Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Confronting Viewer/Reader Bias

Reading the article mentioned in my previous post about Arab media outlets got me to thinking about how perspective shapes our news here at home.

It talking of media bias, it’s useful to keep in mind the perspective of the viewer or reader; where they view themselves on a left-right continuum. I view myself as liberal, so from my perspective most media are more conservative than I am and, allowing for that, I conclude that they are probably pretty middle of the road. A notable and growing number of media outlets, particularly Fox News and quite a few websites, are decidedly to the right of center, whether they identify themselves as such or not (Fox, infamously, portrays itself as “Fair and Balanced”). Much energy has been extended by those of us on the left, in blogs, regular websites, and in print, decrying the duplicity of those who, falsely, in our eyes, portray themselves as centrists. I wonder if all of this effort on our part amounts to anything, other than the creation of a large support group to whom we get to vent.

Although we are to varying degrees certain that Fox News and its ilk know they are not representing the center, it’s not at all clear that the viewers and readers of these outlets recognize this. Many of these people, who watch O’Reilly and Hume, though probably right of center by any critical means of analyzing such things, honestly don’t recognize themselves as such. They view themselves as middle of the road. Anybody to the left of them ranges, in their view, from slightly out of step to lefty-pinko types. I don’t know if they give any consideration to those who might exist to the right of them or, if they do, what they think of those people. We on the left spend too much time, I think (and I am as guilty of this as anybody else), fretting about the unfairness of how the conservative “news” outlets have managed to position themselves, and not enough time figuring out what we can do about it. We have a lovely liberal opinion ghetto from which we need to escape. The message needs to get beyond the people with whom we are in agreement and out to the people we need to convert. Blogs aren’t the way to do it. I mostly read the blogs I agree with and it seems my handful of readers mostly agree with me. Emails to friends and coworkers and letters to the editor and other means of reaching out beyond our base are what we need to focus more attention on. We’re not going to change the media outlets we disagree with and we’re not going to change the opinions their viewers and readers have about those outlets. We need to reach those people in the areas in which we have common ground and emphasize our similarities.

For more on who these people are that we need to reach, I refer you yet again to The King of Zembla and this fine essay by Joe Bageant.
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