East Coast Bias So what truth is there to the notion that the media is run by an Eastern liberal establishment?
Some truth/Headquarters in New York/Journalists are liberal, but owners, like most owners, are Republican
They share values and assumptions, but they are fiercely competitive/Go to same bars, clubs
Assertion by Cunningham: We see the world through New York eyes.
Why is that? Why not Des Moines—center of country. Or popular center like West Coast.
The establishment—describe the geographyTV (ABC, CBS, NBC), cable, magazines, book publishers, major
Why is it so? 10,000 journalists in Manhattan—quite unrepresentative of the country.
In fact, Manhattan, Cunningham argues, “is the least representative place in the country.”
New York Times—outsized importance and influence. The paper for other journalists. With web, its importance
USA Today—McLean, Va., but no home base—no home team
Is West Coast neglected? What about Phoenix, now fifth largest city
The larger point: Press is large, but not monolithic.
Geoffrey Nunberg—teaches a course on history of information that some of you may have taken
Notes that bias has changed its meaning over the past 50 years.
Until the 1950’s, bias was more or less a synonym for partisanship, which was generally opposed to accuracy
and objectivity. It generally implied a deliberate effort to distort events.
- The modern view of the word bias shifted the focus of criticism from those who own and run news
businesses to journalists. If reporting is inescapably colored by subjective preferences, then you can
gauge the bias of the media just by tabulating journalists’ party affiliation. That picture of bias has
enabled media critics to argue that the interests of balance are better served by open partisan
commentary than by traditional “objective” reporting. This gives an intellectual underpinning for
partisan cable shows. Today, Nunberg said, bias is applied to those who won’t own up to having an
ax to grind. Just so long as you disclose your views, just so long as you are transparent, you are not
biased. But this is wrong
Ask 10 journalists what objectivity means and you will get 10 different answers
It is fair to say that in recent years, the concept of objectivity has taken a bit of a beating. Some argue that it is
in fact unachievable. We all bring our experiences, sensibilities and innate prejudices to the table.
Detachment, non-partisanship, balance, fact-based: are these better ways to describe a journalist’s job?
Michael Schudson—leading scholar in the field—has written in an article I did not assign this year:
That objectivity is the norm that separates U.S. journalism from the model in continental Europe.
• Present a brief history of the topic.
In colonial American journalists, printers testified to a concern for fairness in order to shed responsibility for
what appeared in their pages. It was the printers’ neutrality. Benjamin Franklin insisted that the printer was just
that—one who prints, not one who edits, exercises judgment, or agrees with each opinion in its pages. But after
the conflict with England heated up in 1765, printerly fairness went by the board.
• Another shift occurred in the early 1800s, when editors began to take great pride in the speed and accuracy of
the news they provided. Competition heated up, and editors increasingly sought out local news.
- Here is a wonderful aside—in the late 19 and early 20 century, leading journalists counseled against
note-taking, and journalists were encouraged to rely on their own memories.
Interviews were thought of as contrived.
As late as 1926, the Associated Press prohibited its reporters from writing up interviews. Schudson questions some of the orthodox history of objectivity. He traces the shift to analytical and procedural
fairness in the 1920s—the very time Lippmann was writing—it was then when journalists as a group
developed loyalties more to their audiences than to their publishers or their publishers’ favored political parties.
Another explanation of the rise of objectivity: the more newspapers appeared not to be taking sides, the more its
readership base could be extended.
Is it possible to be totally objective. Are news judgments objective—or subjective? When it comes what to
emphasize in a story, there is not mathematical model.
Brent Cunningham, in Re-thinking Objectivity, offers some provocative thoughts. For instance, he points to
lack of socioeconomic diversity in the newsroom.
Remember exercise on newspaper—where would we place our hypothetical 100 reporters. A corollary to that
is: Who are these 100 reporters. What experiences do we want?
• It is generally accepted now that there should be ethnic, racial and gender diversity.
Reflect what—the population?
Gender diversity. Two thirds entering journalism are women. But glass ceiling.
Ethnic and racial—far behind goals established years ago.
But Cunningham maintains that this leads to newsrooms populated by folks with the same middle class
background and aspirations.
For him, the solutions to this quagmire are twofold:
1. Journalists must acknowledge, humbly and publicly, that what they do is far more subjective and far
less detached than the aura of objectivity implies.
2. We need to encourage to develop expertise and to use it to sort through competing claims to truth.
Is journalism a profession?
Originally, the term was applied to the three “learned” occupations—divinity, medicine and the law—because
they were fields that had adopted the institutional mechanism that tradition required of a profession.
The characteristics of a traditional profession:
- Absorbing a body of knowledge, which today must take place at an accredited school.
Journalism—some schools are, but never in my career has anyone asked the question if affiliated with
- Passing a test, adhering to a code of conduct and having a mechanism for throwing out those who do not
Historically, professions have a monopoly.
- In law, something called unauthorized practice. Same in medicine. They are licensed.
No such thing as unauthorized practice of journalism. It is not licensed because of the first amendment,
which restricts curbs on free speech
In the established professions, the right of the state to participate in the examination and licensing of new
members is part of collaboration for upholding standards.
• The idea of giving any agency of government similar power to license journalists is, as I have said,
unthinkable in this country. Government officials can complain about journalists—as both Democrats and
Republicans do. But they do not have the power to yank a license.
Exception is television. Decades have passed
There are a number of educational paths that lead to careers in journalism. Need not go to journalism school.
Not compulsory, as law school or medical school. The role of such schools—either undergraduate or graduate
—remains ambiguous. Journalism, like, say business or engineering, is a relative newcomer to a university. Not
really a profession in the sense of law, but there are norms of professionalism
Some journalists seek prestige of profession; others are self-deprecating, claiming that journalism is a craft or
trade, which one wag said it is like “undertaking, which it sometimes resembles.”
2 No credential- Codes—SPJ—worse that can happen—drummed out
Individual codes- Opposed by lawyers
What happens to journalist who messes up? Libel—malpractice. Knowingly or with reckless disregard of the
truth, publish something false that harms another
Shame- Janet Cooke- Jayson Blair
• Who can be a journalist?
Four Theories Four Theories of the Press
Global classification scheme—over time—for world media systems.
• The book was a child of the Cold War era, when the world was deeply divided between the capitalist West, the
socialist East, and the underdeveloped South
• This approach looked to the free flow of information as a medicine for the world’s ills—a disinfectant. But
conditions surely have changed with the fall of Soviet Communism and the independence of the
underdeveloped South. There is a significant movement in Asia and Latin America to resist Western models
and explorative alternative bases for public communication.
• The approach of the authors sketches a set of optimum conditions for journalism to function.
• Critics of this approach have focused on media ownership and patterns of media content. These patterns
included a bias in domestic news toward the views of state authority, wherever dissidence or unrest threatened
and unquestioned support for capitalism.
1. Authoritarian 2. Libertarian 3. Social Responsibility 4. Soviet-Totalitarian
We are most interested in social responsibility theory and will look at others as illuminating comparisons
Authoritarian Oldest theory
• We see it in autocratic monarchies and 21st century military dictatorships. It is a tradition that expects the
media to be cooperative in matters of the national interest
• It came into being in the authoritarian climate of the late Renaissance, soon after the invention of printing. In
that society, truth was conceived to be, not the product of the great mass of people, but of a few wise men who
were in a position to guide and direct their fellows.
• Press functioned from the top down. The rulers of the time used the press to inform the people of what the
rulers thought they should know and the policies the rulers thought they should support.
• The source of power kept the right to license and to censor
• The press belonged to the office of the king. This concept of the press eliminated what has come in our time to
be one of the most common press functions: to check on government.
Soviet-Totalitarian is an outgrowth of this. Press is state rather than privately owned and the press operates as a
tool of the ruling power. The house organ of the state.
Long dismissed, but how much of press is house organ press? Alumni magazines (school tells them what to
publish and what not to)
• The libertarian ideal of public communication emerged in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance in
reaction to deeply entrenched monarchies and religious institutions of Europe, which combined to resist any
challenge to their authority.
• The growth of political democracy and religious freedom, the expansion of free trade and travel, the
acceptance of laissez-faire economics, and the general philosophical climate of the Enlightenment undermined
authoritarianism and called for a new concept of the press. This new theory, evident in the late 17 century,
which flowered in the 19 century, is what we call the Libertarian theory.
• Man is no longer conceived of as a dependent human being to be led and directed, but rather as a rational
being able to discern between truth and falsehood.
• Truth is no longer conceived of as the property of power. The press is conceived of as a partner in the search
• In libertarian theory, the press is not an instrument of government, but rather a device for presenting evidence
and arguments on the basis of which people can check on government and make up their minds as to policy.
• There must be a free marketplace of ideas and information.
3 • For 200 years, the United States and Great Britain have maintained this kind of press, almost wholly free of
government influence and encouraged to serve as a fourth estate in the governmental process.
• In the United States, commercial newspaper displaced newspapers connected with political parties or other
organized social groups early in the 19 century, earlier than in any other country. This contrasts with other
systems where newspapers develthed more as a part of the world of politics than the world of business.
• I should note that in the 20 century, the United States was the only country to develop a primarily
commercial broadcasting system. Until recently, most other economically advanced democracies depended
upon public broadcasting systems.
• The “watchdog” role of checking government power is certainly part of liberal media culture. So too does the
U.S. have a history dating to World War II of voluntary cooperation between state and media in time of conflict.
This is frayed sometimes.
Now somewhat outdated, but surely remnants remain. Press operates as a tool of the ruling power. State rather
than privately owned
Social Responsibility Theory
• New libertarianism. It sees the press as bound by ethical obligations to the reading public.
• The public has some rights and legitimate expectation of adequate service. Nothing under libertarian theory
spoke of the public’s right to know or the public responsibility of the press.
• A valid expression of the publisher’s position under libertarian theory in the early 20 century was attributed
to William Peter Hamilton of the Wall Street Journal: “A newspaper is a private enterprise owing nothing
whatever to the public, which grants it no franchise. It is therefore affected with no public interest. It is
emphatically the property of the owner, who is selling a manufactured product at his own risk…”
Is that appealing—or not?
Who has stake—reporters, public, etc.
What is the public interest?
Does the public have a right to know? In the constitution?
• Twentieth Century conditions demanded of the mass media a new and different kind of social responsibility.
• Difficult to enter the media business. As newspapers and broadcast outlets got bigger, their ownership and
management came to involve huge amounts of money. The press, as in the old authoritarian days, was falling
into the hands of a powerful few. To be sure, the new rulers of the press were not political rulers. But the very
fact that control of the press is so limited puts a new and uneasy power into the hands of media owners and
So: the power and near monopoly position of the media impose on them an obligation to be socially
responsible, to see that all sides are fairly presented and that the public has enough information to decide.
• Another way of expressing this: Freedom carries concomitant obligations, and the press, which enjoys a
privileged position under our government, is obliged to be responsible to society for carrying out certain
essential function of mass communication
The question is: who makes sure the press assumes its responsibility?
A version of this expects the media themselves to develop self-regulatory mechanisms of accountability, based
on voluntary promises in response to demands from the public.
The development of professionalism plays a key part in this process.
According to Four Theories, the functions of the press under the social responsibility theory are six fold:
1. Serving the political system by providing information, discussion and debate on public affairs.
2. Enlightening the public so as to make it capable of self-government
3. Safeguarding the rights of the individual by serving as a watchdog against government
4. Servicing the economic system, primarily by bringing together the buyers and sellers of goods and
services through the medium of advertising
4 5. Providing entertainment.
6. Maintaining its own financial self-sufficiency so as to be free from pressures of special interest.
The social responsibility theory represents the opinion that the press has been deficient in performing these
tasks, especially in servicing the political system, in enlightening the public and in safeguarding the liberties of
Criticism of press fell into patterns (78-9):
1. The press wielded its enormous powers for its own ends. The owners have propagated their own
opinions, especially in matters of politics and economics, at the expense of opposing views. Sacred cows
2. The press has been subservient to big business and at times has let advertisers control editorial politics
and editorial content. Not overt, but surely on a large level still. Coverage of movies.
3. The press has resisted social change
4. The press has paid more attention to the superficial and sensational than to the significant. Its coverage
of entertainment has been often lacking in substance. High culture v. low culture.
5. The press has invaded the privacy of individuals without just cause.
6. The press is controlled by one socioeconomic class, the “business” class, and access to the industry is
difficult for the newcomer; Therefore the free and open market of ideas is endangered.
As the 20 century dawned, publishers spoke more and more often of the duties which accompanied the
privileged position of the press under the constitution.
Joseph Pulitzer—identify—wrote in an influential article in the North American Review in 1904: “Nothing
less than the highest ideals, the most scrupulous anxiety to do right, the most accurate knowledge of the
problems it has to meet, and a sincere sense of moral responsibility will save journalism from a subservience to
business interests, seeking selfish ends, antagonistic to public welfare.
• The social responsibility theory, largely the grafting of new ideas on to traditional theory, received wide
attention in the Hutchins Commission in late 1940s. President Robert Maynard Hutchins, of the University
of Chicago, and a dozen scholars—no journalists, leading thinkers of the day-- warned that only a responsible
press can remain free.
• Failure of the press to meet the needs of a society dependent on it for information and ideas is the greatest
danger to its freedom, the Commission found. The commission did not agree with publishers that freedom of
the press is their proprietary right to act as irresponsibly as they please.
The commission’s reasons are:
1. As the importance of communication has increased, its control has come into fewer hands.
2. The few in control have failed to meet the needs of the people.
3. Press practices have at times been so irresponsible that if continued society is bound to take control for
its own protection.
A truthful, comprehensive account of the news is not enough, said the commission. “It is no longer enough to
report the fact truthfully. It is not necessary to report the truth about the fact.”
Here then, Four Theories says, is the suggestion that the press has developed a curious sort of objectivity—a
spurious objectivity which results in half-truths, incompleteness, incomprehensibility.
• • In adhering to objective reporting, the press has tried to present more than one side to a story; but in doing
so, the suggestion is, the media have not bothered to evaluate for the reader the trustworthiness of conflicting
sources, nor have they supplied the perspective essential to a complete understanding of a given situation.
Instead of assuming that two half-truths make a truth, the Commission said in effect that the press should seek
the “whole truth.”
• Commission complained that the “owners of the press determine which persons, which facts, which versions
of the facts and which ideas reach the public.” It becomes an imperative question “whether the performance of
the press can any longer be left to the unregulated initiative of those who manage it.”
This is the intellectual establishment speaking.
5 • Notes that the press “emphasizes the exceptional rather than the representative, the sensational rather than the
significant. The press is preoccupied with these incidents to such an extent that the citizen is not supplied the
information and discussion he needs to discharge his responsibilities to the community.”
Is this true today? Criticism of the press in the press is banned by a kind of unwritten law
This has changed.
Recommended the establishment of a new and independent agency to appraise and report annually upon the
performance of the press.
Is that a good idea? This agency would perform nine functions. Long list, including: “Help define standards of
press performance.”Not highly regarded when published.-Much more long-term effect-The press of that time
had a “fetish” with objectivity.
In fact, this leads to a spurious objectivity.
It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. “It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.”
• For the commission, a press characterized by bigness, fewness and costliness in effect holds freedom of the
press in truth for the entire population.
• Idealistic view of what press should do.
New York Times Code
No overarching code like in law or medicine. Individual entities have codes. More popular now than even 30
years ago. Lots of lawyers opposed codes because they felt they established standards of behavior.
Note does not detail what good reporting is. Does not say reporter must talk to x or y number of sources.
About appearances and conflicts
Background, relying in part in interesting article in New Yorker not long ago by Eric Alterman
• Today’s tensions between the leaders of the mainstream media and the challengers from the Web were
presaged by one of the most instructive and heated intellectual debates of the American twentieth century.
• Between 1920 and 1925, Walter Lippmann published three books investigating the theoretical relationship
between democracy and the press, including “Public Opinion.” Lippmann identified a fundamental gap
between what we naturally expect from democracy and what we know to be true about people. Democratic
theory demands that citizens be knowledgeable about issues and familiar with the individuals put forward to
• And, while these assumptions may have been reasonable for the white, male, property-owning classes of
Colonial Boston, contemporary capitalist society had, in Lippmann’s view, grown too big and complex for
crucial events to be mastered and understood by the average citizen.
• Journalism works well, Lippmann wrote, when “it can report the score of a game or a transatlantic flight, or
the death of a monarch.” We will discuss more of that later. But where the situation is more complicated, “as
for example, in the matter of the success of a policy, or the social conditions among a foreign people—that is to
say, where the real answer is neither yes or no, but subtle, and a matter of balanced evidence,” journalism for
Lippmann was not so helpful. Lippmann likened the average American to a “deaf spectator in the back row” at
a sporting event: “He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen,” and “he
lives in a world which he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct.”
• Lippmann assumed a public that “is slow to be aroused and quickly diverted . . . and is interested only when
events have been melodramatized as a conflict.” A committed elitist, Lippmann did not see why anyone should
find these conclusions particularly surprising. Lippmann’s preferred solution was, in essence, to distort
democracy. Even “if there were a prospect” that people could become sufficiently well-informed to govern
themselves wisely, he wrote, “it is extremely doubtful whether many of us would wish to be bothered.”
• In his first attempt to consider the issue, in “Liberty and the News” (1920), Lippmann suggested addressing
the problem by raising the status of journalism to that of more respected professions. Two years later, in
“Public Opinion,” he concluded that journalism could never solve the problem merely by “acting upon
everybody for thirty minutes in twenty-four hours.” Instead, Lippmann proposed the creation of “intelligence
bureaus,” which would be given access to all the information they needed to judge the government’s actions.
6 • John Dewey, a Lippmann contemporary, termed “Public Opinion” “perhaps the most effective indictment of
democracy as currently conceived ever penned,” and he spent much of the next five years countering it. The
result, published in 1927, was another important book, titled “The Public and Its Problems.”
• While Lippmann viewed public opinion as little more than the sum of the views of each individual, much like
a poll, Dewey saw it more like a focus group. The foundation of democracy to Dewey was less information than
conversation. Members of a democratic society needed to cultivate vital habits of democracy—the ability to
discuss, deliberate on, and debate various perspectives in a manner that would move it toward consensus.
Dewey also criticized Lippmann’s trust in knowledge-based élites. “A class of experts is inevitably so removed
from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge,” Dewey argued.
• But before we totally dismiss the tyranny of the experts, we should consider just how often we today use
outside credentialed experts to frame our stories. How are experts credentialed? What are you taught?
• The recent history of the American press demonstrates a tendency toward exactly the kind of
professionalization for which Lippmann initially argued. When Lippmann was writing, many newspapers
remained committed to the partisan model of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American press, in which
editors and publishers viewed themselves as appendages of one or another political power or patronage machine
and slanted their news offerings accordingly.
• The twentieth-century model, in which newspapers strive for political independence and attempt to act as
referees between competing parties on behalf of what they perceive to be the public interest, was, in
Lippmann’s time, in its infancy.
• As the profession grew more sophisticated and respected, top reporters, anchors, and editors naturally rose in
status to the point where some came to be considered the social equals of the senators, Cabinet secretaries, and
C.E.O.s they reported on. Quite naturally and yet quite disturbingly, these same reporters and editors sometimes
came to identify with their subjects, rather than with their readers. That is something that Dewey had predicted.
• Over time, our elections have seen smaller and smaller portions of the electorate participate, with politics
increasingly became a business for professionals and a spectator sport for the great unwashed—much as
Lippmann had predicted.
According to Eric Alterman, a media scholar, the birth of the liberal blogosphere, with its ability to bypass the
big media institutions and conduct conversations within a like-minded community, represents a revival of the
Deweyan challenge to our Lippmann-like understanding of what constitutes “news” and, in doing so, might
seem to revive the philosopher’s notion of a genuinely democratic discourse.
Thanks to the Web, we can all join in a Deweyan debate on policies, and proposals. All that’s necessary is a
decent Internet connection.
Lippmann was a pre-eminent columnist for half a century. He was an editorial writer, a co