By Gerard Braud
There is much debate about whether the media are biased; especially whether there is a liberal bias. If you truly want to explore that subject, I suggest you read the book Bias by Bernard Goldberg.
It has been my experience over the years that much of what is perceived as bias is really the result of the following:
• Editors send reporters out of the door armed with only partial facts or rumors
• The reporters and editors have misconceptions or misperceptions about you or your issues
• A competitor or opponent of yours has approached the media and only told them half of the story
• Ignorance by the reporter
All four of the above result in the reporter calling you, asking for an interview, and asking you negative questions, putting you in a defensive posture.
Let’s break it down.
Partial facts are usually the result of rumors and innuendos. We all share rumors every day. “Hey, you know what I heard today…?” In the newsroom, a reporter or editor turns that rumor into a research project and must confirm or refute it. “Hey Gerard, I heard a rumor today that… Why don’t you go check it out?”
That rumor would become my assignment for the day. If there is a rumor that the mayor is on cocaine, then I try to prove that the mayor is using cocaine. If he is, it is a story. If he isn’t, then there is no story. If the rumor is that the married congressman has a girlfriend, then I try to prove the congressman has a girlfriend. If it is true, I have a story. If I can’t prove it, then there is no story.
You may not like it, but it is the nature of the business.
The next issue is very similar; it’s the impact of a misconception or misperceptions. Often this is purely subjective. Perhaps you are proposing a new development, but something just seems shady. Then the news report may likely reflect a tone of skepticism. The reporter may even seek out a 3rd party who is willing to cast further doubt on your project or credibility.
On the issue of opponents — I’ve watched many opponents make compelling cases and provide an enormous amount of supporting material and a hefty helping of innuendo. In the U.S. they’re often called “opposition groups” while around the world they are called “NGOs,” which stands for non-government organizations.
Usually the members of these groups are very passionate about a specific issue and those issues may be considered liberal issues. If a member of one of these groups makes a compelling case to a reporter, they could trigger a news report about you or your company. The reporter may come armed with reams of documentation supplied by the opponent, placing you in a defensive position. The resulting story could portray you in a very negative light.
And the final issue is ignorance by the reporter. Sometimes reporters just get the wrong idea about something and pursue it as a negative story. For example, most reporters look at steam belching from an industrial facility and think they are seeing pollution. Hence, they may do a story about industry polluting and fill the report with images of the stack belching what looks like smoke.
When you are faced with a situation like this, you need to apply all the tricks from lesson one, which includes explaining everything to them in simple terms the way you would explain it to a 6th grade class at career day.
Chances are the media are not “out to get you.” But somebody else may be out to get you and they are letting the media do their dirty work.
In our next lesson we’ll talk about how you can predict what questions are reporter will ask you in an interview.