The media are rife with hidden agendas. That’s why I choose the Guardian
A great deal of the media are concentrated in the hands of too few people, who are often too attuned to what their corporate owners or political benefactors would like emphasized
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‘In my experience, most editors, publishers and producers don’t seek to mislead the public.’ Photograph: Russell Sadur/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley
Tue 13 Dec 2022 12.00 GMT Last modified on Tue 13 Dec 2022 17.02 GMT
It’s not just media lies that are dividing Americans. It’s also the issues that the media are choosing to emphasize and the choices they are posing.
- Not long ago, a producer at the Dr Phil show – the No 1-rated daytime talkshow in the US – emailed me, asking if I’d be an expert guest for an upcoming episode on whether “college admissions enroll minorities over prospective Caucasian students”.
- The question gave away the hidden agenda. It would be a show about favoritism to Black people over white people.
I declined the invitation.
Sadly, the media are rife with hidden agendas.
When Elon Musk invites back on to Twitter Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos and others whose hateful or violent screeds got them banned by Twitter’s former owners, he’s not honoring “free speech”, as he claims.
Musk is choosing to coarsen the nation’s conversation by actively courting the political right.
When Chris Licht, CNN’s new chairman and CEO, fired Brian Stelter and canceled Stelter’s Sunday CNN show, Reliable Sources – which had been a source of intelligent criticism of Fox News, rightwing media in general, Trumpism and the increasingly authoritarian lurch of the Republican party – Licht didn’t just move CNN to the “center”, as he has claimed.
There’s no “center” in American politics. The so-called “center” depends largely on what the media decide the public should know and how the media present and frame issues.
Licht has altered how the public views what’s at stake in our politics, presumably to please corporate advertisers or to appease the rightwing billionaire cable magnate John Malone, the leading shareholder in the new Warner Bros Discovery conglomerate.
(Licht also told staff they should stop referring to Trump’s “big lie” because the phrase sounds like a Democratic party talking point, and he wants more conservative guests.)
When the New York Times reports that inflation is being driven by wage gains but fails to report on record corporate profits, it’s not just leaving out a pertinent fact.
- By emphasizing the views of those who believe “wage-price” inflation is threatening the economy, rather than “profit-price” inflation, the Times is actively shaping – and distorting – how the public understands one of the central economic problems of the day.
The problem with today’s media isn’t so much that they’re misinforming as that they’re misframing. Distortions come less in outright lying than in leaving out pertinent information. Less in deceiving the public than in presenting false choices.
In my experience, most editors, publishers and producers don’t seek to mislead the public. They’re just more attuned to what their corporate owners or political benefactors would like emphasized than to what the public should understand.
- And their decisions about what’s important to report, what facts to include or exclude, and the implicit choices posed, are becoming ever more concentrated in the hands of very few people – such as Elon Musk, Chris Licht, Rupert Murdoch and a handful of super-celebrities such as Dr Phil McGraw and Tucker Carlson.
Which brings me to the reason I read the Guardian every day. It’s the same reason I write for it.
I trust it.
What does it mean to trust a media outlet today? Not just trusting it to report the truth. It’s trusting how it reports – how it prioritizes what’s important, selects which facts are the most relevant and frames the implicit choices.
These hows are often hidden but they have a huge impact on what the public understands and values. They affect our daily conversations. They shape our politics. They divide or connect Americans. They help set the national agenda.