As citizens, we know the government does many things in order to “protect” us and in recent news, their methods of protection have been revealed. But the government isn’t the only one shielding information from the public. Both citizens and the government use information as a tool, but how can we decide what to use this information for? In our textbook, authors David N. Balaam and Bradford Dillman make the argument that information can “both empower and disempower: in the hands of citizens it can become the fuel for political revolution, but in the hands of governments it can be used to surveil and police society” (240). The mediator between the average citizen and the government–the media–is also guilty of withholding significant information from the masses, as well. Because news channels dictate what information their shows give, it can lead to biased updates rather than factual, non-opinionated updates. Censorship has become an issue as of recently and although the government uses it as a tool to protect, it can be somewhat unethical. Although it can interfere with our rights, some censorship is necessary to protect the masses.
“It was for the best…”
In the movie Too Big To Fail, we see the many important players and systems occurring in the 2008 financial crisis and the Lehman Brothers Collapse. But what was most informative to me was the role of the media within the movie. There was no brave journalist ready to defend his right to the truth by uncovering some big bad secret, but instead, it seemed the media was a tool in the hands of the major players, like Paul Paulson, the then Secretary of Treasury. “What do we tell the media?”, was a common line, or at least idea, during the film. And the answer was never the truth, or anything like it. On principle alone, this would seem to be abhorrent, the government hiding secrets from us and taking away our right to know the truth. However, had we known what was occurring, we naturally would have pulled our money from these banks, to better protect it in our own hands, and sent the whole entire system into collapse and cause catastrophic results for the entire globe. By skewing our perception of the situation, our government was trying to protect us in the long run. Does that make it right? For the sake of financial security for National Security, how much is too much or too far?
The Bias in Your Morning News
News reports are very interesting things. They are meant to inform people of what is going on in the world today, whether it be another report on the biggest trend on Twitter or the government shutdown. The media is a very influential thing for most Americans. What we watch shapes how we view events going on in the world today. However, the media does not give out unbiased reports. New stations today are known to be biased towards certain viewpoints, which means the new report their viewers get isn’t just simply a reading of the facts. It’s turned into a very opinionated reading of either only the facts that fit their view or a reading of the facts that has been twisted to fit their view. This is not fair to the general populous, as we as citizens have a right to know the unbiased report of what is going on in our country. However, one cannot force the media to say what they want, as everyone also has a right to freedom of speech. So where’s the middle ground? How can the everyday American receive an unbiased news report while not infringing on the media’s right to free speech?
The Individual vs. The Media
Journalists have a “code of ethics” which says that they should always deliver “fair, and comprehensive” reporting. In this code, “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.” This is because the public body needs to know as much as they can about what concerns themselves and their country in order to make educated decisions for themselves and their country. But, it is often difficult to separate yourself from your biases. We all have biases because we all have histories, backgrounds, experiences, and heritages forming our opinions. Those opinions shape how we view and present information. Two major news networks are publically known to have political leanings: MSNBC and Fox News. MSNBC typically leans in the liberal direction and Fox in the conservative. Simply by looking on their respective websites we can see this! On MSNBC the top stories on the right on October 18th were “NJ embraces gay marriage,” “Tea Partier on pols: ‘They’re all whores,’” and “Obamacare: The ultimate survivor.” Likewise on the Fox news website on the same day: “Small Businesses Sound Off on ObamaCare Definition of “Full Time,” “Concerns mount over rapid expansion of food stamp program,” and “Heating Prices on the Rise: How to Save Cash this Season.” While these stories may cater to a specific audience, stories like the government shutdown earlier this month are, of course, covered by both, but with varying angles. While it is important for the United States of America to have correct and unbiased news, I’m not sure it is possible to have exactly that. In fact, it might even be better for the population to be able to choose from which networks it receives its information and understand the biases each network has.
On the other hand, those networks can use those assumptions to give people the wrong impressions of the real story. Jon Stewart is a political satirist who likes to compare the news networks and likes to point out “absurdy.” In this interview, Chris Wallace asks Jon Stewart if he thinks his show is biased. Stewart interestingly says that he thinks his show just points out the hilarity of it all, but not to push any agenda. Both show hosts exercise their right of freedom of speech because they express what they think the public should know. Stewart responds to an accusation of Diane Sawyer giving biased information by saying that it is “sensationalist and somewhat lazy and I don’t understand how that’s partisan.” Maybe not giving all the information is not necessarily rhetorical, but accidentally misinformative. However, if the news is going to inform its audience, it should do so to the fullest extent, and both Wallace and Stewart agree on this. But it is funny how they agree on that point but not how they each deliver that point. In this picture, the censorship of the photo definitely highlights what the networks want their audience to know.
That lack of full story changes the entire story for the people. Sensationalism is also a huge way the media decides how to frame a story. The saying, “if it bleeds it leads” really describes how the media cater to people’s fascination with extreme situations. I think to be a conscious society member we have to mediate our biases and be open to hearing different points of view as that is the only way our political tendencies can be addressed and neutralized.
Through our research, many questions have been raised regarding what’s ethical and what crosses a line with censorship. From the idea that the government censors media for the benefit of the whole, to the other side where we, as individuals, don’t have access to unbiased media. We have a right to free speech and the media outlets have a right to free press, but can they coexist in anything other than a utopian society? In our imperfect world, the only thing we can do is understand and be aware of who and what is putting on the face of the news we are consuming.