Many people erroneously believe that the lion’s share of media bias comes from opinionated editorializing, say, from Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh. But they are wrong. Opinionating is merely obvious and honest bias. A more insidious form of bias manifests itself in the choices news organizations make in the stories they emphasize and those they bury. This type of bias is much less obvious but more dishonest, prevalent and harder to spot. A particularly flagrant case occurred last week.
Consider this contrast: the media went all OJ covering Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah about his past steroid use. Yet they were uncharacteristically demure over the Algerian hostage crisis. Were they right to emphasize the first story and pooh-pooh the second? Let’s compare the two:
With regard to Lance’s confession, is there a person alive to whom Armstrong’s steroid use constitutes news? And is there a person naïve enough to think that these steroids gave him an unfair advantage over his competitors. Earth to naïfs: Every Tour de France cyclist is juiced. OK, maybe not everybody. The guys who came in last may not have been. But certainly the participants who have now been retroactively declared winners were. Armstrong beat them merely because he had more natural talent than them. The steroid banners always prattle on about level playing fields, but the fact is, the playing field is level. It’s just not at the advertised height above sea level. So let me summarize: Lance Armstrong used steroids in the Tour de France, the last one of which he won seven years ago. Who cares? In unrelated news, I hear a cat got killed in Thorold.
Now for the Algerian crisis: On January 16, 32 Islamist terrorists attacked an Algerian gas field, taking about 150 foreign workers (and almost 700 Algerians) hostage. The foreigners included an undetermined number of Americans. The hostage-takers’ demands? Release the Blind Sheik (the man responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing) or all the hostages die. The Algerian military attacked several times, from Jan 17 to Jan 19. The result of the incompetently run commando operation was a bloodbath. As I write this, the details remain murky but almost fifty hostages are thought to have been killed, with the fate of some still uncertain. High drama with all kinds of geopolitical connotations: the war in Mali; and by extension Libya; and, in turn, by extension Benghazi; as well as the War on Terror in general, and Barack Obama’s conduct of it in particular. Lots of interesting angles, or so you would think. The sound you hear is crickets chirping. The media, who seemingly can’t avoid sensationalizing every story that crosses its path, was curiously muted.
Is there any doubt that if George W. Bush were still President, Algeria would have been front and center all last week? With yesterday’s cycling legend forgotten. And they would have been right in that choice of emphasis.
But you see, the whoop-dee-doo in Algeria might negatively affect Obama’s poll numbers on terrorism. And we can’t have that, now can we?