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Why U.S. news media bias matters

Sunday, August 07, 2016, 22:04 GMT+7

Editor's noteDr. Terry F. Buss is a fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration. He wrote this article exclusively forTuoi Tre News to discuss why the pervasiveness of news media bias matters to Americans.

This is the last story of a two-party series. Read the first story here.

BLM and extremist groups

Many of the murders of police are directly or indirectly tied in some ways to extremist groups.

BLM appeared to be a motivating factor in some of the recent police deaths. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, Sheriff David Clarke, a frequent commentator on Fox News who is black, called BLM “purveyors of a hateful, violent ideology.”

He notes that the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today have not published editorials about BLM’s “anti-police” sentiment.

CNN, by contrast, promotes the notion that BLM is a non-violent civil rights, simply exercising its constitutional right to protest. When BLM uses violent, inflammatory anti-police rants, this is generally dismissed as just being the “talk” of a few zealots, not to be taken seriously. Trump’s political rallies that were frequently interrupted by violence represent a contrary view according to conservative critics.

But there are other extreme groups which are barely mentioned by either network. The New Black Panthers, a group that advocates violence against police and the Nation of Islam, an extremist black national anti-white group having little to do with Islam, have been associated with the Baton Rouge and Dallas black police assassins. CNN and Fox News apparently fear the repercussions of covering these groups’ activities.

Fanning racial tensions and violence

Conservative news media and politicians almost without exception blame Obama for the racial tensions and violence. Fox News notes that every time Obama comments on blacks and violence, he blames white racism and racism in the criminal justice system. Under Obama’s eight-year reign, race relations have substantially deteriorated. A 2016 Wall Street Journal poll shows that 74% of Americans think race relations are bad.

CNN counter-argues that Obama, the first black American president, is merely being honest about conditions in America. Presumably, Obama is the great healer; but Trump calls Obama the great “Divider-in-Chief.”

Obama may be succumbing to conservative media pressure. In a news conference the day after the Baton Rouge police shootings, Obama called for support of police without mentioning police violence, blacks or gun control.

Finding bad news in the good                                                                                             

Good news is difficult to find regarding police violence. For example, in the Dallas killings of police, CNN reported that Dallas police were risking their lives protecting BLM protestors. But CNN went on to note that Dallas had a history of police brutality with respect to blacks. Fox News was much more likely to treat the police as heroes, observing that they daily risk their lives in service of a public that does not generally appreciate them. But then Fox News reported that Dallas was earlier lauded by Obama as an example of a city with excellent “community policing” programs which obviously did not work.

Media have a problem when trying employ data to underpin news reporting. But, FBI Director James Comey commented recently that it was ridiculous that no national data on police and violence exists. At the subnational level, studies differ widely with respect to quality and credibility. As a result, reporters, commentators and politicians can find studies to support any agenda or perspective without fear of contradiction.

CNN and liberal politicians typically call for a national dialogue involving all parties as necessary for solving issues around police and violence, and racism. The national dialogue asks the police and whites to really listen to the grievances of blacks. In extreme cases, the dialogue must include an admission by police and whites that they are racists and are willing to reform.

CNN and liberal politicians view the causes of police violence and black retaliation in similar ways. Clinton, in responding to the police shootings, basically blames white racism in American society. She suggested in a news conference that the shootings represent “implicit racism” and that Americans need to examine their racist prejudices and “empathize” with blacks.

CNN also frequently employs a black professor, Marc Hill, to suggest that blacks cannot be racists because they are in the minority. He also stated that the violent black race riots in Baltimore last year over the death of Freddy Gray, a black drug dealer, in police custody was simply “democracy in action.” In a press conference, Obama suggested that black lives are more to be valued because of past and present discrimination.

Fox News commentators, by contrast, often suggest that groups like BLM are themselves racists because they find racism everywhere even when none exists. And they suggest that calls for a national dialogue amount to “playing the race card,” a ploy to intimidate whites into remaining quiet.

Why all this matters

The pervasiveness of news media bias means that Americans are not getting the information they need to make informed decisions about politics or even their daily lives. The Pew Research Center reports that more than half of liberals follow only liberal media, and half of conservatives only conservative media. So, most Americans are clueless about the issues involving police, blacks and violence.

Additionally, it is unreasonable to expect the average American to read numerous newspapers and websites and watch a variety of news shows to try to make sense of what’s happening. Unfortunately, this elevates the role of political pundits, all to ready to “explain” what’s going on.

One result of media bias is that Americans no longer trust the media. In the 1990s, according to the Gallup poll, 55% of Americans trusted the media, while in recent years that number has fallen to only 40%. Likewise, an Associated Press study in 2014 showed that only 6% of Americans had confidence in the media.

If an informed citizenry is key to democracy, then America is in trouble.

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Terry F. Buss

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