All of us who have media relations and public information as part of our lives have to be standing back in amazement at what is going on relating to Sarah Palin and her battle with the media. The story has quite dramatically shifted, it seems to me, from “is Sarah qualified, and therefore is John McCain’s judgment sound” to “is the media biased, sexist and unfair.”
I just watched this morning the interview of the managing editor of US Weekly by Megan someone, a Fox News anchor. Now, whether you consider the Fox News attack “fair and balanced” or the US Weekly article on Palin (Titled: Babies, Lies and Scandal”) “fair and balanced” probably depends on your political orientation. In fact, that is one of the more fascinating aspects of the varying coverage of the political events by the news channels. An MSNBC poll about whether or not Palin helped the ticket (by far most think she did not) did not say nearly as much as Palin as it did about the orientation of those who watch Olberman and company. Contrast the polls showing on Fox which, of course, show a completely different slant of the viewers.
A few comments:
– As part of the fragmentation and segmentation of media, the old idea of “objectivity” is quickly disappearing. This should not discourage us because “mass media” in the US, dating back to Colonial days, were highly partisan. Publications were created to support political parties and positions. They only really adopted the idea of “objective, non-partisan coverage” with the growth of Associated Press in the Civil War era as a way of pooling reporters. AP reporters were supposed to simply gather the facts from the front, then the individual editorial slant would be applied by the editors. However, the publishers found that readers like the “just the facts” reporting direct from AP and heavily biased reporting lost favor. We are simply going back to those days, but in this era it is a matter of segmenting the marketing, trying to dominate segments in order to survive and profit as media businesses.
– The spectacle of one media outlet attacking another for “bias” is a little humorous and fascinating. Sort of like watching your sisters mud wrestle. Something disgusting about it, but you can’t take your eyes off it either. It’s really funny when they refer to the others as “the mainstream media” as if they are just not part of that at all. It kind of makes your head spin.
– When the public stands outside of this media scrutiny of media, I think we all benefit. One of the greatest challenges we as communicators face is the reality that while everyone says “you can’t believe what you read in the newspapers,” everyone still does. Including professional communicators (witness PRSA’s hyper reaction to the completely out of line reporting on the FEMA “fake” news conference). The more the public gains some skepticism and informed judgment about the motives, agendas and biases of those charged with providing us our news and therefore our perceptions on which we make vital judgments, the better off we all are.
– the role of blogs. I would like to know how many times in the last few days of coverage that the “left wing blogs” were mentioned. Not just on Fox either–although MSNBC and CNN are more likely to just reference “the blogs.” The blog attacks on Palin are to a large degree driving the news cycle. That’s where the mainstream outlets get their fodder, and that’s also where they make judgments about what is relevant and will drive audiences. There is a huge lesson here for those in crisis management. If you still think you should not pay attention to blogs when you are the focus of the news, you have your head in the sand or someplace else. Blogs are the drivers–increasingly every day. Not just because of their own audiences, but because of the tremendous influence over the focal points of mainstream media coverage.