May 3, 2016

The Media Must Become Unbalanced Again

When the First Amendment to the Constitution was written in 1789 prohibiting “the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing of the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances,” the press, primarily newspapers and pamphlets, was highly partisan, polarized, and unbalanced.

And it stayed that way until the 1830s when the penny press in New York figured out that it was commercially more viable to be non-partisan and balanced – that way they could sell twice as many papers to both sides of the political spectrum. Reducing newspaper’s price to a penny also started a circulation war because selling more papers not only meant more circulation revenue but also more advertising revenue.

Pulitzer and Hearst fought the New York penny press wars with sensational headlines as news morphed from being partisan information for the elite to being non-partisan entertainment for the masses. News content decisions for the penny press transitioned from being primarily a public service to being primarily a money machine. Sound familiar?

The same thing happened to radio and then, of course, to television. When William S. Paley at CBS started radio news and then TV news, it was loss-leader programming meant to enhance the network’s reputation and image. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when Larry Tisch bought CBS and G.E. bought RCA and, thus, NBC that the notion that television news should be a profit center was introduced by non-broadcast, corporate profit maximizers. And maximizing profits meant being balanced – actually the motivation was not a positive one of being balanced and non-partisan, it was a negative motivation of not pissing off anyone, especially advertisers. Vanilla was the favorite flavor.

But when cable TV started eating into broadcast TV viewing, and entertainment and news programming became more fragmented, just like in the days of the penny press, balance didn’t sell as well as sensationalism. News once again became opinionated entertainment: Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Matthews, O’Donnell, et al.

Media critics, including this one, have decried the polarization of news into far right and far left camps populated by vicious, angry entertainers who make a sick joke of Fox News’s Big-Brother slogans, “fair and balanced” and “we report, you decide,” and MSNBC’s “lean forward.” These slogans have the same validity as 1984’s “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.”

Up until the December 14th killings at Newtown, I decried the unbalanced, right-left polarized media. But no longer. After NRA top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre disgustedly ranted in a December 21st press conference:

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said.

He blamed video games, movies and music videos for exposing children to a violent culture day in and day out.

“In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes,” LaPierre said.

OK, the NRA is blaming the media for the shootings in Newtown, so it’s time for the media to get unbalanced and fight back, not because the media has to get revenge on the NRA and other wingnuts who blame the media, but because it’s the right thing to do, it’s a public service to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and hand guns.

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more. There is no balanced side to the debate about eliminating assault weapons and hand guns. Ask Bob Schieffer of CBS News, David Gregory of NBC News, or Piers Morgan of CNN. Ask the parents of the 20 children who were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The media, the news media must get more unbalanced on this issue and promote and market like only the media can. They must fight the NRA and the gun lobby and push to pass meaningful legislation to try to stop people slaughtering other people using guns made for mass destruction.


  1. Tim Kridel says:

    That’ll happen right around the time that the media take celebrities to task for their hypocrisy:

  2. I am writing this from the perspective of a former broadcaster turned attorney who has both studied and taught media ethics as well as media law.

    Media is the only profession granted protection by the Constitution. The Founding Fathers understood the power of the press to educate the public with the hope of creating an informed electorate that would then elect politicians that represent their interests. In this responsibility, media should now receive a failing grade.

    Just as media technology has evolved, so have firearms. No one clamors that the first Amendment be changed or limited due to changes in technology. This is not true with regard to firearms and media seems to make the case for misinterpretation Constitutionally protected rights.

    When gun related issues are covered, there is little to no context given. This leads to a misinformed electorate that then elects politicians who push agendas that run counter to the interests of their constituents. When contemplating my assertion, please consider the following:

    1. Strict gun control laws will not stop mass shootings.

    Criminals do not obey laws. That’s why we call them criminals. Gun control laws only affect law abiding citizens.

    2. Everyday, 550 rapes, 1,100 murders, and 5,200 other violent crimes are prevented simply by the presence of a firearm. In less that 0.9% of these instances is the gun ever fired. (National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000, Bureau of Justice Statistics, BATF estimates on handgun supply)

    3. Over 2.5 million crimes per year (which equals 6,849 crimes everyday) are prevented by firearms. (Targeting Guns, Dr. Gary Kleck, Criminologist, Florida State University, 1997)

    4. 90% of all crimes do not involve a firearm of any kind. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 1998).

    5. Restrictive gun laws do not make people safer. Chicago, a city with onerous gun laws that are effectively a complete ban on firearms had over 500 shootings.

    6. Media and politician labeled ‘Assault Weapons’ are used in self defense by law abiding citizens.

    a. This was actually good coverage of the event.

    b. A home invasion stopped.

    7. Claims made by those proposing gun bans are false.

    Claim: A commercially-sold “assault weapon” is a machine gun and has no place in civilian hands.

    Fact: A so-called “assault weapon” is NOT a machine gun or automatic firearm. Automatic firearms were severely restricted from civilian ownership under the 1934 National Firearms Act. A so-called “assault weapon” is functionally no different than any other “legal” firearm. These guns fire in the same manner as any other semi-automatic firearm (one shot per trigger pull – no spray firing), they shoot the same ammunition as other guns of the same caliber and are no more powerful. What differentiates a so-called “assault weapon” from other guns is cosmetic; for example, the type of stock on the gun, which makes the conventionally operating firearm look more like a military firearm.

    Claim: Semi-automatic “assault weapons” are high-powered guns that are meant for war.

    Fact: So-called “Assault weapons” are more often than not less powerful than other hunting rifles. The term “assault weapon” was conjured up by anti-gun legislators to scare voters into thinking these firearms are something out of a horror movie. These guns are used for many activities. In fact, the Colt AR-15 and Springfield M1A, both labeled “assault weapons,” are the rifles most often used for marksmanship competitions in the United States. And their cartridges are standard hunting calibers, useful for game up to and including deer.

    Claim: The 1994 “assault weapons ban” helped to reduce violent crime.

    Fact: A recent comprehensive study by the Centers for Disease Control — hardly a pro-gun entity — looked at the full panoply of gun control measures — including the “assault weapons ban” — and concluded that none could be proven to reduce crime. Homicide statistics demonstrate that the miniscule use of so-called “assault weapons” in crime (less than 1 percent) continued to decrease after the ten-year ban expired in 2004 and their manufacturing and sales resumed.

    Another study, commissioned by Congress, found “the banned weapons and magazines were never used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders.”

    The report also noted that so-called “assault weapons” were “rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.”


    8. Firearms are NOT one of the leading causes of death.

    Real Time Estimate
    Top 7 Causes of Death
    Since 1 Jan, 2012

    Cause Annually To Date
    Tobacco: 529,000 534,913
    Medical Errors: 195,000 197,180
    Alcohol Abuse: 107,400 108,600
    Vehicle Accidents: 42,000 42,469
    Suicide: 29,350 29,678
    Drug Abuse: 25,500 25,785
    Firearm Homicide: 10,828 10,949


    9. Some members of the media are so rabidly anti-gun that they advocate violence against those who exercise their first amendment right of association as well as politicians.

    Des Moines Register publishes gun-ban column advocating deadly violence against NRA, GOP leaders

    I could go on but I think this is enough to demonstrate my point. If you would like any other information or examples, I would be happy to provide it.

    As a teacher of Media Ethics and the Constitution and the Press, I am appalled by the failure of media to present all sides of the firearms issue fairly and objectively in order to fulfill the mission for which they were granted Constitutional protection- creating an informed electorate.

    It is disheartening that an industry that is granted Constitutional protections would use its power and protected voice to promote denial of another Constitutional right. The Constitution is an all or nothing document. Once we allow politicians to infringe on one protected right, the camel’s nose is under the tent. It will not be long before they come after the First (in fact, they already have along with the 4th, 5th, and other amendments).

    Media needs to return to its watchdog role, not that of a cheerleader or agenda setter. Provide full and impartial information and let the public decide.

    In the words of Dragnet’s Joe Friday, please provide ‘Just the facts.’ Most of the public is smart enough to think and decide for itself.


    PS: This story gets closer to telling the truth even though that view is not popular. Media should not be in the popularity game, but in the business of truth in information.

    The very politically incorrect truth about the Second Amendment – Tucson News Now

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