Editorial: The Spirit of St. Louis

By Ed Barker
(1944-2017)
Legacy of a Mentor ~ August 29, 2016

That media is “biased” is largely a biased opinion.

Steve Benson, Arizona Republic cartoonist, once said that people didn’t like his cartoons because their bias didn’t match his bias.

It’s true. But Benson’s cartoons are printed in the “opinion” section of the newspaper—not in the “news” section. And it’s been my experience over the past 40 years or so that many people who complain about newspaper bias don’t know the difference between the news section and the opinion section. Frankly, some don’t know the difference between the stock market report and the crossword puzzle.

Over the years, readers have literally screamed at me about the content of someone’s letter to the editor, all the while referring to the letter as a “story” or “article.” Letters are not “stories” or “articles.” Letters and editorials are opinions. Everyone has one.

Which means there’s a small kernel of truth in accusations of media bias, because there are media members who dedicate their lives to informing the public of the “facts” about what’s happening in the world. Reporters are often liberal and progressive themselves. But this doesn’t necessarily mean their work is biased. Again, such delicate distinctions can be confusing to those not riding a wave of logic and reason.

So, there’s a distinct possibility that the facts being reported simply don’t register with the world view of self-described “conservatives.” Does this mean the reporting is biased, or is it the reader who’s biased?

Many believe what’s really happening is distrust. Have you ever noticed that those who believe the media to be biased almost unanimously refer to themselves as “conservative?” And, of course, the first rule of conservative ideology is distrust of government and institutions.

The innate distrust feeds off the mentality that “regular people” possess a wisdom and virtue that is superior to that of the educated class, which, coincidently, is the very group that makes up a large part of the government and institutions—including the media.

Couple that with the popularity of blaming the referee rather than admitting you’re wrong and you’ve hit the daily double. You see, blaming the media allows for the staying-power of bad people and has the added benefit of aiding in the perpetuation of distrust of the media. It’s mental gymnastics, but it works.

Educational differences are also important. People in journalism are almost certain to have a college degree with a generous sprinkling of liberals arts, which means they often have a broader and more liberal education than someone with a business degree (for example).

There is also much evidence that the most watched news shows have a conservative bias, so, many viewers get their daily news with a ready-made conservative slant.

In the United States, about half of voters are liberal and half are conservative. Eventually, one network (Fox) decided to stand apart from the competition by catering to conservatives. Because the liberal audience is divided up between competitors like CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc., that leaves Fox with the right wing mostly to themselves.

Additionally, even before the advent of Fox News, the idea of a conspiracy by the “liberal media” had been planted in our minds by the Joe McCarthy generation. Fox News promotes the idea, which is a paradox, but it helps them to be successful.

All of this brings us to the “Spirit of St. Louis,” which has nothing to do with Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. It has to do with my conservative friend who once told me he thought my political views were “too liberal.” I told my friend about the fellow who was raised in Boston and always thought of St. Louis as ‘way out West.”

“But, according to the map,” I told my friend, “St. Louis is right in the middle of the country.”

It’s the folks who cling to the far right who have lost touch with world reality.

You may disagree with the opinions you read in this column and on this opinion page, and, like everyone else, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. However, it’s important to remember St. Louis and the reality of who’s standing in the middle of America.

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