You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
Is the media ever balanced and fair?

By Paul D'Amato | December 2, 2005 | Page 9

MOST WILL agree that Fox's O'Reilly Factor--or any news show on Fox for that matter--is not really "fair and balanced," even though Fox has registered "Fair and Balanced" as its exclusive trademark.

Does that mean, however, that there is some species of mainstream news that truly is fair and balanced? What does "fair and balanced" even mean anyway?

The mainstream media does not really present something called "the news." The news is shaped and created, not simply presented. What is presented as news is based on a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that the folks who own news empires are very rich capitalists whose outlook on the world is shared by the rest of the ruling class with whom they rub elbows.

As Marx wrote in The German Ideology: "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships."

More often than not, the media do not reflect the ruling ideas directly and openly. But under the appearance of neutrality and "bias-free" information, the media is shot through with class partisanship.

The media reinforce the idea that "terrorism" is something "they," i.e. Arabs and Muslims, do, whereas similar behavior by the U.S. or its allies is portrayed as legitimate acts of defense, even of liberation.

During strikes, the demands of the strikers are rarely presented clearly, with a lot more time spent interviewing "inconvenienced" commuters and consumers.

Occasionally we get a glimpse behind the curtain, though, for example when the New York Times admitted long after the fact that it uncritically carried the administration's line about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. But even that admission reflected a change in the prevailing political winds (Bush's growing unpopularity even among sections of the elite) more than it did any intrepid truth telling.

Even the mechanical presentation of "both sides" in a dispute does not, in itself, create fair reporting.

Take the example of intelligent design. The New York Times has presented the debate around intelligent design in a "fair and balanced" way--that is, presenting both sides as if it were a legitimate debate.

The problem here is that this form of the presentation constitutes a surrender to the advocates of intelligent design, whose entire strategy consists of attempting to push through local laws that permit "equal" treatment of intelligent design and Darwinian evolution in schools.

Intelligent design is in fact a more watered-down version of plain old Biblical creationism--the idea that a Christian God is responsible for the creation of all life and that evolution is an abomination. They pretend that intelligent design--a "theory" which by definition cannot be tested because the Creator is supernatural and, therefore, cannot be studied--is a scientific theory rather than a religious faith.

By presenting intelligent design (religious dogma) as a legitimate contender with evolution (science), the media has in fact played straight into its proponents' hands.

How can there really be impartiality, in any case, in a society split into classes? Indeed, if the ruling ideas are dominant in the media, then getting at the truth involves a recognition of the media's class bias, that is, looking at society through the lens of those who are oppressed and exploited by social arrangements as they now stand.

One only has need of the truth when one wants to change society rather than act as its apologist, and therefore some bias is more balanced than others.

Home page | Back to the top