The Media Spin: The Gatekeepers

     As we watch the coverage of the hurricane story, it should be a reminder of the power a mere few people can exercise each day to influence the opinions of millions of viewers worldwide.

     Working behind the scenes, these are the TV news and entertainment producers, documentary filmmakers and some of the other self-appointed literati. Their creations work like power steering: multiplying the opinions of each one into a much greater force and imprinting these notions about behavior and politically correct thinking on huge audiences.

     Hurricane Katrina is one of the major stories of the past 100 years. We deserve to be told the entire story in order to understand what can be done to mitigate such disaster in the future. But, will that happen? Is balance in this politically loaded story even possible?

     A producer may decide a sound bite of a grieving person makes for good TV. That particular video, which may distort large parts of the actual events, goes into the news channels video storage system, making the bite available for endless repeats while other news clips with different reactions, people and events may be ignored. This takes place in line with the producers philosophical bent. If a political cartoonist could draw it, he might show a news channel tottering in top-heavy slanted stories, then finally falling over to the left and crashing down in a great smoking heap.

     Is all this a little scary or what? That much of the TV news comes to us in this way, filtered through some hands that may be incapable of objective news decisions, should be unsettling. Some TV anchors and reporters believe there are two general classes of Americans: conservatives and normal people. On-camera personalities often cant stifle their urge to perform, sometimes without being aware, apparently, of even body language that can betray bias.

     They are more visible than their producers, the grey eminences who steer public opinion by deciding which stories and video spill into our homes in a torrent, leaving either true or distorted impressions of events in the hurricane-devastated areas.

     For example, the Red Cross gets and deserves a lot of credit and publicity for its work. The Salvation Army also deserves as much air time and support as other agencies. Its operation is huge and involves many volunteers and heavy equipment.

     Thus far, the Red Cross gets the lions share of publicity on many of the news reports. Why would that be? Arguably, part of the Salvation Armys name puts off some producers. I know this because I have met them along the way.

     I dont want to see slanted news. I yearn for the days when print and wire service reporters were the only ones to take up the cudgel of reporting news on the early novelty of TV. Those days seemed to be fairly free of complaint about bias. It was considered dclass to do anything other than tell the entire story in a measured and credible way and leave the opinions to the viewers of the new medium.

     Things have changed with the decades. The power of the media, with its fierce competition for audience numbers, is immense and we now have not only anchor and reporter drama but also hollering and editorializing gabfests poorly disguised as news. Watch what happens in the weeks to come in those round table discussions.

     Id like to know why New Orleans and Louisiana havent moved to get these problems solved before now. The causes and solutions have been known for decades. National Geographic published an article titled Gone with the Water last October. Its a chilling narration of the present situation. But, it can be a complicated story and sound-bite thinking on the part of news producers is antithetical to that sort of an in-depth treatment. Too bad for viewers.

     If we allow a relative few unknown opinion leaders, in the persons of the TV news producers, to make up our minds for us as they decide what we consume in the news, it is our own fault. Whats the answer? Sample other news outlets. Theyre there by the dozen. Watching news should go hand in hand with remembering whos really in charge at the other end of that report. Most of them, by their own admission over time, are liberal.

     And so the media spin.

David Goodnow is a veteran reporter and former CNN anchor. He serves as an adviser to the Business & Media Institute.