Friday, June 19, 2009

Personal Aside: Why the Networks Court Obama—There’s Money in it!


One issue that is consistently bypassed in discussions over liberal bias in the media is this: Forget whether news reporters, producers and network moguls agree with Barack Obama. We know they do. The salient issue is that they are courting Obama because doing so PAYS. Obama is attractive to the 24 to 46 year old audience that demographic studies show spend more…the same group that figures strongly in radio and TV entertainment ratings.

Oh, 24 to 46 don’t always react the way the demographers estimate, of course. Right now Conan O’Brien is dipping under Dave Letterman: that’s not supposed to happen. That’s the reason why, reportedly, an internal memo at NBC in Chicago has ordered the news staff to go soft on Obama.

I think that demographical appeal and marketing plays a great role in network coverage of political news. If that is so, …and the charge has been aired recently…the scandal is worsened. Bad as it is for reporters to show their bias by favoring a certain president while dissing his predecessor in handling of the news, it is still in the nature of cognitive judgment. But applying the same marketing standards to coverage of politics that are used in entertainment is utterly morally debased. It is the same…only on a much higher level…than a politician or candidate passing some quiet dough to a political correspondent for good placement and favorable treatment.

The ABC hosting of a two hour special on health care—from the White House itself—is a serious indictment. Its medical director, Dr. Tim Johnson is going to be front-and-center on the issue. Johnson has already personally come out for universal federalized health care. This is a bold step by the network but it—and others such as CBS and NBC—drop all pretense of objectivity with a shrug, for the major reason that they believe it pays in bringing youth demographics. That is the same as being “bought.” More than that, it is the same as the state-run networks in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez. So it is more than just network or reportorial bias. It is something more sinister than that: it is the prostitution of journalism, of being bought for a president with money on the barrelhead.

Liberal bias with mainstream media has been going on for a long time—at least as long as I have been covering politics…since 1953 in Minnesota. But with the advent of Obama the bias has moved beyond personal, liberal political shading in favor of a candidate into active cooperation, co-optation of the media by the liberal Democrats. Example: everyone who covered the 2008 campaign knew…but it wasn’t reported…that the airlines going to the Denver Democratic convention were jam-packed, hotels were jammed with elite media. Unless you started very early you couldn’t get a reservation. The air terminal was packed. Lots of media came who weren’t even on assignment. But those elite media types were in scant appearance at the Republican convention.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs has determined that the three major broadcast networks gave Obama almost four times the coverage that George W. Bush received at the start of his administration. One need not be a conspiratorial fanatic to understand that this coverage comes more from simple, straightforward bias than recognition of hard marketing numbers. The TV networks and major (declining) urban newspapers have in an effort to salvage their numbers put their integrity on the auction block—and it’s disgusting…but hardly ever reported in a profession that sanctimoniously thinks of itself as pristine and “the people’s guardian.”

Many of us who were small city journalists (I was city editor of a daily in a city of 25,000 in St. Cloud, Minnesota) know the temptation that would come to a publisher when the son of the owner of the town’s department store (a store that advertised heavily in the paper, the ads often being the difference between the paper being in the black or going belly-up) would be, let us say, picked up by the cops in a nearby big city picking up an underage prostitute. Should the paper run the story or mask it or underplay it or let the AP handle it? There comes a time in every journalist’s life when a crucial question that this has to be handled. Well…only on a much higher level, with much more prestige, the same question is confronting the mainstream media on Obama.

Very frankly, Fox News excepted, Obama is not getting scrutiny in the media the nation deserves to see. The administration fires inspectors general (there are now three who have been canned), is quite frankly at a loss to handle Gitmo; it’s violated its so-called sacrosanct canons about not hiring lobbyists. It executes U turns. And when it does the mainstream media obediently follows and executes U turns. In the old days you could say it’s a matter of ideology…and there’s no doubt that ideological simpatico is there. But even more ugly—once again, Fox excepted, it’s a matter of cash on the MSM barrelhead in the business offices which know that favorable Obama treatment and lavish treatment might well bring in the dough.

Very well, mainstream media are a business that demand profit. Then let it be done to make a profit. Just skip the sanctimoniousness with which the MSM cover other things. When Blago gets on talk radio, media screams at him. He’s doing this for two reasons: trying to swing one juror and get his name across so that he can sell his books. Media should just simply drop its denunciation of him for these things—since media are doing the same thing, basically: hustling Obama for the pure and simple buck. And when Roland Burris is quoted on FBI tape having said that maybe he could raise a few bucks for Blago if he would favorably remember Burris when it comes time to name a Senator…media should drop the sanctimony. Media are doing exactly what Burris is—hustling for a buck. It matters not that Burris was hustling Blago or media were hustling readers by perfuming up Obama. It’s prostitution of journalism pure and simple.


  1. So what did the St. Cloud paper do? (A rule I learned in journalism class: never leave any unanswered questions!)

  2. Of course thats why the network is doing this but this is still not what the press is supposed to be doing.
    They are part of the check and balance of the government.

  3. The late Jake Lingle would be pleased to know that his brand of "journalistic integrity" has not gone out of fashion.