Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Blog

A funny photo is circulating on Facebook under the headline “How News Really Works.” The photo shows President Obama drinking a Pepsi with the following captions:

CNN: Obama Appeals to Pepsi Fans

Fox: Obama Declares War on Coke

MSNBC: In about an hour, we’ll have live coverage of Obama drinking the best cola. All who disagree are racist.

BBC: 18 killed in U.S. drone strike in Pakistan

Of course, this is funny because there is plenty of truth to it. CNN seems like the voice of reason when compared to more partisan outlets, but only until one realizes how distracted all American media coverage is from real news. This is the tragic state of U.S. media: in their obsessive pursuit of higher ratings, they forgot entirely what news is supposed to be.

In a recent interview on Bill Maher’s show, Dan Rather said there was a time “not long ago” when the owners of the largest media outlets viewed news as a “public service,” and separated the news division from the money-driven corporate structure. Because that’s no longer the case, everything is money and ratings-driven now, making it more likely find out about Justin Bieber’s scuffle with a paparazzi than about Obama’s policy that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

And then there is the problem of “balance” vs. partisanship. While centrist mainstream channels are obsessed with giving both sides of every issue equal time (even when the facts are solidly in one camp), Fox News is busy launching sensational partisan attacks on President Obama that are better-suited as Romney campaign ads. But neither is appropriate: being fair and balanced means being an honest news broker, presenting the facts without trying to influence the conclusions the viewers draw from the facts.

Perhaps the ideologically-driven Fox News is beyond hope, but is there hope for channels like CNN? Given the primetime rating numbers that were just released, showing that Fox has more than 4 times the viewers CNN has, I suspect they’ll be learning all the wrong lessons on how to become a “better” news organization.

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