Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Nothing Personal, Just Business

Judging from the media coverage of the Rod Blagojevich and how reporters are hounding Barack Obama for comment, it may appear that the media have turned the corner and are finally starting to hold Obama's feet to the fire. However, this may not be the case at all. The media still lean left, but there are other factors in play.

There is a central concept in all media outlets: get The Story. Whenever an event happens, reporters rush out to try to cover it and any other potential angles to it that may attract readers/viewers. Normally, this is chalked up to the media becoming a business instead of an information outlet, which is a valid concern. When you put market concerns above a duty to inform, you will compromise the integrity of the profession.

Having said that, there's another side to it that has been known, but never addressed. People today don't rely on traditional media for their news anymore. Readership and viewership have suffered in recent years for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the very thing I just mentioned about the integrity of journalism being compromised. It's not just market concerns that drive people away. It's also the real and perceived bias of the media. And nothing showed this better than the media's fawning coverage of Barack Obama's ascension.

For months, Barack Obama was The Story. In order to cover The Story, reporters and editors seem to have made a Faustian deal in that they would become PR agents for Obama while deflecting any negative information about the guy until it was much later in the election process. It was a win-win for both sides. Obama was able to avoid having to address some serious questions about his associations and his qualifications while the media received continued access to cover The Story.

But the thing about covering The Story is that eventually something else will become The Story. Right now, Blagojevich is The Story, and the fact that he has a connection to someone who used to be (and in many aspects still is) The Story gives the media a reason to cover both. The media are still Leftists at their core, but their need to cover The Story can at times supercede their ideology, and with the environment being such that the media are struggling to stay relevant to potential consumers, they're covering the Blagojevich story as much as possible looking for new angles to The Story.

The other factor to consider involves objectivity. Yeah, expecting objectivity out of today's media is a pipe dream, but they still rely on the appearance of objectivity as a shield against charges of bias. After the fawning coverage of Obama, in order to maintain the appearance of objectivty, the media will have to start looking for reasons to put Obama in a negative light. The shadowy connections, no matter how tenuous, to Blagojevich gives the media their opportunity to appear objective. Of course, it's an illusion, but it's what the media cling to in order to appear fair-minded.

So, I wouldn't be so sure the media are finally starting to hold Barack Obama accountable after months of being his biggest cheerleaders. In the world of the media, The Story and the illusion of objectivity trump political alliances.

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