Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bias in Mainstream Media Is a Natural Consequence of a Democratic Constitution

In the previous post, Tabletop Critters, I showed a use of our model of life.  That post showed how a dense population of living things may owe its life to a pattern of resources in the environment.

This post will give another example.  It will attempt to convince you that the resources available in a modern, democratic nation give rise to bias in mainstream media.  My text copied below appeared previously in my classmate's Conscience Warrior blog.

Many people complain that mainstream media have a pro-government bias.  But, if there is such a bias, why would it exist?  I offer a theory.

First, let us notice that workers in mainstream media (henceforth MSM) and workers in government can both gain when they find ways to cooperate.  A MSM reporter can help a politician by writing a friendly story.  A politician can help a reporter by giving newsworthy information.  Both can gain if they fall into a pattern of mutually supportive exchange.

But, contrary to that, the relation between MSM and government does not always look like a scene of peaceful exchange.  MSM publish hostile reports as well as supportive reports.  The political scene is divided into factions, we know.  Each faction has players from both MSM and government.  These factions war with each other.

Nonetheless, unless I am mistaken, there seems to be a sense in which the factions fight among themselves over one single thing: What will government do?  The factions contend over how powers of government – powers which are implicitly taken for granted – will be employed.  By engaging in this fight, the factions seem to imply they believe government should have powers such as those over which the factions fight.  We observe something like a family fight in which family members battle each other while remaining loyal nonetheless to the overall family.

We may wonder: What common interest binds these political factions together?  Consider the constitution of a democracy.  In the US the Constitution separates the media from the formal structures of government; we quite correctly believe that no formal relationship exists in the US between government and media. But might informal ties grow? The process of democratic government requires the media.  It could not work without the media.  This type of government has voters who elect representatives who go to capital cities and pass government laws.  Voters naturally want to be kept abreast of what the representatives are doing, during the present session, and what those representatives might do in future sessions.  The representatives need sources of news about what is happening in their districts.

So democratic government creates a large demand for news and views.  The demand in turn creates an environment with profit opportunities.  In this environment well-managed media companies may support staffs of editors, writers, and reporters.  So even though the democratic constitution does not provide explicit ways to pay media workers, still it creates an environment in which some media workers will be able to make a living.

Now, after presenting most of my argument, let me clarify what I mean by “mainstream media” or “MSM”.  Hopefully it is already becoming clear.  By “MSM” I mean those media organizations in which a substantial part of the work entails reporting on the process of democratic government. MSM keep us abreast of what government is doing in the present, and MSM also look to the future by educating the electorate on problems for which it is presumed government might play a future role.  MSM are employed by this attention-focusing question: How will we govern ourselves?

I have tried to argue that MSM workers are employed by the process of democratic government, although not in a relationship of direct government employment.  I suppose there is a tendency for employees to feel loyal to the structure which makes their jobs possible.  This is how I would explain a pro-government bias in MSM reporting.

Writers from MSM will bicker among themselves on what they believe government should do, whether A or B.  But implicitly the MSM writers from all factions seem to agree: We (meaning the government) must do something.  MSM seem to avoid the proposal that democratic government should be strictly limited, and should not have power to do either A or B.  There may be no paying role for MSM on an issue outside the power of government.  Thus we should not be surprised to perceive pro-government bias in MSM.

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