In the past two months, there were two massive protests. People marched in the conservative Tea Party parade and voiced their opposition to proposed government spending for areas like health care and supposed “socialized medicine.” A throng of gay rights activists also marched in the capital in support of reforms allowing gay marriage. The former was disseminated in the popular media while the latter was reported almost as a footnote.
Despite popular opinion, the mainstream media has long been bereft of opinions considered too far to the left. The far right, however, has had a steady voice in easily accessible news for some time, culminating in the current popularity of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh because of their rallying cries against President Barack Obama.
On the other side, MSNBC has recently come on the scene as a more liberal TV news network, but it doesn’t openly embrace leftist labels like “socialism.”
According to recent poll data from Rasmussen Reports, 20 percent of Americans now prefer socialism to capitalism, 27 percent were undecided and 53 percent prefer capitalism.
The data is even more striking for people under 30: 33 percent preferred socialism and 37 percent preferred capitalism.
That one in three young people in this country don’t have their views represented in major media is striking, and that is not considering the 30 percent who are undecided.
In the early 2000s, journalists started being labeled as “liberal.” Joe Conason, a national correspondent for the New York Observer, recently stated, “The tendency of the mainstream media [is] to fear the right. They don’t fear the left… in the same way that they are afraid of being called ‘liberal’ by the far right.”
This trend has been around for years and has the slanting effect of keeping news reporting in general away from stories that may have a leftist viewpoint.
For instance, the reporting over the last year on the financial crisis has focused overwhelmingly on banks and businesses and only marginally on issues that directly affect many more Americans, like housing foreclosures and unemployment. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently looked comprehensively at around 10,000 reports on the crisis between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31 in 2009.
The study found that 40 percent of the coverage looked at the banking and auto industries, whereas only 5 percent of the stories “tried to explicitly examine the broader impact of the economic downturn on the lives of ordinary Americans.”
The media focus on business is unfortunate but not surprising. Practically every major media outlet in the United States is owned by a large multinational corporation. These corporations naturally have their own interests that select, color and occasionally distort media coverage.
Take the aforementioned parades. Big business and their media have little financial interest in reporting on gay rights; it’s not profitable. Reporting on Tea Party parades against government programs like the proposed public health insurance option, on the other hand, draws negative attention to an issue that threatens large insurance companies.
Despite the drab state of American mainstream news, there are praiseworthy news sources out there if one cares to look. The Real News is a web-based, video journalism organization that depends exclusively on viewer donations. The Real News thus circumvents potential conflicts of interest by not accepting funding from advertisers, governments or corporations and offers genuinely leftist journalism.
Al Jazeera is an independently-owned organization and, although it still garners 40 percent of their revenue from advertising, one wouldn’t tell it from visiting their English-language website. Al Jazeera offers a liberal-leaning and distinctly foreign perspective on the world and issues in the United States that is less caught up in domestic corporate and partisan concerns.
Most importantly, though, to those who care about current affairs and wish to hear out informed, leftist perspectives, do some research and find a reliable news source that suits you. In today’s complex political climate, it is unfortunate that a third of this country’s young population has to make considerable effort to find agreeable views in the media, but it is necessary to maintain the balance of opinion that is urgently needed.
If the trend of socialist views among young people continues, who knows, maybe one day CNN or the New York Times will have an in-house socialist commentator.
Max Hoiland is a senior majoring in cinema-television critical studies.