Fairly Balance ... Yourself

The San Francisco Bay Guardian has come out again with its yearly list of ten stories "censored" by the mainstream media – or, to the bloggers out there, the 'traditional media.'

While it goes without saying (so instead of saying it, I'll write it), the stories are left-of-center oriented: secret trade agreements, slave labor in Iraq and something about the neoliberal invasion in India. (Though, to its credit, the Guardian decided to take down one of its brethren and criticize The Nation in a companion piece.)

It's mostly an ideological exercise, this list. But since one man's "censorship" or "bias" is another man's "editorial discretion," I always find these lists interesting. It's one thing for an ideologue to cry bias over this story or another, but it's far more productive to offer a solution or an alternative. 'Biased' isn't synonymous with 'wrong,' after all. And these sorts of pieces – whether from the right or the left – can serve a purpose, as long as we read them knowing the author's agenda.

I felt the same thing with a piece earlier this week from conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, who argued the point that the media got the Hurricane Katrina story so, so wrong due to its liberal leanings:

The Washington Post proclaimed in a banner headline that New Orleans was "A City of Despair and Lawlessness" and insisted in an editorial that "looters and carjackers, some of them armed, have run rampant." … the distortions, exaggerations and flat-out fictions being offered by New Orleans officials were accelerated and amplified by the media echo chamber.

It was as though journalistic skepticism of government officials was reserved for the White House, and everyone else got a free pass.

The deluge in New Orleans elicited a deluge of wish fulfillment in the media, as though the hurricane was a biblical sign that something was very wrong in George W. Bush's America.

While I disagree with some of what Goldberg puts out there in this piece – alarmist media in the wake of a hurricane, maybe .. but liberal bias? – I think it's a sound reminder that stories should be checked and double-checked even when Mother Nature gets in the way.

But it's important to acknowledge that the Guardian's and Goldberg's views speak to sizable constituencies. (As a pre-emptive response: Yes, the former's expose is more robust.) And that one of the major obstacles to a truly informed debate in America today is that, all too often, we treat newsmedia like comfort food. We seek out information, opinions or angles that don't challenge us too much. Every once in awhile, it's healthy for us to give ourselves a media workout.

If you're a Rush listener, try Ed Schultz. If you like Keith Olbermann's take, change channels afterwards and see what Sean Hannity has to say. Likewise, if you see something coming down the pipe that looks like the "Censored" list or Goldberg's liberal media smoking gun -- and you initially resist it -- don't dismiss it offhand.

Until we push ourselves out of our media comfort zone, we risk continuing to argue past each other -- us of the by-now-trite 'red' and 'blue' Americas --wearing blinders and not connecting at all. So even if you like your blinders and feel intellectually justified in wearing them, don't be afraid to swivel your head once in awhile to get a fuller view.