Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Media's Town Hall Bias: How cameras bend reality

The news media has long had a problem with mis-portraying reality, but the bias that creeps into coverage usually doesn't come from journalists' own opinions. The real problem is the media's need to be sensational.

Often, for example, local TV news has hyped crime stories to the point that viewers thought they were living through a crime wave. In reality, the number of crimes either hadn't changed or had decreased.

These days it can look like Obama's attempt to reform the health care system has been shot down by widespread citizen revolt. Everytime you turn on the TV, there's yet another town hall meeting where yet another member of Congress is being screamed at by his or her constituents.

Today E.J. Dionne stated the obvious:
(W)hat if our media-created impression of the meetings is wrong? What if the highly publicized screamers represented only a fraction of public opinion? What if most of the town halls were populated by citizens who respectfully but firmly expressed a mixture of support, concern and doubt?

There is an overwhelming case that the electronic media went out of their way to cover the noise and ignored the calmer (and from television's point of view "boring") encounters between elected representatives and their constituents.

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