From the outcome of a presidential election to spreading hate to violence in society, the media are first to get the blame. But why are Americans so quick to blame the media?
While I have always been a member of the media who was open to criticizing the media when necessary, I must also be honest about the faults of the audiences. Through my studying of the media and its relationship with and impact on society I have consistently subscribed to the notion that the media reflect its audience more than it dictates behavior or changes ideas.
In the process of communicating both reflecting and affecting behavior occur, but the dominant force remains reflecting the audience. For many years, the media have been described as the “liberal media.” The truth is that there are more liberals in the media than conservatives. This is the result of more liberal-minded individuals having a greater tendency to gravitate toward that career than individuals who are more conservative-minded.
There is a big difference between the reality of a liberal-leaning media and a conspiracy to establish a liberal media. In the 40 years I have been part of the media, and that includes working on opinionated features for television, I have never been told what opinion to express. Never! There is no conspiracy!
The backlash of the perception of a liberal media conspiracy led to an explosion of hard-core right wing radio talk show hosts, not only nationally but also in virtually every local market around the country. This trend spread to television and the FOX News Channel became the savior of conservative-minded Americas seeking a TV network that reflected their views.
Since so many Americans believe that the media, liberal or conservative, affect the opinions and behavior of society, it’s important to take a quick look reality. Do you listen to a conservative radio talk show host or watch Fox New with an open mind, or do you find comfort in the expression of views and opinions they share with you? Has the perceived liberal media changed your opinions or has it infuriated you because you don’t agree with the views and opinions? If you are liberal-leaning, do the conservative radio and TV hosts actually change your mind about the issues or do you seek what reflects your views and opinions?
There will always be exceptions, but I think it is obvious that that vast majority of Americans migrate toward the media that most represent their point of view. The war that exists in the country over whether the media are fair is growing. The liberal media is blamed for the outcome of the election and the conservative media is blamed for spreading hate and hysteria.
If you take an honest look at America, you can see that the media reflect the country. The purpose of the media is to attract the largest possible audience and generate the largest amount of revenue. The media can be considered entertainment and cannot avoid being governed by the same forces that create entertainment. A news show, a radio talk show or a sitcom become popular by reflecting their audiences. Rush Limbaugh did not create the conservative movement in America. During the 1980s, the Baby Boomer generation was growing into the Establishment and shed many of their idealistic thinking from the 60s. They were married with children and buying BMWs and nice homes.
There was also a great migration to the suburbs and for the first time more Americans lived in the suburbs than in cities. Life in the suburbs encouraged more of an individual problem-solving mentality compared to the more collective problem-solving mentality in the city. Individual problem-solving reflected and inspired a more conservative ideology about politics and social issues and the conservative movement was born. Limbaugh began to gain attention in the late 1980s, following two terms of Reagan and the beginning to the first Bush presidency. Limbaugh hit with the right message at the right time, in the same way The Beatles come to America at the moment a young generation was predisposed to rebelling against the status quo.
With the proliferation of conservative talk radio and the FOX News Channel, there was a demand for an alternative. The liberal talk radio network Air America was launched. It failed, not because it was liberal, but because it just took itself and everything far too seriously. It was simply not entertaining.
MSNBC became the left-leaning alternative to FOX News and a few times recently has beaten FOX News in the key demographic of 25-54 adults. That is the demo that reelected President Obama. Support for Mitt Romney skewed much older. MSNBC did not change minds as much as it reflected an audience that was not being served.
Is the media biased? Yes! It is impossible for humans to be totally objective. You will innately relate facts through your feelings about the facts. For example: If you know that a neighbor is cheating on his wife, the way you report the facts about the affair will be determined by whether you side with the cheating husband or the wife. Facts are presented through the bias of humans, including news anchors that are expected to be objective.
More frightening than a biased media, conservative or liberal, is an audience that consumes media without the understanding that the media is bias. It is the responsibility of the audience to think and not be sheep in a flock following a perceived leader.
And since violent entertainment is part of our media, I want to briefly address the criticism that violent entertainment is to blame for violence in the real world. While I could write forever about this topic, here is a quick summation of my thoughts.
Ozzy Osborne and his record company were sued by the parents of a teenager who committed suicide. The parents blamed Ozzy and the record company because their son spent countless hours in his room listening to the song “Suicide Solution” repeatedly. In the same way that we gravitate toward the media that reflect our views and opinions, we also gravitate toward the entertainment that reflects our moods and our predisposition. A teenager who reclusively sits in a room and listens to the same song over and over is having problems that supersede the lyric content of a song. His activity was the symptom of the problem – not the problem.
In an interview I did with Ozzy Osbourne backstage before one of his concerts I asked him about this and he said, “Why blame rock and roll? I’m sure right at the bottom of it is alcohol or drugs or both.” He’s right. Ozzy and his record company were not found to be responsible for the teen’s tragic suicide.
The entertainment we choose reflects our mood and our attitude. A love song will not cause you to fall in love; however, if you are in love you will be prone to choose entertainment with a message of love.
Violence has always been part of entertainment. Shakespeare’s work contained violence. It is human nature to be attracted to violence in entertainment, but that doesn’t mean violent entertainment makes us violent. Think about how humans slow down to view a crash on the side of the road? It’s human nature.
The question of whether the media reflects attitudes or dictates attitudes will continue to be pondered. But it seems that there is overwhelming evidence to support the answer that the media and all of its bias, reflects its audiences.
The media is a mirror reflection of the audience. If you look into a mirror and don’t like the reflection you see – is it fair to blame the mirror?