Media Balance v. Truth: “A Balanced Treatment of an Unbalanced Phenomenon Distorts Reality”

by Bob Schwartz

You may have seen or heard about Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on TBS. The first one of these two years ago was meant to point to Trump’s attempt to diminish journalism by not attending, as president’s have for decades. In years past, the WHCA Dinner became known as the Nerd Prom, combining a celebration of a free press, journalists, celebrities and sharp roasting—including roasting the president.

This year, thin-skinned Trump not only held his usual alternative rally at the exact same time, but somehow cowed the White House Correspondents’ Association into abandoning roasting, humor and celebrities entirely, in favor of earnest attention to journalism. Samantha Bee would have none of it, instead offering her own combination of humor, entertaining discussion, and celebrities.

The segment getting the most attention is probably her closing roast of Trump, which was no holds barred. But in the analysis category, no segment was better than the one on how media attempts to offer “balanced” coverage is useless when the matter covered doesn’t really have two civilized and defensible sides. The segment was grounded in this from an op-ed piece by Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann:

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views.

“Balanced” media coverage, not calling out demagoguery, venality and incompetence at an early stage, is part of how Trump managed to get elected, and how the current devolution of American democracy continues. For more than two centuries, a mostly two-party America could say that there were very fine people on both sides. But it is not only possible that that is not eternally true; we are living through the proof.

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