Friday, August 11, 2006

Agenda-driven "reporting"

Forgive me if I've posted on a related topic before, but it's worth rehashing.

Zombie's got some good coverage of the media fraud at Reuters that's come to the surface recently. While a lot of it is clearly inexcusable, I wonder yet if some of the occurrences are a manifestation of something other than overt malice or sensationalism.

My favorite example is the time when George Bush said that it'd be a lot easier to run the country if he were a dictator. In the earliest publications quoting him, they pointed out that he was joking. Of course: a dictatorship goes against everything we believe in, but if there were no debate, if our government had been designed for efficiency (it was not--checks and balances, remember?), then whoever led the government could certainly get a lot done with all the time he instead has to spend pontificating.

Well, after a while the media would rerun his quote, but they wouldn't point out that he was joking, that everyone he was talking to laughed because they got the joke. Maybe the caption writers thought everyone would remember the context and felt that reminding us of the words alone would be enough for...for something. Whether they were just flirting with laziness (streamlining a story isn't all bad if the original meaning is preserved) or were actually trying to pry Bush into a less tasteful apparent position, the latter seemed to be the effect that was achieved; more than once I heard people "reminding" us that Bush, in the end, just wanted to be a dictator, because the last thing they read about his dictator line made him sound pretty serious.

Were they just short-attention-span types who were confused by reporting that was on the sloppy side of efficient? Were they deliberately misled? Were they willingly misled because it confirmed their suspicions or wishes? Were these suspicions first planted by journalists who made some honest mistakes that fit a political pattern, or by journalists who had a problem with objective reporting, or propagandists who happened to work for the major media and perhaps studied journalism in school?

I don't know, but the "All the news that fits our preconceptions will be printed" era can't end soon enough. Hopefully we can get a little more Matt Drudge and even a little Pajamas Media for contrast. I'm tired of running into people who trust CNN because they watch it, and then dismiss anything different that Fox News says because CNN already reported on it.

It happens the other way, too, but Fox isn't as entrenched yet, so it's a little less frequent. 'Cept maybe to people who only watch CNN, or only read the New York Times, f'rinstance. Folks who think a single news source is comprehensive and infallibly objective are probably even more frustrated by folks who think the same about a different news source.

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