Tags: Fighting | Media | Bias

Fighting Media Bias

Wednesday, 20 April 2005 12:00 AM

My most recent fight with my newspaper, about the absence of women on the op-ed page, has gotten a lot of ink, but the truth is that I've been fighting with its executives for years – about their abysmal treatment of the women who work for them, including their efforts to downgrade their one woman columnist, which I made a national story at their expense; their unfair tactics against Arnold Schwarzenegger, springing a story of alleged sexual harassment on the Thursday before the Tuesday of the election, based on anonymous, out-of-date allegations that they went looking for, and not the other way around; and their coverage of the Middle East, which has been, in a judgment many of us in the Jewish community have repeatedly shared with them, slanted against Israel.

I mention these points specifically because when the editor sent his reporter to do a hatchet job on me, he didn't mention them – there is nothing fair about the way newspapers play when you're on the other side.

That's why, even though I used to enjoy reading the much-respected auto columnist for the Times, as well as some of the other individual writers, I decided, like many in this community, to cancel my subscription. Circulation is now down to 1968 levels, even though the city has grown dramatically since then and this is a one-newspaper town.

While there are many fine people who work for the newspaper, I no longer think of it as a neutral arbiter of the news deserving of special constitutional protection. I think of the paper as a player in the political debate – sometimes a bully, but always a powerful player, with a voice and a microphone usually more powerful than anyone else's.

Far from needing protection against the rest of us, it's the rest of us who often need protection against them, public figures and public companies included. If GM wants to get in the fight, great. We could use some help. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Nearly half a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in New York Times v. Sullivan that the press could not be held liable under state law for printing false and hurtful information about a public figure if it did so without malice. The case involved a Southern sheriff who sued for damages after it was reported that he had beaten civil rights protesters. It was followed by the Pentagon Papers litigation, which further enshrined the theory of the free press as the protector of a democracy. Pretty quaint sounding today.

In recent years, there has been much debate, and more than a little elitism, between the legitimate media – or the conventional media, or the old media – and the new and emerging medium of the Internet. Institutions like the Los Angeles Times and the broadcast news networks have claimed moral and institutional superiority as the newsgatherers of record, and have vociferously denounced their cable and Internet competitors for their supposed inaccuracy, bias and unfairness, dismissing them as lesser and inferior – not really news.

No one has been more outspoken in this regard than the editor of the Los Angeles Times, who has assumed a prominent role in denouncing the likes of my employer, Fox News.

Of course, the irony has been that the big boys have been making more than their share of the mistakes, and the ultimate judges – consumers and advertisers – turn out to have the final say.

It was not the bloggers, but the big boys who blew all the big stories this year. It was not Matt Drudge, but CBS that made the big mistakes – and Mary Mapes may end up with the last word. The Los Angeles Times can beat up on anybody it wants, but it doesn't matter if nobody's reading it and there aren't any ads.

COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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My most recent fight with my newspaper, about the absence of women on the op-ed page, has gotten a lot of ink, but the truth is that I've been fighting with its executives for years about their abysmal treatment of the women who work for them, including their efforts to...
Fighting,Media,Bias
652
2005-00-20
Wednesday, 20 April 2005 12:00 AM
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