Coming Up Next: Shallow, Biased News!

    What do rusted nails, McDonald’s hamburgers and modern television news have in common? They are all trash that is hazardous to human health. While the first two threaten physical health, the garbage spewed by television news insidiously works to corrupt society’s capacity for independent thinking. In pandering to political ideologies on the left and right and the quest for ratings, television news has lost its journalistic credibility, mutating into mass entertainment that passes itself off as intellectual programming.

    With the polarization of American politics over the last two decades, television news has become little more than the ideological mouthpiece for both left- and right-wing movements.

    Fox News, the leading cable news outlet, is at the forefront of media bias with its conservative-slanting news coverage. Many of the anchors on Fox News programs have a history of making unsubstantiated statements that espouse conservative views while denigrating the left. For example, John Gibson, host of Fox News program the “Big Story,” claimed on his program that “bin Laden told us today that our far left has been working for him.”

    Even more disingenuously, Fox News has misreported and mislabeled news items in a fashion that would have benefited conservative interests had they been true. On March 23, 2003, Fox News reported that coalition forces had discovered a “huge chemical weapons factory” in Iraq when no such discovery had been made. More recently, on Oct. 3, 2006, the network mislabeled former Republican congressman Mark Foley as a Democrat during “The O’Reilly Factor.” While there is no evidence that Fox News ran these misrepresentations of reality on purpose, it is interesting that both misrepresentations benefitted the right side of the aisle.

    In a mirror image of Fox News, other networks such as CNN, ABC and CBS report in favor of the left, conducting their own false reporting and misrepresentations. In 1998, CNN ran a feature suggesting that Operation Tailwind, a U.S. incursion into Laos during the Vietnam War, was an operation to kill U.S. defectors with nerve gas. Investigations later revealed that CNN had used testimony from a retired admiral living in assisted care and selectively edited quotes from other sources to support its claims. On Sept. 8, 2004, CBS used allegedly forged documents in an attack on President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. In an internal e-mail, ABC political director Mark Halperin suggested that reporters should not “reflexively and artificially hold both sides ‘equally’ accountable.”

    While the cases above are obviously extreme examples of misreporting, they point toward a general trend of media bias. In a study conducted by Stephen Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, published in their book “The Nightly News Nightmare: How Television Portrays Presidential Elections,” Fox News favored Bush while ABC, CBS and NBC favored Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in their 2004 election coverage. These biases directly influence the quality of the programs run on the television news channels, which are little more than rhetorical harangues by one side against the other. While these programs are sold as intellectual debate, they are in truth little more than entertainment.

    With the competition between television news channels for viewers and ratings, each side struggles to one-up the other with coverage of breaking news and sensational stories. While this would be beneficial to propagating information about important events in a limited context, the current incarnation of television news grasps at the tiniest of events in an effort to gain an edge over their competitors.

    In coverage of the recent death of New York Yankees’ pitcher Cory Lidle, major networks ran footage of the same burning building interposed with talking heads for many minutes without any change in the situation. Similar “coverage” occurs for other breaking stories, and it merely amounts to the network announcing that something is happening and that they have no clue as to what is going on other than what is visible on the screen.

    Additionally, television news wastes time covering events that have little relevance to the nation at large. Every time a physically attractive, relatively young white female goes missing, national television descends upon the case like a pack of vultures. Even though there is very little or no information on possible suspects, motives or other circumstances of these cases, there are hourly updates on the unchanging situation.

    This sort of worthless coverage characterized the sensationalism surrounding Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway and various other cases. While the kidnappings and deaths of these women are certainly unfortunate and reprehensible, a sensational kidnapping generates television coverage greater than that devoted to national and global issues such as federal elections or the war in Iraq. These stories, especially in the case of murders with a suspect on trial, such as the Scott Peterson trial, simply do not deserve the amount of time and effort that television news spends in order to provide around-the-clock updates.

    Modern television news is a disgrace to the ideals of professional, objective journalism upheld by the titans of broadcast journalism such as Edward R. Murrow. Today’s television anchors spit on their profession. There is nothing objective or professional in providing biased and sensational news coverage.

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