John L. Moore on Media

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For those of you who still cling, with childlike and childish faith, to the myth of the wisdom and impartiality of what is called the mainstream media (primarily, in this country, such news sources as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and all the many wholly-owned subsidiaries of those entities), please take a moment to read the experience of a far more knowledgeable and worldly man than I.

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At 17 years of age, the summer before my senior year in high school, the local paper, the Miles City Star, called and offered me a position as a cub reporter. I helped my family finish cattle work, then went to work in a newsroom of professionals. The city editor, Gordie Spear, was a five-time Montana Sportswriter of the Year award-winner and a former naval aviator who’d been shot down twice while bombing enemy submarines. The publisher, Paul Husted, was the former managing editor of the Denver Post and had gone from private to captain in WWII battlefield commissions.

I worked for the Star for three years then turned down an opportunity to take a job at the Denver Post in order to travel, seek adventure, and eventually, get married. These were tumultuous days for the nation. The US had just withdrawn from Viet Nam and President Richard Nixon had been brought down by a Watergate scandal exposed by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. During this time my new bride, Debra, and I were on the road and I stopped in a Nevada town to inquire about newspaper positions.

“You left newspaper work at the wrong time,” the editor told me. “The J (Journalism) Schools have been flooded with radicals wanting to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.” I knew then that journalism would be changed for ever. The bosses in the newsrooms would not be seasoned WWII veterans, but the very radicals I met while hitchhiking 12,000 miles visiting campuses, communes, and inner-cities.

In 1979 I returned to the family ranch. Some five years later the Star agreed to give me a full-page every Friday for features about Western and agricultural subjects. When the paper’s managing editor left, I was called in to meet his replacement. The new guy was young, maybe early 30s, and had worked on a paper in Iowa. “As an editor I only have two agendas,” he quickly announced to me. “The first one is getting all cattle off public lands.”

My mind went blank. What was he doing in Miles City, Montana of all places? Why, as a newspaper editor, did he even think he should have agendas, let alone be brazen enough to announce them? To this day, I do not recall what his second agenda was nor was I able to work with him.

The space between the Nevada editor’s warning and this editor’s arrogance was one decade. In 10 years, journalism — even at a small town local level — had become a tool for activists. Granted, from Thomas Paine to William Randolph Hearst to today, publishers have supported causes, but the consequences of Watergate was a full-scale vocational invasion. I began clipping and filing examples of liberal bias in newsprint journalism. This ranged from a reporter photographing an anti-grazing advocate on an old burn and calling the scene an example of overgrazing, to the subtlety of an Associated Press reporter calling wolf reintroduction supporters “wildlife advocates,” rather than “wolf advocates,” thus painting opponents, like stockmen, as being anti-wildlife. Obvious, too, was reporters had become almost 100% urban in background — kids from farms and ranches might enter agricultural media fields, but there they are simply preaching to the choir. And, a study in the late 1980s revealed that only 8% of the journalists in America regularly attended any house of worship. The newsroom has become secularized and a Judeo-Christian worldview is being extinguished.

An activist, liberal, urban point-of-view now dominates every facet of mainstream media and small town staffs are not exceptions. This past winter Miles City area bull riding phenom, Jess Lockwood, won the PBR event in New York City, pocketed $117,000 in winnings, and rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange. The Billings Gazette, to their credit, took notice, but the Gazette has the rare reporter, Joe Kuzek, who routinely covers rodeo. (I would like to think this policy was sparked by my rodeo coverage while working for its rival, the Great Falls Tribune, but it’s probably a coincidence.) Two days after Lockwood’s win I emailed the Star’s newsroom and asked if any of them knew who the area teenager was who’d just won over 100-grand in New York City. No one did. To their credit, an awakened Star has significantly improved their rodeo coverage since.

My files on liberal bias in newsprint soon became so thick and burdensome I tossed them. Granted, I specialized in collecting urban bias or ignorance toward the rural community, but bias against traditional values are even more common.

Those who’d like to see more traditional storylines may not for three reasons. First, there is little emphasis on simply reporting facts. In the late 1970s print journalists got away from writing leads with the Four Ws — Who, What, Where, When — and became wannabe novelists. Now all stories seem written by Jack London as interpreted by Ernest Hemingway. Reporters insist on interjecting themselves into the story. They can’t seem to help it. Secondly, the question of objective truth. The first of the 12 elements of journalism is “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Since the 1960s, colleges and media have trained us to believe that there are no absolute truths. Truth is subjective. You have your viewpoint and I have mine. Hence, much reporting has come editorial. Thirdly, traditionalists are less active than radicals. When I talk to the average farmer or rancher about the lack of rural or traditional coverage they usually shrug and say, “Oh, I don’t read newspapers or watch much TV anyway.” They’ve simply given up while the Letters to the Editor of mainstream newspapers are dominated by liberal views. The Progressive Left tends to be vocal while the more conservative citizen buries himself in his work and family.

Liberals will never accept that there is a bias in media and that’s understandable. First, they have their agenda to protect, but more importantly, most are too young to remember when there wasn’t a liberal bias in media.

Bias is not indicated simply by how news is covered, but by the news — even “soft” news — that is ignored. Everyone has a story. And many of those stories are darn fascinating. Human interest features are “soft” news, This is where the more subjective, creative journalist should be displaying his wares. But reporters today are desk bound, still limited to “the AP wire” and other streams. Paul Husted engrained in me 45 years ago that the local human interest story was the backbone of a newspaper just as small businesses are the backbone of the nation’s economy.

But, it seems our national spine has weakened, and its posture is bent. And it is bent toward the liberal left.

 

(Miles City area rancher, John L. Moore is one of the most widely published writers in the West. He has authored 10 books including 6 novels; his short fiction and poetry has appeared in literary journals; and his articles have appeared in scores of newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times Magazine to The Western Horseman to Ministries Today.)

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