One of the things people often overlook when they pay attention to the news is the way that media reporting affects the way we percieve whats going on in the world. The words, phrases, and connotation reporters use can have a HUGE affect on the way people perceive the story. Sadly this simple fact means that the media not only has the power to communicate messages to the public; the media has the ability to CREATE stories. Sometimes they create stories by outright lying, but many times they create stories by slightly tweaking events. For example:
Penn appeared on Hardball along with Edwards campaign strategist Joe Trippi and Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod. Afterward, MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell asserted that Penn “once again brought up cocaine — twice” and later claimed that Penn “on his own brought up cocaine.” Others, including New York Times reporter Kit Seeyle, similarly suggested that Penn brought the topic up out of the blue.
In fact, Penn didn’t bring the topic up; he was responding to a question about it by Chris Matthews. And by the time Penn first spoke, the entire conversation had been about the drug controversy.
Greg Sargeant explains it best:
[I]f you watch the actual exchange, which is posted over at Taylor Marsh’s site, you see that virtually the entire segment was about the drug flap, and that they’d been talking about the drug thing for literally minutes before Penn said “cocaine.” Even if you want to read something into Penn using the word “cocaine,” rather than “drug,” failing to tell readers that this whole conversation was about the drug flap is a blatant misrepresentation of what happened
So why does the media distort political news? Many times newspapers are just sloppy with reporting. Rarely do you have a reporter who knows anything about the policies they write about. But on the other hand, campaign horseraces are a whole other story. The number one criteria in reporting campaign politics is finding “blood” to feed to the public. It’s the same old “nobody pays attention to good news” meme. People want action in there news, they need a reason to pay attention. Which is why we have horserace reporting. Horserace reporting refers to when the media reports about the “drama” on the campaign trail rather than the issues and/or policies being debated. This is why the majority of news coverage deals with what Hillary is wearing, how much John Edwards pays for his haircut, or how Obama is being victimized by someone. Its no fun to read about a non competitive race hence why the news reports the horserace. Don’t believe me? Read for yourself from prominent political reporter Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post:
KORNBLUT: I have to say we in the media are spoiling for a fight. Usually we are biased in favor of a good tussle at about this point. … I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere between now and January 3, now that we know that’s when the Iowa caucuses are going to be, to see some kind of reverse, some kind of Obama surge or an Edwards surge. Something that is going to knock Hillary down a few pegs. Whether it’s a media creation, or something that actually happens on the ground. I would be shocked if there were nothing like that.
But she’s not the only one…
Gloria Borger: “We take people to the top of the mountain and then once we get them to the top of the mountain, it’s our job to knock them down.” [9/10/06]
Brian Williams: “[I]t does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog.” [9/21/00]
Howard Fineman: “We want a race, I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it’s that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that’s partly the psychology at play here.” [9/21/00]