Thursday, 6 November 2008

America's Irresposible Media

The following is Evans Lips' article in New Statesman for those who still look at US media as model for objective responsible journalism. I suggest have a look at the comments posted at

How I would have loved to have had my ear against the door outside of the Boston Globe’s conference room on the morning of October 30th.
“A British paper discovered that Barack Obama’s aunt is living in squalor in a slum in South Boston.”
“A British paper!?!?”
The Boston Globe, headquartered in South Boston, had the story in its back yard. Yet it was the Times Online that first broke the news that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s aunt is living illegally in the US despite being served a deportation order several years ago.
She has collected welfare while managing to contribute – illegally - $260 to her nephew’s campaign.
This issue might seem trite, given the millions that both candidates have amassed during months of campaigning. But it begs a bigger question – where are the priorities for the American media?
Reporting centered on emotion and not based on researching the facts is alarming. But it is nothing new to this presidential election. There have been several instances where the media – confronted with relevant news regarding Barack Obama – has decided simply to remain silent.
It’s appalling to think that the press, an institution defended in the United States Constitution (The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom...of the press.") has squelched its own freedoms in order to help their candidate win – Barack Obama.
It’s no secret that the America mainstream media has a decidedly liberal bent to it. And this election may serve as “exhibit A.”
Consider several startling instances:
The Los Angeles Times is in possession of a 2003 tape where Senator Obama paid tribute with Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi at a private event. The Times is refusing to allow the pubic to review the tape claiming that they promised anonymity to the source that provided them with the tape. Khalidi served as a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1970s. Barack Obama had three reporters from newspapers that had endorsed John McCain removed from the campaign jet. Obama has built a campaign around inclusiveness and bringing people together. Where was the outrage from the rest of the media? Is this what we can expect if he wins?Statements made by Obama appear to have had expiration dates on them, meaning that as soon as he contradicts himself, the media covers its mouth. On March 18, 2008, Obama said, “I could no more disown Jeremiah Wright than I could disown my own grandmother.” As soon as Reverend Wright became an issue, Obama cut off all ties to Wright. Yet contradictions such as this have largely been ignored.
In late October, the non-partisan Pew Center for Media Research reported significant bias in the way major news media has covered the campaign.
Pew reviewed hundreds of TV and print news reports about the candidates. The results were disturbing.
Fifty-seven percent of all stories about McCain were negative, compared to 29 percent of stories about Obama; just 14 percent of McCain stories were clearly positive, compared to 36 percent of Obama stories. Twenty-nine percent of McCain stories were neutral, compared to 35 percent of Obama stories.
And maybe the incident here in Boston can serve as an example of America’s decline in objective reporting.
What advantages did the Times Online have over American media giants such as the Boston Globe and the New York Times? The answer appears to be simple - common sense and attentive research.
The key to the story lies in a book that has been read by millions, especially those involved with the Obama campaign. Dreams From My Father, an autobiography, is a story of how the presidential hopeful traced his Kenyan roots and focused his life’s mission.
The American media seems to have ignored the passage indicating that at least one relative of Senator Obama’s had left Kenya and immigrated to America.
At one point in the book, Senator Obama’s half-sister speaks about Africans who had emigrated to the West and presumably disappeared:
“Like our Uncle Omar, in Boston . . . They’ve been lost, you see.”
Lost, kind of like the mainstream media here in the United States. It may have been beneficial to American voters if more British news groups had covered our election.
It disturbs me to think about what other things they would have uncovered.

1 comment:

Chetan said...


The US media may not, or in fact, is not, the model for objective and responsible reporting. However, the article uses half truths, irresponsible statements and utterly ridiculous arguments to drive home this point. Instead of analysing this serious issue through apt examples, genuine arguments and insightful thoughts, the author, a Republican, writes it as a political speech against the Democratic liberals.

What insight into the policies or personality of a presidential candidate does a voter get by knowing that a presidential candidate's father's half-sister is an illegal immigrant in the country? Even agreeing that it is not for reporters to decide what is important or not important and just report facts, why would an editor assign a reporter to 'hunt' for such a person when in election time there are thousand other important stories that are of significant benefit to readers? Instead of being a telling comment on US media, it is a telling comment on the state of British media. It is the one who is interested in such tabloid stories. To put the Obama aunt story in proper context, The Sun and Daily Mirror were in constant competition to publish photographs and stories of Obama's relatives all around the world. Times Online is trying to compete with these tabloids since 2004 when it switched from broadsheet. It is owned by Rupert Murdoch who shoulders almost entire responsibility for tabloidisation of journalism around the world. He has openly stated that he did not support Obama and all the news organizations owned by him were doing only negative stories on him. You can look up on the website Media Matters about egregious examples of such biased stories in Fox News and the New York Post and other media outlets owned by Murdoch. So, according to me, this is in fact an example of responsible journalism on part of the US media that it didn't spend time and resources on such frivolous tabloidish news.

Regarding the Khalidi tape, the author of the piece is lying. This was in fact an example of how responsible the US media is. What Lips fails to mention in the article is that although LA Times did not release the tape from the private function, it did publish an article about the function which carried all the details. You can read the article here and decide for yourself if LA Times hid anything about Obama's association with Khalidi. LA Times is a print publication. Why is it expected for a print publication to release tapes that it used for its reporting. That too when it had promised that source not to reveal the tape at the time when the story was published. This goes to the heart of the debate about protecting confidential sources. It would have been unethical on the part of LA Times to have released the tape after promising the source not to do so.

The other thing to remember about attacks on US media about reporting on the Palestine issue from the right wing should always be taken with a pinch of salt. If anything lack of objectivity and irresponsible nature of US media is most apparent when it reports on the Israel Palestine issue. Compared to the world media, US media constantly takes a sympathetic stance towards Israel and a hardline stance towards Palestine. Instead of criticising and using this as an example of lack of objectivity the author does the exact opposite and insinuates that US media is biased because it hid a story about PLO spokesman and Obama. If history is any guide, US media always reports negatively on any person supporting the PLO cause.

Regarding the percentage of negative and positive stories. Should an editor, in order to appear fair and balanced, keep a chart of number of negative, neutral and positive stories on each candidate? Obviously two candidates are different. One of them is bound to have more negatives in comparison to the other. So why introduce an artificial balance and punish the person who might not have too many negative stories to report on in comparison to the other candidate. In case of Obama and McCain, one had been a Washington Senator for more than 20 years. Obama was just a senator for 4 years. McCain had a longer legislative record to criticise him on. He had left a paper trail which is what reporters use to make sure the story is not speculative. This was missing in case of Obama. Since he was not around politically for long there weren't many decisions he took that could undergo the level of scrutiny as many of McCain's decisions. McCain's decisions over the past 20 years could be analysed based on their impact and whether the policies he supported had proved to be effective or ineffective could be written upon based on studies and statistics. Since Obama was only a senator for four years, reporters could not do the same to him.

The other point about more number of negative stories is that the winning candidates team of advisors do not leak inside information. This is because there is no blame game going on in their camp. They staffers do not feel the need to defend their reputation by running to the media. Whereas, in case of the losing candidate, the team of advisors start bickering about who is responsible for the gaffe committed by the candidate or for the loss of support in key states etc. This leads to backbiting amongst the staff, some of whom start leaking stories to the press. The press in turn tries to confirm this story through another source who in turn, surprised by the leak, attacks another staff member whom he thinks is spreading lies about him. This is a vicious circle leading to a lot of negative stories about the losing campaign. This happens in every presidential campaign and is a well documented phenomenon.

Evan Lips is a Republican and this story is clearly a case of sour grapes rather than any serious analysis.

I want to emphasise that I am not saying this in order to defend the US media against complaints of bias and irresponsible behaviour. There is a lot of that. But my point is that this piece is a political one which just uses half truths and spins the truth to make a point.