March 28, 2005

So what does the Schiavo mess mean for US politics?

Over at Orcinus, David Neiwert takes a stab at answering the question, with an interesting post on the relationship between the furor over Terri Schiavo and the current notion of 'balance ' that's held dear by so much of the US media.

What is especially appalling about the media treatment of the Schiavo case is how ardently, and unmistakably, it has adopted the supposedly "pro life" side of the argument. This ranges from outrageous bomb-throwing like that from Fox's John Gibson, to fingerpointing from MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, and Rush Limbaugh, to subtler bias like the omnipresent "Fight For Terri" label that is being used by half the networks to accompany their coverage logos.

We're seeing reporters credulously refer to highly dubious medical claims waved by Schiavo's parents -- including the recent claim that she indicated to them she did not want her tube removed -- as though they had anything other than the thinnest veneer of truth to them. We're watching news anchors openly accuse Michael Schiavo of being a bad husband. If there's a propaganda line out there that isn't being parroted in the mainstream media as fact, it might only be Bo Gritz's buffoonery. And they're working on that.

They're wallowing in it. Cheering it on. Even if it is only the viewpoint of about 20 percent of the country, at best, that politicians and reporters have any business, as Knute Berger put it, poking their ugly noses inside the dying room.

This is the way "balance" manifests itself in journalism nowadays.

Now, there is such a thing as real balance. Real balance is a genuine striving for truth: a willingness to both recognize and honestly explore the multiplicity of viewpoints as well as facts that are part of the naturally complex nature of truth. It is complicated and hard work. Of course, real, hard truth is elusive and rare; but the striving is what brings us closer to it.

However, a genuine balance does not countenance obvious falsehoods where it encounters them. It does not treat misinformation as a legitimate "counter" to reasonably established facts, as though a falsehood were just another opinion. It does not put lies on an even footing with facts.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what we have gotten, in increasing doses, as standard practice from the nation's press for the past decade. As I argued previously regarding the growth of "intelligent design" as a right-wing religious stratagem:

The key piece of illogic is one that has especially lodged itself in the media in recent years: The notion that a demonstrably true fact can be properly countered by a demonstrably false one -- and that the two, placed side by side, represent a kind of "balance" in the national discourse. This is the Foxcist model of Newspeak, in which "fair and balanced" comes to mean its exact opposite.

This kind of "balance" is a direct product of the right-wing myth of the "liberal media"....

Neiwert has plenty more to say. Go read the whole thing over here.

Posted by Magpie at March 28, 2005 12:14 AM | US Politics | Technorati links |