Any good myth is rooted in the imagination, for it if it was rooted in reality, it would not be a myth. The word “myth” is defined thusly by Merriam Webster: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon,” and “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society” and “an unfounded or false notion.” Recently, an epic myth has sprung up online about an imaginary phenomenon called “media bias.” This myth fits the definition of “an unfounded or false notion.”
It usually goes a little something like this: a commenter goes on Facebook and posts some local news story involving a somewhat similar situation to a major mainstream media news story. The commenter says something like. “Look at this story! Why isn’t the mainstream media reporting on this? The mainstream media is so biased!” Or sometimes, it goes something like this: Apropos of nothing, a commenter lashes out at all journalists, saying “Journalists are evil! Look at how they’re ignoring this story! They are obviously biased and the mainstream media have a set agenda they must fulfill and this story just doesn’t fit that agenda!!!”
The myth that the “biased” mainstream media has a set, organized agenda to only present a story in a certain way gives the complainers something to bond about in the same way people bond over being racist, homophobic or sexist. They have created a story in their minds about “the way things are” while at the same time, having zero experience or knowledge of how a newsroom works, what journalistic ethics are or what makes something newsworthy. Just as people make up stories in their minds about folks that are of a different race from them that are not rooted in fact, so do these commenters fabricate tall tales about a “media conspiracy” to present things “in a certain way.”
That being said, just as in any profession, there are some bad apples. There are even entire news stations where the employees do, indeed, create a very slanted presentation of the news. There have been news organizations that have been caught doctoring tapes, splicing audio and playing other unethical tricks to make a news story seem a certain way. However, even those news organizations are not necessarily “biased.” Here’s why: the world of news is identical to the world of any other profession; they make what the public will buy. Ironically, it is usually those news organizations who accuse other news outlets of the most bias, further brainwashing their viewers into buying their doctored stories. The public has a thirst for those stories, though, and that thirst is what drives the cycle of news production.
It’s the public, then, that directs the news and it is the public who consumes the news which is made. Public opinion decides what is newsworthy; public opinion tells journalists what to write and, furthermore, dictates how to write it. News is generated, created and sold to the citizens of the United States as an identical reflection of themselves. If the public won’t purchase a story, journalists won’t write it.
News is no different from any other commodity. Does that make what journalists do “wrong?” Well, unquestionably, it is “wrong” to doctor audio and video. That is wrong without debate. It is a clear infraction of journalistic ethics, and the vast majority of journalists would never participate in something like that. It is wrong and it is corrupt, but at the same time, it’s what a segment of the population desires to purchase.
But, is it necessarily “wrong” to let the public drive what gets reported upon if the story that gets written is done with ethics and balance in mind? No. It’s one of the most democratic forms of product creation. The people decide what is newsworthy and what’s not.
So how do journalists know what the people will buy? They learn by observation. In the olden days, that meant picking topics that would sell papers. In today’s market, it means picking topics that people will click on. If the people won’t click it, it will not be created and it is not news.
Journalists are no different than you. They are normal private citizens who go to work every day and endeavor to do a good job, a job rooted in the accepted ethics of their profession. At the same time, they want to make a living and see their company thrive. Their concerns are your concerns- to feed their families, to make their bosses proud, to get a promotion and to provide a meaningful contribution to the world.
There is no conspiracy of journalists organizing to present a “set biased agenda” to the world. There are only people who desire to make a product people will buy, just like a restaurant owner, a vacuum cleaner maker, an automobile manufacturer or a cobbler. Those who think that’s “wrong” ought to take a good hard look at their own lives and what drives them to do their work.
The epic myth of “media bias” is nothing more than a false story created to obscure the fact that the so-called “bias” really resides within society. The citizens who make up society are the ones purchasing the news, and any bias that exists does so only within the hearts and souls of the buyers.
By: Rebecca Savastio