My dad listens to Rush Limbaugh in the morning, and thus, so do I. Every half hour his program takes a break for a news update, which is produced by ABC. Listening to Limbaugh and ABC News in close succession is absolutely dizzying. It’s a rodeo. One moment the talk is leaning to the far right, then it sweeps left with a snap, then back again. When Clear Channel Broadcasting switches to Fox News this summer, there may be a bit more continuity, to say the least. But the current situation is truly strange.
Is anyone else disturbed by the state of the modern media? It’s been said that newspapers and television media are losing ground to talk radio and Internet blogs. The two sides of this division – the papers and TV versus talk radio and the blogosphere – are notoriously politically slanted, left and right, respectively. Personally, I lean toward the right in my politics, and prefer the latter media. My personal preference isn’t necessarily an indicator of better accuracy on one side. I think Tom Sullivan is more trustworthy than Charles Gibson, but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is this: both sides can’t be right. That’s what disturbs me.
The current debate over filibustering judicial nominees is a good example. In the Senate, Republicans are trying to change current procedure that allows Democrats to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees. Limbaugh and others proclaim that the Constitution outlines specific areas where filibustering – holding the floor and speaking for an extended period, in an attempt to keep a given issue from going to a vote – is appropriate, and the nomination of judges is not one of them. This idea, true or not, is never mentioned by the nightly news, which refers to the Republicans’ current efforts as the “nuclear option,” a denial of minority rights and a political power play. Anchormen and reporters refer to years of Senate tradition which would be abolished by the removal of the filibuster in this situation.
Follow me here. Talk radio says that filibustering judicial nominees is actually against the rules, and shouldn’t be allowed in the first place. The nightly news says that it’s an established tradition in the Senate. The only way both views could be true is if the Senate has been filibustering judicial nominees for years despite the rules. This is possible, but more likely, at least one side of the media is badly skewed. Badly.
Maybe I would side more with television and newspapers if they were more even-handed. I recently watched a report on NBC that left my jaw hanging. The gist was that moderate Republicans in Congress are leaning toward the left, and that Bush would have to alter his agenda to recapture them. That was it. Not a hint of counterpoint. Not a mention of the fact that Republicans have majorities in both houses. Just the idea that there are Republicans shifting toward the Democratic side, and that Bush would have to do the same. By contrast, talk radio has frequent liberal Democratic callers that get to bring up points and spark debate. The discourse is not always functional, but there are often good, logical arguments that actually illuminate the perspective of both sides. That doesn’t happen on the nightly news.
All of this just speaks to my general ignorance of the facts. I don’t know what’s really going on in Washington, Iraq, or Guantanimo Bay. I rely on secondhand reports, many of which come from people with agendas. It’s getting hard to trust anyone bearing news, including and perhaps especially the old, established news outlets. The spin is making me dizzy. As are the reversals of position we’ve seen from Newsweek, CBS, the Sacramento Bee, retractions of stories and apologies for inaccuracy.
How trustworthy is Jim Lehrer, I wonder? And do I want the news badly enough to sit through the News Hour?