Monday, August 9, 2010

The Media's Jerking Knee

Many of us don't need to be reminded that America's major media outlets are manned, to a large extent, by unthinking and untrustworthy sorts who in saner times would not be taken seriously as journalists. But the coverage of two high profile events this summer illustrates that things are not only bad but getting worse.

First there was the BP oil spill. For months, news shows and newspapers and magazines have been calling it the worst environmental disaster in our history. They have showered America with stories saying that the spill will kill mass numbers of marine animals, spoil hundreds of miles of coastline, ravage Louisiana's wetlands, and perhaps doom the brown pelican to extinction throughout much of its range.

But as the well was being capped at the end of July, more than three months after the spill began, the region's fish and shrimp were still testing clean and only three marine mammals had been found dead due to the spill. And the number of birds killed was less than one percent of the number killed in the Exxon Valdez spill, which covered a much smaller area. And the amount of wetlands touched was less than half the size of Central Park. Time magazine deserves a great deal of credit for acknowledging these numbers, but you aren't likely to see any other members of the MSM acknowledge them, unless they do so in a small blurb on the last page of the Tuesday paper that nobody reads, or during the last 30 seconds of a newscast when nobody is watching.

The other big and misreported story surrounds the firing of Shirley Sherrod. In the MSM, everything I saw about it alleged, either explicitly or implicitly, that Andrew Breitbart was being deceptive and racially inflammatory when he published an edited video of Sherrod's now famous speech on his website.

However, the truth is that when Breitbart published the video, he did so with a description that included these words: "Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how much she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn't do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from 'one of his own kind.' She refers him to a white lawyer. Sherrod's racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement." (emphasis added)

There's no need to prove that the MSM is populated overwhelmingly by liberals. Even liberals know that it is. The real problem, if you don't mind me repeating myself, is how unthinking the MSM's liberalism is. These incidents were very legitimate news stories that needed to be reported; however, the MSM did not report them, but instead used them as props to project its prejudices. In the process of projecting, most of its members assumed they knew what the facts were without bothering to check, and then they portrayed their assumptions as facts with such a uniform air of authority that few people would bother to question them.

According to the leftist worldview that dominates the media, corporations are blinded by their lust for profits and are indifferent (if not callous) to how their actions affect others, and as a result the earth's environment sits always on the razor's edge of peril. So whenever an environmental mishap occurs, the media rush to record it as a catastrophe...because in their collective mind, that is what environmental mishaps are by definition.

And according to that same leftist worldview, conservatives are either racists or race-baiters. So when a conservative publishes something less than flattering about a person who is black, the media rush to record that the conservative is a bigot...because in their collective mind, any criticism of a non-white person by a conservative is inherently a cover-up for the fact the conservative dislikes the person's skin color.

In the end, the media's simple-minded, knee-jerk portrayals of world events work to everyone else's misfortune. Millions of Americans are left ignorant of facts and possessing an erroneously dim view of their countrymen.

In the case of the BP spill, businesses that rely on tourism were hurt when tens of thousands of people cancelled vacations they had planned to spend on the Gulf coast -- and even though it was the MSM's hyperventilating that caused those cancellations, the MSM is calling for BP (certainly not itself!) to compensate those businesses for lost earnings. And this is to say nothing of the damage done to the families of oil workers who were suddenly put out of work by Obama's abrupt decision, after watching the MSM's sky-is-falling coverage, to impose a six-month moratorium on off-shore drilling.

The Sherrod case is more complicated but just as troubling. Knowing what we now know about Sherrod's speech, it does not seem fair for Breitbart to call it a "racist tale" -- but his description did make it clear that Sherrod's humanity won out over any racial hang-ups she held at the time of the story she was recounting. It is the MSM that is being deceptive when it fails to mention Breitbart's description in its coverage. Likewise, it is unfair for the MSM to dismiss Breitbart's very credible assertions that: 1) the video he received had already been edited, so he did not know the speech's eventual message was full-blown racial reconciliation beyond Sherrod's long-ago decision to refer the white farmer to a white lawyer, and 2) in any event, he published the video to draw attention not to Sherrod's speech but to the way the crowd reacted before she moved on to any part about racial reconciliation. Plus, it is grossly unfair that the MSM has been far more critical of Breitbart for publishing the video, than it has been of the Obama administration for firing Sherrod over it without giving her a chance to defend herself.

If the shoe were on the other foot, you could bet your next two paychecks that the media would handle the story differently. If Breitbart was a black liberal and Sherrod a white conservative, the description introducing the video would be portrayed as a mitigating factor; and the explanations of the video having been pre-edited, and having been published for reasons other than to defame the speaker, would be portrayed as obvious truth.

Unlike a generation ago, our citizens no longer have to rely exclusively on the major news media to get their information about current events, and that is good. But it is bad that those media continue to misuse their power.

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