Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Passionately Neutral

Peter Johnson of USA TODAY wrote a wonderful piece about how news anchors tend to adopt a handful of pet issues and focus on those during their broadcasts. Bob Woodruff on army medical services. Lou Dobbs on immigration. Chris Hansen on child predators. Douglas Kennedy's on the dangers of attention-deficit-disorder drugs prescribed to children. The list goes on and on.

From an economics point of view, this is yet another example of the nature of competition. Each anchor is vying for the attention of an audience so it should not be surprising we see specialization in the media market place. And even though I disagree with what some of these advocates have to say (notably Lou Dobbs), one must appreciate this combination of free speech and free markets.

The only problem is the lie they tell us every day. Each anchor (with surely some exceptions) claims to be a neutral voice. In one moment they are passionately discussing their chosen issue. In the next moment they remind us they speak only the Truth; bias is not in their vocabulary. According to Kennedy, this is perfectly consistent: "You can be objective and still take on an issue that is important to society and to you personally." Let me take this moment and remind the media that they are not gods. Things that are personally important to anyone are things they can't be trusted to be neutral about.

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