Yesterday, I was able to go to the 37th annual First Amendment Forum being held on campus. The theme was “Reporting God? Religion, News and Freedom.” Overall, I thought the forum was great and the panels and speakers certainly provoked good discussion.
I was disappointed that the first panel did not allow for a question and answer session between them and the audience. I’m sure there were plenty of people had questions they would have liked to ask the panel. For example, I thought it was really interesting professor David Domke from the University of Washington, early in his keynote address, wondered why the media did not critically analyze the increasingly religious rhetoric used by presidents since Reagan and, in particular, President George W. Bush, but instead echoed it. (And this is very true, and goes back to my explanation of how the media are biased.) Then I read one of the handouts that organizers of the event were offering. It was the “Journalist’s Creed” written by Walter Williams, founder of the Missouri School of Journalism. The handout states, “his declaration remains one of the clearest statements of the principles, values and standards of journalists.” So, what does Williams write? In the creed, which is written from a journalist’s perspective in the first person, it states that “I believe that the journalism which succeeds best–and best deserves success–fears God . . .” Here we have the professor perplexed as to why the media are complicit in the increasing religiosity of the office of President and then a creed that the sponsors call a clear statement of journalists’ “principles, values, and standards” that calls for a fearing of God. Naturally, I was wondering how much this kind of propaganda still influences contemporary journalism and its standards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask this question.
On the whole, I think Dr. Domke provided rather compelling evidence that the media have a systemic and institutional bias.
I would also like to point out another great part of the presentation. In the second panel, Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid very explicitly pointed out that the mainstream media was a profit-maximizing institution. Earlier, he had stated it was inappropriate to blame the media for bad things, such as not covering important news topics or for sensationalism (etc.), and that the majority of the blame rests in the audience’s interpretation. Dr. Domke, being the moderator of this panel, asked Mr. Abdul-Wahid to justify his position of letting the media get off so easy. In response, Mr. Abdul-Wahid said the media cannot be blamed because they are simply doing their job as a corporation, which is to make money. (I beg to differ, but more on that later.) Mr. Abdul-Wahid is correct in that the media have forsaken their duty because of their structure as corporations and, again, this goes back to my last post on the media and their bias.
During the question-and-answer session at the end, I was able to ask whether Mr. Abdul-Wahid or anyone else on the panel genuinely thought the media as a corporation is the ideal model for the dominant institution for providing news to the citizenry of this country and being a cornerstone of democracy. I believe Julia Opoti, Mordecai Specktor, and an Iranian professor of communication (she was filling in, and I wasn’t able to grab her name) provided very intelligent responses. Mr. Abdul-Wahid’s response, however, was that it was essentially okay for the media to be biased, to not provide news, to sensationalize, etc. because the media are large corporations in the business of making money, and he saw nothing wrong with that. However, that the media are corporations does not suggest that they should be. I believe that the current institutional structure of the media, based on the propaganda model detailed in my previous post, creates a bias in the media. I don’t see how this can be justified as an appropriate state of the media. Wouldn’t it better better if the media weren’t biased? Apparently, Mr. Abdul-Wahid doesn’t think so, and that’s where I disagree with him.
Some other highlights: Mr. Specktor points out the inherent problems with the media’s sources and complacency with and subservience to authorities. Essentially, he says, the media act as recorders of authority establishments and simply regurgitate whatever they tell them to report on. This is the same argument Herman and Chomsky make in their propaganda model of the media. I was also glad to see the Iranian professor (anyone know who she was?) mention Herman and Chomsky’s work, along with others, including Ben Bagdikian and his research, which I cited in my previous post regarding the dwindling number of corporations in control of the media and the diminishing competition.