“Omission—-the crudest slanting technique in the journalistic repertoire—is the principal technique in network slanting. It is perhaps inevitable therefore when that when CBS chose to attack the News Twisters, its attack was a monument to the very slanting technique.”
The quote is from libertarian Edith Efron, author of the book “The News Twisters.” It was a book lambasting biased network news coverage about a half century ago and unsurprisingly the networks, supposed friends of the first amendment, tried to kill it.
Network television news stories are very short. In a 30-minute newscast, there are perhaps 23 minutes of stories. Filmed stories—stories in which reporters file from the scene of a story—or pretend to do so in some cases since sometimes they crib wire copy and have a reporter voicing a story from New York and pretending to be at the scene—are often quite short; possibly 90 to 120 seconds.
Except for the pretense of reporters basically rehashing wire copy, it is difficult to criticize reporters and editors in this short attention span system. Covering complex issues intelligently in two minutes is well-nigh impossible. Such is the nature of a television news system that CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite once called the nightly newscast “little more than a headline service.”
Who Gets to Cut the Tape?
But where you can and should criticize mainstream media newscasts, where the bias is most obvious, is the use or misuse of the video cut. These are snippets of interviews. The editing of these interviews tells the alert viewer about the fairness, or lack of fairness, of the broadcast.
How much of an interview is used? How much is left on the cutting road floor? And if someone interviewed criticizes someone else, has every attempt been made to contact that person and give him or her a fair rebuttal?
Often what a tv news reporter/producer or anchor doesn’t say is just as important as what does get into a story.
Recently, NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd, a college dropout who formerly worked in a Democratic presidential campaign and now supposedly is a journalist, provided another example of why we should be suspicious of network news.
Meet the Prejudice
Todd, who offers analysis on NBC Nightly News, also runs “Meet the Press. It was once a highly respected Sunday discussion show but it has now fallen on bad days. In its glory days it was presided over by Tim Russert, who was a fair-minded man of the left.
For years now “Meet the Press” has been anything but fair. Just look at its panels of five or so. There’s Todd who presides. He is blatantly left wing and makes no attempt to hide these prejudices.
Russert would do thorough research. He would ask hard questions of every guest, no matter his or her point of view. Todd is nothing like that. His panels are always heavily weighted toward the left.
There are usually one or two people from the Washington Post or one or two people from the New York Times. The latter two papers are both highly hostile to the Trump administration. Usually the panel also has one person who is nominally on the right. And there’s usually one or two people from NBC News, junior partners in the we will bring down the Trump administration partnership (I say “junior” because NBC, along with the rest of the mainstream networks, will often decide which stories to cover based on what they read in the Post and the Times).
This usually sets up the “Meet the Press” show for a four to one discussion that usually turns into a pep rally for the left. Russert must be turning in his grave.
But that’s still not enough bias for Todd, who recently manipulated an interview with U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Todd edited a CBS interview with Barr discussing the case of former Trump administration official Michael Flynn. He edited it in such a way that Barr seemed to be saying the opposite of what he actually said.
By the way, Flynn now has been exonerated of any wrongdoing. The case against him, and how it was handled, have been called into question. Some say it was a political prosecution.
Barr in the CBS interview was asked how history would judge the United Department of Justice’s decision to dismiss the case. Barr initially responded, laughing: “Well, history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”
Todd aired this clip and remarked that he was “struck by the cynicism of the answer — it’s a correct answer, but he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this was a political job.”
However, in the full clip, which the NBC show did not air, Barr immediately went on to state explicitly that, in fact, he felt the Flynn decision upheld the rule of law.
“I think a fair history would say it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law,” Barr said. “It upheld the standards of the Department of Justice, and it undid what was an injustice.”
The doesn’t sound “cynical” to me.
Todd and NBC ended up having to apologize for their disgraceful bias. What other choice did they have? They were caught red handed. They couldn’t talk their way out of it. Still, they learned nothing and forgot nothing.
Todd and others at NBC News and other mainstream media outlets continue with their prejudices in panel discussion and news coverage.
Why does the bias continue?
It is in large part because they are pols disguised as journalists who pursue a political agenda in every newscast and in every supposed analysis show. (By the way, I see the same bias on the part of Shawn Hannity, a Fox talk show host who is virtually a member of the Trump administration. The difference is that there are a lot more Todds in the media than there are Hannity types. Nevertheless, I believe millions of Americans, for many years now, have been asking, “where does one find straight news? It may also partly explain why network newscast viewership have been on the decline for decades).
The ultimate weapon of biased mainstream media newscasts is the power of editing those video cuts. It is a fearful weapon. It should only be entrusted to journalists whose fairness we trust. Chuck Todd is not one and neither are most mainstream media journalists.
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