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Media Bias, Please Add Sprinkles



Robert J. Samuelson, a journalist for the Washington Post, referred to the research of Matthew Gentzkow in this opinion article in order to explain medias bias, specifically in newspapers.

Gentzkow, a professor at the University of Chicago, recently received the John Bates Clark medal for an outstanding American economist under the age of 40. Needless to say, the man is quite bright.

Gentzkow and a fellow Chicago economist chose to study modern media, with emphasis on newspapers, and the media bias present in their “language.” Gentzkow studied the “ideological slant of newspapers” in 429 newspapers. The researchers highlighted specific words and phrases used in conservative and liberal newspapers. The professor uses the examples of conservative newspapers using the term “illegal aliens” while liberal newspapers deem these individuals as an “undocumented worker.”

Their research suggests media bias seems to be “more innocent and more insidious” than once determined. The conclusion Gentzkow comes up with is extremely simple: the media resembles ice cream. As ice cream makers give the customers flavors they will enjoy, conservative and liberal newspapers provide news stories aligned with their audience’s wants. He compares ice cream makers to national newspapers by pointing out both group’s need for profits.

As stated in discussion, media bias can be seen by the placement of the story, the order it appears in, and the language used. Through Gentzkow’s study of the language of these newspapers, any audience member can see the slant in a newspaper article if paying close enough attention. National newspapers have writers, who answer to editors, who answer to owners, who answer to stock holders and advertisers. As one moves up this chain, it becomes quite obvious that newspapers, along with all news outlets, are businesses, hoping to make a profit. In order to gain this profit, the business will supply the audience’s demand.

Will it be chocolate chip cookie dough, rocky road, or boring vanilla? No respectable customer just wants vanilla. Newspapers will provide their audience with the flavor of their choice, according to Gentzkow.


Government Classified Ads Legislation in Louisiana


While class discussion on Zuckerman indicates our generation relies heavily on social and digital media to provide our daily dose of news, it is important to note the print newspaper battle currently taking place in the Louisiana State Legislature.

In this Greater Baton Rouge Business Report article, the conflict between the state’s two largest newspapers is outlined in detail. Currently, The New Orleans Advocate hopes to compete with the Times-Picayune by removing the requirement for a newspaper to have been publishing in a parish for five years before it can bid on public and legal notices in Orleans and Jefferson parish.

The article points out the hypocrisy of both newspapers arguing over contract bids when newspapers “are quick to criticize other business and interest groups” for partaking in “wheeling and dealing.” Although the editorial points out this flaw in the battle, Dean Jerry Ceppos of LSU Manship School of Mass Communication suggests newspapers are simply “businesses” that have long “lobbied” to “help their bottom line.”

Throughout class discussion, we have investigated on the role of newspapers.   We have concluded that the government is meant to serve the people, and the mainstream media also aims to do so, but they have a corporate ladder of command to follow.

Through this idea, Ceppos’ argument makes sense. Newspapers are businesses aimed to make profit, and the American public would be smart to remember so. This current legislation provides a competitive playing field for a newspaper that bravely invested in Orleans and Jefferson parish after these areas had lost the privilege of a daily print newspaper.   While the hypocrisy of going to the government does seem to irritate the public, the notion of the media being a profit-making business rings true.


CNN Pregnancy Test

From  Chevy Chase’s first impression of President Gerald Ford, to Tina Fey’s famous Palin cameos, NBC’s Saturday Night Live has has enjoyed poking fun at politicians and news events for the past 30 years. But this past weekend, the sketch comedy show satirized not the stories in the news, but the way that such stories are being told.  And I venture to say that news buff everywhere got a good laugh.

The fictional commercial, staring Vanessa Bayer and newcomer Beck Bennett, featured a couple who were promoting CNN’s newest  technology–a pregnancy test. The test is advertised as the most informative of its kind, much like the cable channel claims to be as well. Like other pregnancy tests, the stick is meant to update hopeful parents on what could potentially be the biggest news of their lives.

But, to this couple’s annoyance, these updates, like those CNN has been broadcasting for the 6 weeks following the “disappearance” of the Malaysian flight, have been incredibly frequent but completely lacking of substance. At one point the test read, ” BREAKING: CNN more confident than ever that it will soon know if you’re pregnant.” Sound familiar? 

In my opinion, the sketch was the perfect metaphor for what I (and I know classmate’s of mine) have found frustrating throughout the entire coverage of the missing plane. It has been constant coverage of the same facts, merely to draw in viewers under the impression that they will receive news important news, which ultimately (though I’m sure many CNN viewers forgot this fact) relates to human life.



Scandal taints the media’s pool of official sources

Representative Vance McAllister defeated career politician Neil Riser in Louisiana’s 5th congressional district last November on a platform that stressed a need to bring Louisiana values to Washington.  His political ads featured his large family and country home to create the sense that he was a simple family man who wanted to bring “Louisiana values like faith, family, and hard work” to the capital.  The “family man” repeatedly told the electorate that he was “not a politician.”

He lied. Vance McAllister is no family man.  A few days ago a video of McAllister kissing one of his staff members, clearly not his wife, appeared in the media and spread like wildfire.  Today, there is hardly any sign of it. It is tucked under the headlines and bylines of stories that are not against another politician caught in scandal.

McAllister may think he is “not a politician,” but he is fitting the public’s negative stereotype of the average politician to the tee.  The staffer he had an affair with is married and has a 6-year-old child.  That woman resigned from her job and is heading for divorce.  However, McAllister is not resigning and is running for a full seat in the upcoming election.  The media should not back away from going after McAllister.  I think they should create an uproar that would throw McAllister down the steps of the capitol building and into the streets with the common folk that he so proudly claimed to be.

The words “I don’t care what a politician does behind closed doors” have literally come out of my mouth before.  It was not until now that I realize how wrong I was.  The pure hypocrisy in McAllister’s actions disgusts me.  He won a seat in the House of Representatives by using his family life.  He won, and then proceeded to spit in their faces, turn his back on them, and leave them to rot.

The media has a responsibility to push for this congressman’s resignation.  My opinion that journalists need to go after this man tooth and nail is not based upon his immoral actions that have disgraced his family, but is based on the media’s symbiotic relationship with official sources.  If the media will continue to rely on official sources like congressmen and senators, which they undoubtedly will, and the media does not push for the removal of hypocrites like McAllister then all sources of news will lose credibility.  The symbiotic relationship of news and officialdom must be clean in order for it to work.  Without media coverage of McAllister’s deceit and unfaithfulness, he will continue to be a part of the pool of sources used by the media within a few months or even a few years if he wins a full seat in the next election.

McAllister broke the oath he took with his wife during his marriage vows.  He cannot be trusted to keep the oath he took to enter congress. He cannot be trusted to supply the media with information.  The media only has this small window of time to keep the pressure on the congressman to resign.  Louisiana politics have shown that even with a sex scandal the “R” behind the politicians name can save him in the next election.  The media has an obligation of protecting its future sources of information.  Taking down scandalous politicians who will provide the information for news stories will clean up the pool of future sources, and protect the future interests of the American people.


“How Much Is Too Much?”

The tragedy that is the lost Malaysian flight has brought endless coverage of press conferences, official statements, and analysis. Most notably, though, is the controversial interviews with victims’ loved ones. CNN anchor Carol Costello recently wrote an op-ed addressing a frequently asked question when it comes to covering tragedies and the victims: “How much is too much?”

This criticism of the media comes with every tragedy and conflict reported in the news. We see videos and pictures that portray the agony, fear, or sadness that these families experience. It often feels intrusive, and overbearing. However, Costello argues that victims’ stories help the rest of us “make sense of the world,” and often the victims want to share their stories. Costello adds that the media gives “a voice to the voiceless” and “power to the powerless,” but at what point does it become too intrusive? How do we find the appropriate balance?

Today in class we discussed the effect that these dramatic images can have on a tragedy, and, in turn, public perception of the event. The media is a powerful tool that is essential to democracy, but it is important for us as citizens to recognize when the media has gone too far. While we criticize journalists for going too far, we continue to watch the endless dramatic coverage. It is our responsibility as viewers to say when enough is enough!


Zealous ZunZuneo, Not Quite


Recently in discussion, we explored the concept of astroturfing.   By using this tool of framing, an idea or movement can appear as populous and local. This emphasis aids in forming a grassroots movement amongst the audience. However, these movements generally find funds from elite means.

This concept rings true in this Politico article regarding ZunZuneo, an online social networking service on Twitter “masterminded” by the U.S. government. The communications network, meant to heighten dissent amongst young, Cuban users, drew thousands of viewers waiting for a motivation. The U.S. government denies claims that the plan was “covert,” but the Twitter was able to destabilize the Communist government existing in Cuba.  ZunZuneo began in 2009 after the Washington-based Creative Associates International gained thousands of Cuban cellphone numbers.

The funds spent on ZunZuneo, an estimated $1.6 million, were earmarked as projects in Pakistan. The elite means driving the Twitter page were hidden by a trusted organization known as USAID, which disappointed many Cubans who were interviewed upon learning the truth.

ZunZuneo meant to start local, populous outrage amongst young, open-minded Cubans, but the secrecy of the ties with the American government seemed to backfire. The Communist regime in Cuba is still in place, and the twitter page disappeared in 2012.


Pharrell Should Just Stick to Being Happy

ImageThere is an increasing trend in the United States for celebrities to weigh in on politics. This can be an issue since they are obviously not experts on pressing policy matters but their fans will still listen to their opinions. People who are not interested in politics may give an unnecessary amount of weight to celebrity opinions. This can be beneficial and harmful to democracy at the same time. Celebrities have the unique ability to raise awareness to certain policy issues among hard to reach audiences. The celebrity political experts can become harmful to democracy when they are misinformed or just plain stupid. 

Politico recently published an article documenting singing sensation Pharrell Williams’s thoughts on the upcoming 2016 presidential election. In the article he equated political parties to the infamous street gangs “the Bloods” and “the Crips”. He also accused the Tea Party of being racist and learning how to do the “dougie” while their daughters are “twerking”. Essentially Pharrell managed to ramble about politics as incoherently as possible. The singer believes that Hilary Clinton will win the 2016 election and bring equality to women. 

This Politico article begs the question: Why do we care what Pharrell Williams thinks? He did not present any logical or coherent argument in favor of any issues, nor did he say why he even supports Hilary Clinton. Despite these facts people will still listen to his opinion. He may even manage to influence people to vote for Hilary Clinton with his odd statements. Needless to say, this Politico article serves as a great example of news outlets reporting on celebrity opinion not because it’s real news that serves a valuable democratic purpose, but because it catches a hard to reach audience’s attention.



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