An old debate among journalists – and some who think they are – has begun again. Wherever some of the more serious media types are gathered in more social surroundings these days, the discussion can be heard.

“Must the media present all people or issues to its audience/readers if the media knows the person/issue is wrong or false?” Or words to that effect.

It’s not as goofy – or as arrogant – as it sounds. It’s an issue more common these days with political and philosophical divisions within media sources. It’s also more relevant because of the slide in national politics to the right.

We older media types tried to operate under a rule that, when talking strictly news events or stories, the interviewees words were the news and the media served only as messenger – not to judge or critique or interpret. Simply the conduit – unless you’re talking editorials, byline columns or opinion pieces. Let the subject/facts talk. That’s the news. You report the news.

As our nation has become more politically divided, so has the media. Rather than simply report, major networks have slowly integrated points of view – either by the reporter or anchor or in the way the story is presented.

By any traditional standard, Fox News is the worst offender. CNN does a bit of its own. And for those who constantly remind me that MSNBC is the liberal offset for Fox, remember this: MSNBC has never – never – referred to itself as a “news” organization. Fox does constantly. Even in it’s name.

Here’s an issue that fits the problem perfectly: global warming. By nearly all scientific evidence presented by legitimate research organizations, global warming is a fact. You can argue cause. You can argue effect. You can argue how much. But the basic fact is, global warming exists and its effects are too overwhelming for thinking minds to ignore.

Here’s another fact. The two committees in Congress charged with dealing with this subject – one in the House and one in the Senate – are chaired by two men who’re vocal, absolute denyers of the evidence. All of it. And it’s these two who have the absolute power to refuse to let either committee – and thus the full Congress – do anything in our national interest to deal with our warming world.

So, go back to the question stated before: “Must the media present people or issues to its audience/readers if the media knows the person/issue is wrong or false?” If Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) continues leading the denyers from his powerful pulpit, is the media acting properly by giving his distinctly minority voice a platform to proclaim his distinctly minority and distinctly untrue view? When poll after poll shows some 80% of us believe global warming not only exists but is a serious problem, is the media doing a service – or a disservice – by giving Sen. Inhofe a platform when he’s factually wrong? After all, it’s not the media’s job to go find someone to speak for the majority side of the global warming issue every time a minority denyer pops off just to keep things balanced. Should the media give him a platform?

Another example you see far too often. Say the vote on a particular bill in the U.S. Senate was 97-3. The media will always – always – identify the three but not the 97. Why? Why identify three loser votes when the overwhelming 97 “ayes” won? It’s not practical – in time or space – to name all 97 though they were, after all, the victors. Why name the three losers?

Until Ronald Reagan, broadcast media operated under the “Fairness Doctrine” which required – by law – fairness/access in reporting both sides. He threw that out the window so now Faux Neus – among others – can operate with impunity by selecting only the view it wants to. Other outlets do some of the same at times, but Faux is the habitual offender. Its very foundation is one of lopsided coverage and twisted “fact.” Ain’t it, Rupert?

Survey after survey has shown Faux Neus viewers are less informed, more poorly informed and more inaccurately informed. The only variance is by how much. There is ample empirical evidence Faux viewers score much lower when asked to compare what they’ve seen on Faux versus what the facts really are. But Faux Neus keeps cranking out the propaganda.

So, the question becomes what is the media’s responsibility when it knows the newsmaker’s position – or the media itself – disregards fact – ignores valid scientific evidence – and is contrary to overwhelming proof?

But suppose, on another issue, that minority expression is eventually proven the right one? Suppose the newsmaker in 2001 opposed our intervention in Iraq when that was a very minority view. At that time the minority was called “wrong” by the majority before the minority view of non-intervention became the majority opinion. What if the media ignored them then?

There’s no easy answer to this conundrum. Maybe no answer at all. We used to know when fact was fact. We did our best to operate within that parameter. But divisions of media to appeal only to those holding similar views has resulted in distorted “facts.” Slanted “facts.” Too often, phony “facts.” If you don’t believe that, spend a week reading or watching a source you don’t normally see or agree with. You’ll be surprised.

So, what’s your answer? What’s the obligation? What’s the media responsibility? The honest answers ain’t all that easy to come by.

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