December 15, 2001
Bias in the media
Both left and right think they're getting shaftedBy MICHAEL COREN -- Sun Media
Quite the hullabaloo has broken out about CBS veteran Bernard Goldberg's new book, in which he claims his network and other television giants show "consistent and outright bias" in their news coverage.
The volume is, fittingly, entitled Bias, and in it the author quotes CBS News president Andrew Heyward as saying, "Look, Bernie, of course there's a liberal bias in the news. All the networks tilt left. Come on, we all know it, the whole damn world knows it. If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it."
Goldberg also recounts how another important CBS journalist, Roxanne Russell, described Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer as "the little nut from the Christian group." He goes on to say that reporters routinely ignore conservative women's groups but give radical organizations masses of interview time when the courts rule on women's issues and CBS requires a female response.
Now, none of this should come as any surprise to anyone who pays even the slightest attention to media. Polls have shown for decades that television and newspaper people simply do not reflect greater society. Many Canadian journalists, however, seem to believe the entire country is precisely like them and their friends. Namely the following:
God is dead, but Pierre Trudeau, or at least his spirit, is still very much alive. There is no such thing as right and wrong, unless you disagree with me and then you are certainly wrong. Women who stay at home with their children are insane, men are by nature oppressive, it's my body, it's their land, feel my pain, of course you're entitled to that grant and if Stephen Lewis doesn't walk on water his son certainly does.
Not that simple
But for all that it's not really as simple as Goldberg's new champions would have us believe. You see, if you spend time with, say, New Democrats, they will assure you the media is maliciously set against them and they seldom receive a fair hearing.
"We're the only ones offering alternative policies yet they're only interested when we have an internal fight," they'll tell you.
Hey, they have a point.
In Canada, most of our newspapers fervently support conservative economic policies. Journalists at the Globe may wear their social liberalism on their sleeves, but they make little protest each time the paper calls for more tax cuts, more free trade and a dismantling of the welfare system, public education and social services.
Our publicly funded friends at the CBC may boast of their socialism, but their coverage of, for example, anti-poverty activists and the labour movement differs little from that of the more conservative private stations. What it comes down to is the "Me" syndrome. In other words, "The more it effects me, the more I care."
Which is precisely why there seems to be so little objectivity on topics such as, for example, abortion and sexuality. Such issues hit home, hit hard and hit personally. Many scribes and scribblers also believe it is unfashionable and rather downmarket to be in favour of family virtues and the sanctity of life. As one Toronto writer once said to me, "Rather an Alberta sort of attitude, wouldn't you say?"
Interesting, though, to see what happens when the authorities want to build a homeless shelter or a refuge for recovering offenders down the road. One can hear the protests from cocktail party to book launch. This happened in Toronto recently, where local anti-globalization activists complained about the opening of a Starbucks, but said nothing when other residents condemned plans for a nearby hostel for the homeless.
In other words, in spite of the hypocrisy and the injustice we have to be careful not to overreact. Of course the CBC has shown a lack of balance, but its main contribution to the Canadian way of life is Don Cherry and light comedy.
Remember, too, that CTV and Global generally do a very good job of fair reporting, and private radio is balanced and perhaps leans a little to the right.
Someone ought to tell Bernard Goldberg that while his thesis is worth considering, bias is invariably in the eye of the beholder. And those who look for it most aggressively tend to be the least clear-sighted of all.
Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and broadcaster. He can be emailed at email@example.com and his web site is michaelcoren.com.
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Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.