Getting everything wrong about media


Liberty-shredding impulses reign in some news outlets, such as Salon that is forever taking great leaps leftward and recently did so in a book excerpt. It spoke of the wonderful news future you’d get if corporations as we have known them went away, socialism took over and no one had to put up any longer with the likes of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, CNN or The New York Times.

Beating up on Fox and sometimes the Wall Street Journal editorial page is everyday stuff for all manner of leftists from mild to wild, but it is more than unusual for them to beat up on CNN and the New York Times. Fred Jerome, a contributor to “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA,” shows on the website that he has it figured out, though.

He says mainstream media outlets are “tightly controlled” by corporate owners imposing their capitalist, advertiser-oriented egregiousness on what’s reported. I think all his arguments are silly, but let me respond by first conceding that advertisers will sometimes shove back at news outlets if content irks them

As much happened in 1980 when I was editorial-page editor of The Rocky Mountain News in Denver. An editorial had fiercely, adamantly opposed a $1.5 billion federal government bailout of Chrysler. I got a call from the publisher who said auto advertisers were just as adamantly canceling ads and I had cost the newspaper $500,000. While I was calculating how many years I’d have to work for free, I got a call from my editor, who happened to be overseas. He had heard from the publisher and asked for a trans-Atlantic explanation. I gave him one, and then he said something like, “Oh, don’t worry. Forget ‘em.”

The advertisers in fact hurriedly came back to the paper as they learned every dollar they denied us cost them a dollar in fewer customers. What my editor understood was that honesty in reporting and opinion writing fed credibility that led to big circulation that advertisers love more than flattering editorials. Editors in my experience also believe in standards for the sake of the social good, as do reporters who are catlike when it comes to herding them. Tell them to skip scruples on behalf of economic interests and they would rightly say “no,” which does not mean all are great at shedding subjectivity.

I’ve spent in excess of four decades in the news biz, have known countless journalists and promise you that surveys are right in saying the vast majority are liberal. I can tell you, too, that this is an era when objectivity strikes many as a false standard. The liberal side of stories therefore has a better chance of getting out than the conservative side as reporters refer to their own world view as a trustworthy avenue to truth.

That means the bias is the opposite of what Jerome fears and that you should not worry yourself to death about another book, this one by Gabriel Sherman and called, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — And Divided a Country.

The primary subject is Ailes, a fascinating if endlessly castigated man whose direction of Fox News divided nothing. For all its faults, the network’s conservatism helps compensate for the liberalism of NBC, CBS, ABC and others as it affords news interpretations and commentator opinions that have value and should be part of the national conversation.

I am for free speech, and it is fine with me if Salon wants to carry a piece saying our media should be publicly financed and run by a socialist government and such special interests as unions. But I also think it is really, truly important that there are other voices that just might remind people that free speech seldom finds a secure home in a political system too begrudging of freedom to allow it in markets.

Jay Ambrose, former director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers, was editor of The Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the El Paso-Herald Post.

© 2014, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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