playing to their own biases.

It works. Fox News is making lots of money. Its audience share among conservative TV watchers is huge. It doesn’t matter that liberals make fun of Fox – by dominating one large segment, Fox has the overall lead among cable news shows, and is approaching the size of the network news audiences.

For years, I’ve been among the group of media watchers who appreciate Fox News and the other conservative media for the balance they bring to the table. They force the Eastern establishment media to try harder to achieve fairness.

Citizens who really want the “truth” can watch a little of both and feel comfortable they’re getting as close as possible.

Unfortunately, too many Americans don’t avail themselves of this opportunity. If they’re conservative, they only watch Fox or read the Wall Street Journal. If they’re liberal, they only watch CNN or read the New York Times.

Virtually every liberal would benefit from an occasional trip to Fox, and virtually every conservative would benefit from exposure to other perspectives than they get from a steady diet of Fox.

The Internet should have improved this situation with all the choices it offers. But the same principle applies – if you only go to conservative or liberal websites, you’ll only get one viewpoint.

Oh, well. You can lead a horse to water …

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