Letter To The Editor: Slanted Press Is Nothing New

Los Alamos 

This is in response to letters from Ms. Dolejsi (link), Ms. Remillieux (link) and Mr. Visel (link) about “Freedom of the Press”.

One thing that Mr. Visel states in his letter is that “No one can trust CNN or the mainstream media anymore”. The part I take issue with is the “anymore” part of the statement. The press has always been slanted.

Many of the newspapers that were founded in the 19th Century were founded and owned by the political parties. For instance, the Chicago Tribune was founded by the Republican party. Do you think they were interested in “fair and balanced” news? If you read papers from this era, the bias is blatant. For instance, Lincoln’s Democratic hometown paper (Illinois State Register) regularly referred to him as a traitor.

During the late 19th and 20th century, the media consolidated with bigger papers trying to reach a wider audience. If you want to appeal to a wider audience, you had better not offend half of the population.  The news got progressively homogenized so it was more palatable to a wider audience.

This reached its zenith in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when most people got their news from one of the three broadcast networks. Was the news biased then? Of course it was. It was just that all three networks were slanted the same way (left-center). But more on that in a minute.

Then in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, cable TV and the Internet came in. Now all media could reach a wide audience and the bias became more blatant again. Of course, the Internet really turned everything on its ear.  Now all you needed was a laptop and an internet connection to be in the media game. Themajor outlets suffered to the point where now the paper with the biggest investigative reporting staff is the National Enquirer. Apparently, 21st century technology has returned journalism to the 19th century.

So was there bias in the era of Walter Cronkite? In the mid 70s Illinois Power was building a nuclear power plant in Clinton, Ill. The utility was having cost overruns and other problems, so the local anti-nuclear group invited 60 Minutes in to do a documentary on the situation. Illinois Power agreed to let 60 minutes interview anyone they wanted and film anything they wanted. They only had one stipulation: Illinois Power got to film everything that 60 Minutes filmed. So one of the Illinois Power employees followed the 60 Minutes crew around with a video camera.

As expected, the 60 Minutes report was a total butcher job. So Illinois Power decided to make their own documentary. They started with the 60 Minutes report, and then spliced in their own video to show what was really said. It was amazing. You could see where 60 Minutes had taken things out of context and then edited it to fit their own narrative. They even edited people out in mid-sentence to completely change what they said. The Illinois Power video should have won an Emmy. It was the biggest indictment of investigative journalism that I have ever seen. And, of course, none of the networks was interested in airing it.

But the best part of the endeavor was Harry Reasoner’s closing diatribe. There is a statue of Abraham Lincoln on the town square in Clinton commemorating a speech that Lincoln gave there during the 1858 Senate campaign against Stephen Douglas. So, Mr. Reasoner and the CBS crew decided to “wrap themselves in Honest Abe” and do their narrative in front of this statue. Unfortunately, they apparently neglected to read the inscription on Lincoln’s statue.

Illinois Power closed their video with Mr. Reasoner’s diatribe just like CBS did, except they ran the words of the inscription on Lincoln’s statue as Mr. Reasoner spoke. It said “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.

The news has always been slanted and it probably always will be. The media is under no obligation to give fair and accurate reporting. Rather it is our obligation as citizens to see to it that we fall in Lincoln’s third category rather than the first or the second.


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