Journalism Balance Rears its Ugly Head – Again


Truthlies

There is one party to blame for the federal government shutdown in the U.S.

Republicans.

No matter what your political affiliation this is simply a fact. Republicans have refused to approve a federal budget unless the U.S. Congress and the President agree to defund the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is federal law – legislated by the U.S. Congress, signed by the President, and upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is United States law.

The Republicans, who have voted unsuccessfully more than 40 times to repeal Obamacare, are now refusing to vote on the entire U.S. federal budget if that budget contains funding for Obamacare. Because of this the federal government was forced shutdown yesterday until it can be funded.

But you’d never know this from the coverage in the mainstream media. Here is a sampling of headlines:

  • “Stand Off Brings Government to Halt” – Los Angeles Times
  • “Government Shuts Down as Congress Remains Deadlocked” – Chicago Tribune
  • “Government Shutdown as Lawmakers Stay Divided” – Boston Globe
  • “Shutdown Begins As Congress Remains Deadlocked” – NBC News
  • “FIrst Take: Nobody Blinked, So Eyes Wide Open Over Cliff” – USA Today

As you can see, the majority of the mainstream media have taken the stance that the shutdown is the fault of both parties. They use words like “Stand Off,” “Deadlocked,” and “Divided” as if both sides had equally compelling arguments. Fox News isn’t even calling it a government “shutdown,” but instead a “slimdown” as if the federal government was suddenly drinking vegetable smoothies.

This kind of coverage is the result of journalism’s obsession with “balance” over truth. It is one reason why so many Americans no longer trust the mainstream media. It is also misinforms the public and showcases a growing laziness within journalism to ferret out truths. So much easier to present news as a series of back-and-back perspectives.

As The Guardian aptly noted in an opinion piece yesterday:

“There is a frustrating tendency in American political reporting to adopt a position of “both sides-ism” – as in, “both sides” are equally to blame for the nation’s chronic political dysfunction. Sometimes, it must be said, this assessment is correct. After all, the US political system was practically designed to breed legislative gridlock. Not this time, however. There is one party that is solely to blame for the first government shutdown in 17 years. And it’s the Republican party.”

Unfortunately, for the mainstream media, balanced reporting no longer works in the age of media manipulation. Corporations, political parties, activist organizations, lobbyists, special interest groups and even Hollywood celebrities are all trained to spin the facts. To paint a picture – often times based on flimsy information and through hyperbole – these organizations are trained to get their talking points broadcast by the media.

It works wonders because the media is trained to a fault to provide “both sides” of a story.

Of course, there are rarely, if ever, two sides to a story. Sometimes there is one. Most times there are several. But that’s beside the point. Good journalism shouldn’t be providing “sides.” It should be about uncovering truths – and providing context and comprehension. Balance – for the sake of balance – often distorts the truth. When you knowing report another sides “lie” for the sake of balance you do the public and readers a disservice.

It’s one reason why in the U.S. we have a very misinformed and confused public. It’s how lies like President Obama not having a birth certificate or that there were “death panels” included in Obamacare get started. We need journalists who are unafraid of the truth and throw out the antiquated notion that “balance” is necessary for good journalism.

Links:

The Guardian “Who’s to Blame for Government Shutdown? Republicans”

Balance Continues to Undermine Journalism

Why Balance Hurts Journalism

3 Responses to “Journalism Balance Rears its Ugly Head – Again”

  1. You say blame the Republicans for the shutdown. I say give them credit for the shutdown. Both statements are true but carry very differing opinions about the outcome. I agree mainstream media has become a problem in the US. But not as big a problem as voters who choose to take the media at it’s word.

  2. Reblogged this on VINOD833's BLOG and commented:
    THE TRUTH YOU REALIZE WHEN YOU CONFRONT YOURSELF

  3. Hi Wyldewoody:
    Clearly you think the U.S. can function as a nation without government – which I’d argue is the foundation of any civilized society. But the point remains: having journalists report the truth that Republicans are responsible for the shutdown rather than trying to balance the story by reporting “both” sides and misinforming the public.

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