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Recently, I was interviewed by a journalist, Robert Kraychik, who was researching for a story on media discrimination against Americans who have Russian sounding names or whose families came from Eastern Europe. Kraychik ended up writing a story centered around a recent series of hit pieces spearheaded by a reporter who targeted me. You can read Kraychick’s story on the Gateway Pundit web platform.
Kraychik uses me as an illustration of the malicious and discriminatory motives that undergird “news” stories that attack Russian-Americans and immigrants from the former USSR most of whom are now Jewish- Americans who fled the USSR to escape rampant discrimination and persecution. It is ironic and truly disgraceful that now many patriotic Americans are labeled as nefarious Russians agents – cohorts of Paul Manafort if you will – only because they get involved in politics or civic activities in America, the land of immigrants. Obviously, this media crisis of integrity is distinct from stories that expose or allege legitimate Russian influence where facts and newsworthiness drive the story – rather than racism, ignorance, and deep bias towards conservatives.
Discrimination against certain ethnic group or people’s geographic origin feeds into anger and fear and is a phenomenon that can and historically does feed on itself. Today, dishonest journalists and cyber tormentors are focusing on anything that seems Russian. Tomorrow, these same people will target Japanese Americans, Latinos, Americans of German origin, and other groups that have settled in our country and are responsible and patriotic.
When I read the stories published about me by McClatchy and their California based paper, I was flabbergasted. These are the stories that led Kraychik to reach out to me. I could have expected this type of content from some off-shore pseudo-blogger or an anonymous post on rippoffreport.com or someone who got paid to publish a made-up rant, but not from an American media company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Personal attacks, sloppy innuendo intended to mislead the reader, and false allegations of fact are no longer relegated to deranged twitter freaks. Now, mainstream media seems to engage in this type of journalism with a sense of impunity. I am convinced that ethnic attacks by the media are part of a bigger problem of growing media bias.
The bigger question does media bias seems to be escalating? There are multiple possible reasons. First, the line between comments, blogs, traditional opinion editorials and news stories has become blurred. Citizen reporters and those that write for a living but choose to ignore best practices and let their prejudices dominate their better judgment are on the prowl. Technology is the culprit of this phenomenon. Suing media companies is expensive and can be challenging if the plaintiff is a public figure or sues in a state with laws that heavily favor media companies and reporters. For this reason, and because virtually anyone can become a “journalist” and publish on her own site or sites like www.medium.com, many people and organizations who fall victim to unsubstantiated accusations and personal attacks, choose to ignore them and “move on”.
According to Babatunde Oshinowo Jr (EDGE, Autumn, 2004) media bias and manipulation is not entirely new. “One of the most employed examples of mass media use for specific agendas is the propaganda from World War II,” writes Oshinowo. Mass media at that time aimed to “demonize” the enemy so that Americans would be even more unwavering in their support of the war effort. Oshinowo points out that although the Japanese empire was wrong in its attempted conquest of the Pacific, “the depictions of the people of Japan in American mass media were unjust, especially considering the internment camp situation in the western United States”.
Today, we are seeing this same type of manipulation, but it is more insidious as it is better concealed. Oshinowo further observes that, “whenever an event or theme is reported, the facts are accompanied by statements that instruct the person as to how they should “feel” about it or what stance is most plausible concerning an issue. Most of objective news is relegated to academic news sources that do not fall into the mainstream media.
In their article, Americans See More News Bias: Most Cannot Name a Neutral Source Jeffrey M. Jones and Zacc Ritter explain the polarizing nature of how Americans perceive mainstream media.
https://news.gallup.com/poll/225755/americans-news-bias-name-neutral-source.aspx Perceptions of media bias are strongly related to one’s political leanings.
“Fifty-three percent of Democrats, but only 27% of independents and 13% of Republicans, believe the media are careful to separate fact from opinion.
Twenty-six percent of Democrats versus 67% of Republicans perceive a great deal of political bias in news coverage. Independents fall more squarely between Republicans and Democrats on this measure, with 46% saying news coverage has a great deal of political bias.
Americans’ perceptions of bias in news reporting have grown and are now a fairly common view, likely explaining the decline in trust in the media in recent decades. Less than half of Americans can identify a single news source they believe reports news objectively. These trends are troubling for the maintenance of a sustainable, healthy democracy that relies in part on a well-informed citizenry.
Finally, there is a structural problem with mass media that leads to escalation of media bias. It has always existed with the advent of technology, it has become an even bigger issue. Here is what I mean. Harvard Business Professor, Bharat N. Anand wrote an analysis of structural media bias in his January 5, 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review, The U.S. Media’s Problems Are Much Bigger than Fake News and Filter Bubbles https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-u-s-medias-problems-are-much-bigger-than-fake-news-and-filter-bubbles He makes several poignant points in his article explaining structural empowerment of growing media bias. “The media did exactly what it was designed to do, given the incentives that govern it. It’s not that the media sets out to be sensationalist; its business model leads it in that direction,” he writes.
Media companies are experiencing an extreme form of competition that comes with digital technologies: Everyone is a media company today. Therefore, to compete, mainstream media companies are forced to adopt the tradecraft of bloggers, internet pundits, and various extremist citizen “sleuths”. It is competition with unconventional media sources that drives mainstream media to lower its standards and mimic its competition rather than become distinct from it and embrace best practices and serious and accountable reporting.
Firms that have anchored their strategies to content have ceded digital leadership to those that have focused on connections, Anand explains. Does media reporting change what we believe, or do our preferences shape what media we choose to watch in the first place?
Anand explains that most research indicates that the latter is central: Our preexisting preferences largely determine what media we watch. Charges of media bias can actually increase ratings. The more your favorite channel is alleged to be biased by people you disagree with, the more you’ll watch it. Trump wasn’t the first to see this phenomenon: In Fox News’s early days, senior executives often acknowledged that charges of bias appeared to help them. And it isn’t specific to right-leaning voters. After the election, when Trump tweeted complaints about the New York Times and Vanity Fair, both outlets saw a rise in subscriptions. Charges of bias harden beliefs and reinforce polarization.
Because of structural or business considerations driven by technology enabled citizen journalism movement, anachronistic laws that shield dishonest and irresponsible journalists and editors, and angry news consumers that while criticizing biased media sources, seek them out, we are facing a journalism integrity crisis. There is much at stake here. The victims are not just many innocent Americans whose lives are disrupted or ruined by false attacks on their value system and at times on them directly. The real victims here are American institutions, our democracy, our way of life.