Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News

 by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

(Common Courage Press, $11.95)

“Isn’t . . .a subtle abuse of the truth, and of language, the real beginning… of the misery of the world we live in?” — Vaclav Havel

It’s not difficult to lay blame for society’s ills at the feet of the media: politicians and pundits do it all the time. But addressing the way that distortions and omissions of the truth can affect our collective psyche is a much more complicated project.

With Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News, media critics Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, have assembled an amusing and alarming chronicle of the myriad ways the value of the truth is eroded by popular media. A collection of the authors’ syndicated weekly media columns, THROUGH THE MEDIA LOOKING GLASS takes on broad targets — media concentration, talk radio, violence on television, environmental coverage — and takes a whack at the pillars of commonly held beliefs behind each one.

For instance, why is it that blacks with extremist views are the media’s most infamous bigots, while blatantly racist white media personalities not only escape media scrutiny, but are rewarded with fatter contracts? Or ever wonder why the TV news magazine 20/20 has failed to cover nuclear issues? It might have something to do with the fact that the show’s executive producer is married to a prominent publicist for the nuclear and chemical industries. TV newsrooms live by the credo of “if it bleeds, it leads,” yet as Cohen and Solomon note: “Crime is bad in our country…but the Justice Department’s crime victimization statistics show there is no more violent crime per capita today that 20 years ago…What has soared is crime coverage.”


Even the most subtle biases do not escape scrutiny, including what media pundits mean when they use the term “we.” As the authors point out, personalities like Cokie Roberts, Pat Buchanan, Diane Sawyer, David Brinkley, and Rush Limbaugh are all happily ensconced in the top one percent of the income bracket — not exactly banner spokespeople for the “average” American taxpayer.

THROUGH THE MEDIA LOOKING GLASS is important reading for media consumers, critical thinkers, and truth seekers alike. “Language, dialogue and debate are essential tools for a democratic process,” write Cohen and Solomon. “But when words are wielded as blunt instruments, they bludgeon our minds rather than enhancing them.”

— Review by Christine Triano

Excerpt

You can’t see the news these days without encountering lengthy reports on the hateful pronouncements coming from a few black extremists.

The anti-white, anti-Jewish demagoguery of Nation of Islam leaders was recently examined, for example, in a 12-page Time magazine cover spread, and in two ABC Nightline episodes — one titled “Confronting Black Racism.” A central question running through such reports is whether black politicians and civic leaders have sufficiently denounced the mean-spirited rhetoric. Given all the news coverage, you might think black prejudice against Jews and whites has become the dominant bigotry in our country.

Think again. Old-fashioned white racism is alive and kicking. But somehow, it doesn’t arouse the same outrage in the national media.

By now, almost everyone has heard of Khalid Abdul Muhammad, the Nation of Islam speaker who spouted anti-white hate to a college audience of hundreds — and was denounced for weeks in the media and in a resolution that passed the U.S. Senate, 97-0. But how many have heard of Bob Grant? Week after week, he spouts anti-black hate to much larger audiences — hundreds of thousands. He hosts the biggest show on the biggest talk radio station in the country, New York’s WABC.

If you aren’t familiar with Grant, that’s not your fault — it’s the national media’s. New York is the media capital of the country. But few journalists have voiced outrage over a talk show host who routinely referred to former Mayor David Dinkins, an African-American, as “the washroom attendant,” and who habitually affects an Amos n’ Andy dialect to stereotype blacks as criminals and drug addicts — people he calls “animals” and “mutants.”

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