Bias, with no faith angle (maybe)

270760Trust me, I realize that there is no obvious religion angle in the now infamous opinion column by Michael S. Malone that ABC News dared to post on its website. In a way, that fact is news in and of itself. You see, it's almost impossible -- in an era defined by political battles over moral issues like abortion, gay rights and role of religion in the public square -- to say anything about media bias without including some kind of religion angle. Malone is also arguing that the White House race has been twisted by liberal media bias and, as you may have noticed, there has been quite a bit of faith-based controversy in this year's campaign. You, uh, think so?

Malone wants to talk about basic journalism, as a journalist who, until recently, has been proud to fly his multi-generational journalism DNA.

The traditional media are playing a very, very dangerous game -- with their readers, with the Constitution and with their own fates.

The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I've found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.

But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I've begun -- for the first time in my adult life -- to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living.

Now, what follows is a parade of opinion that comes from a very traditional, conservative (I suspect Libertarian) point of view. Malone is also quick to admit that he knows all about the basics of reporting. He knows that objectivity is something that newsrooms value and defend, since it is impossible for individual reporters to unplug their hearts and minds. He knows that clever journalists can give the appearance of fairness and balance, while spinning their way around it. He also knows that it is critical that journalists learn to question their own motives and to listen to their critics.

Then again, Malone also saw the "New Journalism" of the '60s seep out of Rolling Stone and the mainstream style pages and, eventually, out to A1. He is not amused. No, he doesn't discuss Newsweek.

You could say that religion plays some role in the piece, since he visits the Middle East:

But what really shattered my faith -- and I know the day and place where it happened -- was the war in Lebanon three summers ago. The hotel I was staying at in Windhoek, Namibia, only carried CNN, a network I'd already learned to approach with skepticism. But this was CNN International, which is even worse.

I sat there, first with my jaw hanging down, then actually shouting at the TV, as one field reporter after another reported the carnage of the Israeli attacks on Beirut, with almost no corresponding coverage of the Hezbollah missiles raining down on northern Israel. The reporting was so utterly and shamelessly biased that I sat there for hours watching, assuming that eventually CNNi would get around to telling the rest of the story & but it never happened.

But it's the 2008 campaign, of course, that really has crawled under his skin. Believe it or not, he even manages to avoid the Gov. Sarah Palin wars. Joe the plumber does show up, of course.

No, Malone is upset about the stories that have not been written. No, that's not quite right. It's the stories that have not been assigned and, thus, his fiercest anger is directed at editors. And then, in a flurry of speculation and assumed motives, he wraps all of this into one package with the journalistic apocalypse that is unfolding in newsrooms from coast to coast.

leather photo frameSo why have editors helped protect and promote Obama? Hang on.

I think I know, because had my life taken a different path, I could have been one: Picture yourself in your 50s in a job where you've spent 30 years working your way to the top, to the cockpit of power & only to discover that you're presiding over a dying industry. The Internet and alternative media are stealing your readers, your advertisers and your top young talent. ...

(You) are facing career catastrophe -- and desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play. Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here. After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway -- all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.

And then the opportunity presents itself -- an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career. With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived fairness doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.

And besides, you tell yourself, it's all for the good of the country. ...

Sigh.

Now, I promise you that there are legions of conservative priests, pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders out there who are reading this and saying, "Right thesis. Wrong issues."

I, on the other hand, find myself saying, "Wrong issues. Wild thesis." This is, of course, the old saw that the media is simply "liberal," in some classic definition of that word. I think that is too simplistic. That's a straw man that does not fit all the evidence.

But what is going on? There are mainstream voices asking what happened to the coverage in this election. Keep it clean in the comment boxes, but I am going to dare to ask you to offer your opinions on that. And where do the religion issues that have drawn so much ink fit into this picture?

ILLUSTRATION: A media bias poster, from the left side of the aisle. Lower: How the right sees the press in 2008.

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