Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2001 / 2 Teves, 5762

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

MEDIA FRAUD -- MEDIA bias is no longer news. Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of journalists vote for Democrats, even though the country as a whole is pretty evenly split between the two major parties.

By itself, there is nothing wrong with this. It becomes a problem when media bias becomes media fraud. Media bias in editorials and columns is one thing. Media fraud in reporting "facts" in news stories is something else.

Three excellent and devastating new books on media fraud have been published this year, naming names and turning over rocks to show what is crawling underneath. These books are "Coloring the News" by William McGowan, "Bias" by Bernard Goldberg, and "It Ain't Necessarily So" by David Murray, Joel Schwartz and S. Robert Lichter.

In even the best known and most prestigious media outlets -- The New York Times and "60 Minutes," for example -- crucial facts have been left out of news stories when those facts would have undermined or destroyed a liberal argument. Conversely, false claims have been widely reported as facts in the media when those claims supported the liberal vision of the world.

A classic media fraud was the 1996 story of a wave of arsons directed against black churches by racists. It made headlines across the country and was featured on network television news. It sparked indignant editorials and angry outbursts from black activists. The President of the United States recalled his own sadness as a child at the burning down of black churches in Arkansas.

In the end, however, the whole thing turned out to be completely false. Those few journalists who bothered to check out the facts found that there were no facts to support this story and that what facts there were completely refuted it. Even a commission appointed by President Clinton reached the same conclusion. Moreover, not a single black church in Arkansas had burned down during Bill Clinton's childhood.

When this front page fraud was finally exposed, the new story was buried as a small item back on page 20 of The New York Times.

William McGowan's "Coloring the News" offers the best explanation for such journalistic malpractice. Many news organizations have created special editorial office caucuses consisting exclusively of black, Hispanic, feminist, or homosexual journalists, who decide how the news about their respective constituencies will be reported -- or whether it will be reported at all.

For example, when a homosexual man was attacked and killed by anti-gay hoodlums, that was huge, front-page news across the country. But when two homosexuals lured a boy next door into their home and then raped and killed him, at about the same time, that was widely ignored, as if it had never happened. Similarly biased treatment has appeared when it came to reporting on corrupt black politicians like D.C. Mayor Marion Barry or the dangerous double standards used for women in the military -- standards which have already led to death in training and may cost still more lives in actual combat.

The issue is not what various journalists or news organizations' editorial views are. The issue is the transformation of news reporting into ideological spin, along with self-serving taboos and outright fraud.

While William McGowan's book seems the most perceptive of these three, all are very valuable and each has its own special emphasis. "It Ain't Necessarily So" focuses on media irresponsibility when reporting on medical and scientific issues, while "Bias" focuses more on the actions and the cast of characters at CBS News, where its author worked for many years. But all three of these books provide a real education on media fraud, which is infinitely more important than media bias.

Democratic nations are especially vulnerable to misinformation. The media in a totalitarian country may tell as many lies as it wants to, but that does not affect the decisions made for the country by its dictator or its ruling party, which has access to the truth, even if the masses do not. But, in a country where the masses choose their leaders and influence policies, a fraudulent press can mislead the voters into national disaster.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


Thomas Sowell Archives

© 2001, Creators Syndicate