The Media's Double StandardJanuary 17, 2003
by Carey Roberts
Men's News Daily
The mass media is one of the most powerful institutions in America society. Americans obtain much of their understanding of the world around them from what they read, see, and hear in the mass media.
In recent years, the media has come under increasing criticism for inaccurate and biased coverage of important social issues. As early as 1996, editor James Fallows leveled this charge: "The institution of journalism is not doing its job well now. It is irresponsible with its power." (1).
So how well is the media providing a balanced and objective presentation of gender issues?
Coverage of Gender Issues
Six analyses have examined the coverage of gender issues in the mass media, including the portrayal of men and fathers:
1. One study analyzed how fathers are portrayed in 102 shows on 6 networks during prime time television during March and April 2000 (2). Each show that included a father as a central, recurring character in at least 2 episodes was rated in terms of the father's involvement, engagement, guidance, competency, and priority.
The study found that only 15 (14.7%) of the TV shows included a father as a recurring, central character. Of the 15 shows, only 4 portrayed the father as involved and competent. Thus, fathers are seldom seen in prime time TV shows, and when they do appear, they are usually depicted in negative light.
2. Tucker Carlson, co-host of CNN's Crossfire program, recently commented on the way men are depicted in TV advertisements (3). He notes that men are often portrayed as "dim, lazy, pompous and incompetent, sometimes loveable, but fundamentally ridiculous," and concludes that "it's likely that a steady diet of anti-male advertising does affect everyone's view of men."
Ironically, Carlson observes that men hardly complain about these negative depictions, "maybe because complaining is one thing men don't do a lot of."
3. Don Feder examined how contemporary American movies portray men (4). He found that, "Men are insecure, hesitant, angst-ridden, self-centered, and ineffectual." He concluded that strong, masculine male characters tend to be limited to old war movies, implying that male heroism belongs only in a bygone era.
Feder chides Hollywood for implying that traditional masculine virtues such as fortitude, stoicism, and self-sacrifice no longer have a place in modern society.
4. In his acclaimed book, "Coloring the News," William McGowan documents how newspapers give one-sided coverage to such important topics as abortion, women in the military, and other social issues. This coverage tends to highlight feminist perspectives on the issues, but downplays or altogether ignores the male point of view.
McGowan believes this bias is the result of "pressures from feminist groups, and the media stategy committees within them, who are very successful at guilt-tripping female journalists into believing that their reporting 'is hurting the cause.'" (5).
5. Author Warren Farrell coined the term "the Lace Curtain" to describe how the media filter out male perspectives from news and editorial coverage. Farrell gives many examples from his personal experiences of the difficulty of securing media coverage of issues from a male perspective.
For example, Farrell had been invited to do an interview on the Donahue show about one of his books. But the taping was repeatedly rescheduled. Finally, a producer admitted that when feminist leaders had been invited to also appear on the show, they threatened the producers with the shrill allegation that "Feminism is opposed to rape and the battering of women; so if you have him on, you'd better take responsibility for making women even more vulnerable."
Finally, the idea to do the interview was dropped. Farrell concludes, "The unwillingness to debate is part of the corruption of power." (6).
6. In his best-selling book "Bias" (7), Bernard Goldberg provides documentation of widespread anti-male bias in the media. In his chapter, "Targeting Men," Goldberg documents the following defamatory statements that appeared in the New York Times:
- "Women may not find this surprising, but one of the most persistent and frustrating problems in evolutionary biology is the male. Specifically...why doesn't he just go away?" -- Natalie Angier, May 17, 1994.
- "The section you are reading is about women's health. And so what better place to address the question: Are they worth it?...Do we live better with men or without them?" -- Natalie Angier, Father's Day, June 21, 1998
- "Don't Expect Too Much of Men" -- Book review headline, March 11, 1990
Questioning the Double Standard
If a man, refering to Jews, asked, "Why don't they just go away?," he might be accused of promoting genocide.
If a politician asked if African-Americans "were worth it?," he would be labeled as a racist and be forced to resign his position of leadership.
If a man posed the question, "Do we live better with women or without women," he would no doubt be terminated from his place of employment.
But when it comes to men, television shows, TV advertisements, movies, and newspapers appear to be at liberty to mock men, and to do so with impunity.
Focus on the New York Times
This series of Special Reports will turn the spotlight on the New York Times. The Times has become the most influential media outlet in the United States, for several reasons:
1. The New York Times (NYT) has a daily circulation of 1.1 million, making it one of the most widely read newspapers in the country.
2. NYT articles are frequently reprinted in other newspapers around the country, and often define what stories the network news programs will cover that evening.
3. The NYT editorial philosophy influences the thinking of editors around the country.
The next three Special Reports will analyze how this double standard has come to distort coverage of sex-specific health issues.
1. Fallows J. Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1996, p. 9.
2. Horn WF, Weinert RO, Hawkins A, Sylvester TK: Fatherhood and TV: An Evaluation Report. Gaithersburg, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative, 2000.
3. Carlson T. You Idiot! Reader's Digest, January 2003, pp. 33-34.
4. Feder D: Wimps, Whiners, and Weenies: Men in Movies Today. The American Enterprise, July/August 2002.
5. McGowan W. Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001, p. 124.
6. Farrell W. Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999, p. 227.
7. Goldberg B. Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2002.
This Special Report was originally posted on January 16, 2003 at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/menshealth/message/655.
Other articles by Carey Roberts can be found in the Men's News Daily archive.