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When the News Was the News

posted: 5.24.13 by Donna Winchell

In my textbook I have mentioned for some time that television news changed drastically when 24-hour news stations were born. Television news used to be an early evening 30-minute local news telecast and a 30-minute telecast from one of the (then) three major networks, with a 30-minute local show at 10 or 11 to catch up with the latest developments. Yes, we had political commentary shows that were the place for just that–Meet the Press has been on the air for 60 years–but the news was essentially the news. As soon as the anchors and reporters had to keep talking 24 hours a day, much of what we started getting was not news but commentary on the news.

I must admit that I am one of those irritated when reporters keep talking about even the worst of tragedies when there is nothing new to report. I enjoy the human interest stories as much as the next person, but when the reporters start bringing in anyone remotely related to the crisis to have someone to talk to or keep a camera focused on a house for hours in hopes of catching a two-second glimpse of a victim, that’s no longer news.

I was trying to illustrate in my chapter on multimodal sources that even news reports reveal bias, but I discovered that it is often hard to find which reports are considered “hard news” and which are considered opinion. We all know that CNN and Fox News (Fair and Balanced) are not viewed as being fair and balanced. I decided to look at how they reported the same major news story–President Obama’s announcement on May 9, 2012, that he now supports same-sex marriage–to see how they compared.

I discovered that the CNN news report showed that network’s slant by means of who was brought in to comment on the story–John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent–who stated, “Well, it’s a gamble for the president. And we should say up front it’s a bold, personal choice for the president to decide to do this publicly.” Fox News opened a news report that is not labeled opinion in this way: “President Obama blamed the clumsy rollout of his reversion to his pre-2008 support of same-sex marriage on Vice President Joe Biden.” More than once the author of the piece refers to Obama’s “straddle.” The opinion piece that day went further: “Little happens by accident in the Obama White House, or the Obama reelection campaign for that matter — if there even is a difference between the two. And the dramatic decision by the president to come out Wednesday in support of same-sex marriage is no exception. Contrary to what many in the news media would have us believe, the decision was carefully planned and timed. One thing it was not: It was not the forced result of public pressure coming from others in his administration, starting with Vice President Biden.”

I found the AP report to be refreshing objective.

Comparisons like this may be a bit tedious, but they are a way of showing students real examples of bias in real “news” stories.

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