Political bias festers in social media platforms, too

Taylor Armerding

The video montage created by Timothy Burke of Deadspin would be funny were it not so creepy.

By now, surely you have heard about it or been among the millions who have watched it. Several dozen local news anchors from some of the 173 stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group are all reading from the same script.

They decry “fake news” and other faults of the liberal, mainstream media, including "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country” and that "some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think."

That, declared one liberal pundit, qualified as the “real” fake news and put Sinclair ahead of Fox News as “the biggest embarrassment in the media.”

Of course, the script was presented as opinion, not news. But it was still creepy. How could the executives of that many stations all across the country have the exact same opinion, and express it in exactly the same way?

Because, obviously, it was the opinion of only one set of executives – the owners of all those stations, who decide what their editorial stance will be.

Which, as a side note, is one more confirmation that former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was correct when he said “corporations are people.” Machines, money, cameras and buildings don’t have opinions – people do.

And it was, in a very real sense, fake opinion – dictated opinion. It is right up there with the famed Russian “news” (propaganda) agency Tass and other government-controlled outlets in dictatorships like China, North Korea and Iran.

Not that there is anything new in the U.S. about corporate owners of media organizations controlling the editorial stance of their properties; they have and they do. But the Sinclair video – dozens of anchors, who are robotic enough as it is, even more robotically reciting the same lines – was a stark illustration of why it is bad – very bad – for the free exchange of ideas to have one owner controlling so much of the local television landscape.

So, it has been encouraging to see that both Democrats and Republicans have opposed Sinclair’s effort to acquire Tribune Media. That kind of consolidation and control of information is dangerous – even more dangerous than having just one company making essentially all of a major product, like vehicles. The marketplace of ideas is much more important – and fragile – to be handed over to a monopoly.

All that said, outrage over this sort of thing ought to extend to other media abuses, and it doesn’t. I can’t help but note that the outrage over the Sinclair script is selective, which is dangerous itself.

The overwhelmingly liberal mainstream media and their many millions of followers are outraged not so much because of the corporate bias on display here, but because it is conservative bias.

There are plenty of troubling examples on the liberal side that get responses ranging from applause to shrugs, because that kind of bias has their approval.

The hottest ticket in Washington this past week was Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg submitting to a ritual flogging before a couple of congressional committees because his social media platform had allowed a company hired by the Trump campaign to use data from an estimated 87 million users to try to shape their political opinions.

Zuckerberg was obviously unhappy about that, not so much because of collecting and “sharing” the data – which is the business model of Facebook and other social media sites – but because it supposedly was a factor in Trump getting elected.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence – none of which has ever prompted a congressional hearing – that Facebook is hostile to conservative opinion.

As reported in the recent past, Facebook executives had no problem with the 2012 Obama campaign collecting data not just on those who volunteered it but on all of their “friends” as well – according to some estimates, as many as 190 million.

That wasn’t a problem because, according to an Obama campaign staffer, “they (Facebook) were on our side.”

Just this past week, a columnist for a metro paper that leans right wrote that while her columns are very popular on some sites, they get zero traction on Facebook and Twitter.

Also, a couple of African American women, Lynnette "Diamond" Hardaway and Rochelle "Silk" Richardson, who have become social media stars in part because they are Trump supporters, were booted off Facebook because they were deemed “unsafe to the community.”

I’m not a follower of either, so I don’t know if I would feel “unsafe” reading their posts. But it’s hard for me to believe they could be any worse than the scatological, obscene, violently hateful attacks I see aimed at President Trump and his supporters any time I go on Facebook.

This isn’t your typical political vitriol. This is open, unvarnished, profane hatred, including expressed wishes for Trump to be hurt, killed or, as one put it, “just die quietly.”

For Zuckerberg to claim in front of a congressional committee that the “only” content his censors remove is that which promotes terrorism or hatred is demonstrably false.

No, I haven’t seen the kind of creepy, robotic recitation of a script on channels that obviously lean left, like CNN and MSNBC. But while the script is not the same, they all read from the same left-wing playbook, just as Fox News reads from the right-wing playbook.

A robust diversity of views and philosophies in the media is a good thing. But the Sinclair video is an ominous, creepy example that eliminating that diversity through consolidation is a bad thing – no matter which side is doing it.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net.

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