Just Who Is This Media I Hear So Much About?

Sometimes it seems our society dislikes the media as much as we dislike lawyers. There's a dichotomy to that comparison though. Many people believe journalists and lawyers are loathsome creatures who are never right and who are sloppy at best and incompetent at worst. However, those same carp-o-holics continue to read the paper and watch the news on their breaks between filing class action suits against McDonald's for "enabling" them to get fat.

What's up with THAT?

Both professions deal with truth to one degree or another and operate in a world where truth-telling is an exception rather than a rule. Unfortunately, truth is one of the grayest things of all. Truth to one person is slander to another - unhappily producing yet another opportunity for journalists and lawyers to come together.

First, there is disagreement on what constitutes The Media. People think of The Media as monolithic, sort of like a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Sometimes they differentiate The Mainstream Media (MSM for short) from obscure blogs for example, but that just breaks the big monoliths into slightly smaller ones.

Is CNN The Media? Sure.

Is Fox News The Media? Certainly.

What about Bill O'Reilly? You might argue he is, but he doesn't think so.

What about Media Matters, the Smirking Chimp, or you for that matter? Are you The Media?

Depending on whom you ask, you'll get different answers. I believe that anyone who addresses a largish group using one of the communication media - TV, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, etc. - is a part of the media. I'd argue that even the occasional letter to the editor qualifies you as a card-carrying member of the media, but with that card comes some responsibilities.

Anyone who attempts to avoid bias is never completely successful. That's because opinions are organic judgments developed as much from a person's background, experience, and environment as much as they are from "facts" and they're always there to influence what you believe. Add in the idea that "facts" are nearly always relative and there's a problem. To Valerie Plame, the "fact" is she was outed. To Karl Rove, the "fact" is that he was trying to correct misperceptions. Yet, we ask journalists to "stick to the facts" to avoid bias. Who's "facts" should they believe, because whichever one they choose, they'll be wrong to a lot of people?

Imagine trying to gather "facts" from people who don't want the opposing version of the "facts" to stand. Then, do it on a tight deadline and with an incomplete knowledge of the subject matter. Why are we surprised that The Media appears biased?

So next time you want to eviscerate a journalist, consider this: Both the left and right complain The Media is biased. Both sides claim their story isn't being told. Both bellyache about how uninformed The Media is. And, they do this in roughly the same numbers regardless of the "facts".

I'm not saying that every journalist is at the top of their field, but neither is every doctor, ditch digger, or computer programmer. Journalists, just like any other profession, do their best to work within whatever constraints they have. They try, but the nature of people is that most of us are average and make plenty of mistakes.

Next time you want to criticize them, try to keep these "facts" in mind. As for the lawyers, go ahead and bash them all you want.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, May 02, 2006

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