Bias in the media and academia

June 25, 2012

Around 6:30 every morning I read the Wisconsin State Journal. I save the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for lunch. I still read a few books and magazines but lately I am close to Will Rogers, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”

One problem is that what I read in the papers is heavily skewed toward the bad and neglectful of the good. It’s understandable. You get a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting that exposes the skullduggery behind oil spills, prison scandals or Scott Walker protests. You don’t get one for explaining how clean the beaches are, how healthy and rich people are, or how great the local bank, factory or car dealer is doing. One of the best video programs I ever made was called “The Good News from Earth.” It was also one of the least popular. We lost a ton of money.

When journalists or photographers address the recession they don’t highlight handsome youths on their college semester in Italy, or African-American scholars studying law on plush campuses of Harvard, UCLA or UW. They find a homeless mother short of food stamps or a cancer victim up to his ears in credit card debt.

I’m not criticizing. It’s just the way it is. But it is a bias and it can be harmful. It becomes particularly so when it combines forces, as it often does, with left-liberal and sustainable green bias in media and academia.

You would be hard put to find a Republican or a Libertarian on the social sciences or humanities faculty of any major university or on the staff of any major media company. It would be even harder to find a professor, a scientist or a mainline journalist who doesn’t believe in green dogma. If you questioned this bias, there would be shock at your naiveté. Aren’t all educated people environmentalists? Don’t all right-thinking intelligent people vote democratic (or socialist)?

Why is that? Why is the bias for left-liberal and green ideology so dominant at universities and in major media outlets? (The single exception is the one left-liberals love to hate, Fox News. In my heretical opinion Fox—more often than the competition at least—lives up to its slogan, “fair, balanced and unafraid.”)

I think much of the reason for this left-liberal and green bias is religion. Even though atheism and agnosticism are popular among professors and journalists and fundamentalist religious beliefs are rare, many memes from our Judeo-Christian background are still alive and well.

Fortunately.

As I have emphasized before, there are three pillars that support our exceptional democracy—Capitalism, Science and Judeo-Christianity. At our best these three work in synergy to make us the prosperous humane society we are. Leave out the memes we inherited from our Judeo-Christian ancestors, capitalism and science would still be productive. But they would also be cold, cruel and environmentally destructive. Social welfare would not exist. Nor would most of the arts. Civil rights and Title IX legislation would not have passed. Our air, water and soil would be more polluted. Compassion and common decency would be in short supply. Heck, we might even still have slavery! Some Muslim countries still do.

If you leave out capitalism and science you would not be able to pay the bills. That takes money. And money comes primarily from the profits of win-win capitalist transactions and the success of capitalism depends heavily on the innovations of science.

I still remember when I first came out of college and my mother asked me what work I was doing. I was offended. I thought I was working very hard at the time—studying late at night, reading up a storm, writing poems and articles. My work didn’t get published or make me a cent but to me that was irrelevant. It took me years to realize productive work meant doing something that someone else wanted enough to pay you for it—the kind of work that makes a profit for both worker and payer and results in the taxes so important to the government.

Artists, academics, journalists, students, and helping professionals for the most part don’t usually make that kind of profit for their services. Scientists sometimes do, but not always, especially when it comes to basic research.

In the old days people usually paid directly for a service. Doctors, as late as my youth, were paid directly in cash or kind by their patients. Hospitals too. Today insurance companies or the government pay the bills.

Some scientists today work for profit-making industries but many more are paid by government grants. Environmentalists can work for private profit-making companies but the more interesting and the more lucrative opportunities are in government, academia or other non-profit sectors.

A small number of celebrity musicians, artists, actors, sport stars, journalists and writers make fabulous profits working at their craft—their public pays them for their services. Like other profit-makers they pay large taxes on their large incomes. These celebrity performers are the exception though. The vast majority of musicians, artists, writers, journalists, athletes, etc. would starve if they had to depend solely on the public to pay the piper. More often than not the government steps in and supplements their day jobs with grants, fellowships, food stamps and welfare benefits.

Teachers, firefighters, police officers and government bureaucrats of all kinds depend on local and national taxes for their salaries, benefits and pensions.

Albert Einstein pointed out still another factor that makes for democratic or socialist bias, “One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires.”

Among other things, this means that the more educated the population becomes, the more attractive a life devoted to art or science—or to helping others—becomes. And the more unattractive a life devoted to making money at what many consider dreary and crude profit-making businesses becomes. (Remember the classic line when the bourgeois businessman suggested that Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate, go into “plastics.”)

All these things considered it is no mystery why there is a strong bias in favor of left-liberal and sustainable green ideology in media and academic circles. That’s where the money is.

There is an interesting twist here. The green sustainable mantra is strongly anti-growth. Resources are limited, we are overpopulated already and pollution is getting out of hand, so we should recycle and conserve rather than grow. This theology is popular with intellectual leaders but doesn’t win elections.

Left-liberals, like their hero Franklin Roosevelt, believe the problem is not growing the economy but finding a fair way to distribute the already more than sufficient wealth. So they promote the Robin-Hood fantasy that the 99% will be better off if we tax the 1% more heavily.

Both green and left-liberal end up with an anti-growth bias, but both have to disguise it to win elections.

To summarize:

We need capitalism and science as our primary engines to grow and to create wealth. Without growth, without wealth, none of the good things we all want can happen. We need someone to pay the bills. Sounds simple and it is.

We also need a strong government, “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

To do all of these good things, especially the general welfare part, we need artists, environmentalists, philosophers, doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, musicians, actors, intellectuals, clergy, pundits, professors and all of the other helping professions. To get them we need to keep the best of the Judeo-Christian memes alive and well.

Finally, in my not-so-humble opinion, to make the synergy stronger we need more diversity of bias in the media and the academy.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. Out of 764,448 self-published titles (in 2009, probably over a million in 2011), 52 got full reviews last month in Publisher’s Weekly Select. The 52 included, Twilight or Dawn: A Traveller’s Guide to Liberal Free-Market Democracy by Bill Stonebarger. Give it a try.

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