Tower of Babel
Ascertaining Truth Can Be Difficult in an Age of 'Newstainment'
By Monica Nagy, dot comm Staff
ARLINGTON, Texas - There aren't two sides to a story anymore - now there are several.
Such is the case with media coverage of the controversy concerning Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke and conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.
"Rush Limbaugh is very good at setting the media agenda on some things," communication associate professor Thomas Christie said.
At the end of February Fluke testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on women's health and contraception. The testimony came after President Barack Obama issued a mandate requiring employers with religious affiliations to supply insurance coverage for birth control. Fluke argued that universities with such affiliation should do the same.
The former president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice made a case that birth control should be available to all women for health reasons, and cited a friend of hers who has polycystic ovarian syndrome and had to have one of her ovaries removed because she could not afford the birth control that can keep ovarian cysts regulated.
"I believe she was testifying before Congress for government to support the funding of contraceptives," political science senior Johnathan Silver said.
Limbaugh responded on his show by saying that if tax dollars are to go toward contraceptives, women like Fluke would be getting paid to have sex. He called her a slut. He went on to joke that she should tape herself in the act so people can get their money's worth.
"So Rush called her a slut," Silver said. "Who blew that up? The media blew it up. I think it's in the media's nature."
Silver said the only reason he knows about Fluke is because the media blew the controversy out of proportion.
"It was just another dumb moment brought to you by Rush Limbaugh," he said.
Silver said the media associates conservatism with hate, and has a preference for political candidates and stances.
Journalism senior Ashley Bradley said the first she heard of the controversy was on NPR. After searching for a story about it online, she found one on Huffington Post, a website she frequents.
Bradley said a classmate brought it up during a women's studies course she is taking for her minor.
"The conversation ended in that we found it ridiculous [because] in some states insurance pays for Viagra for 'you' to get it up, and not for 'you' to not get pregnant," Bradley said.
Christie said the issue stems back to the political realm because the hearing about the funding of contraceptives was an event invented specifically for the news media, and backed by Nancy Pelosi.
Understanding News Sources
Christie said misinformation is spread as the truth and it's harmful when the media perpetuates it.
He said it is important for news consumers to understand the nature of Limbaugh, an entertainer, and understand the nature of congressional committees. He said understanding the context is important, and trouble results when it isn't provided.
"Limbaugh is a talk show host not a journalist," he said. "But his inflammatory language shifted the debate."
Bias in News
Christies scans five to six newspapers online everyday like the Washington Post, The New York Times, the Drudge Report and local newspapers. He watches Fox News, ABC, CBS and MSNBC to get a spectrum of the news.
"AOL and Yahoo is all entertainment news," he said. "We have a strange value system as far as what's news and I'm not sure this kind of fascination existed before Hollywood."
Christie said news media like MSNBC, Fox News and The New York Times will report on some poll findings and not others, which represents a bias.
"If you are really starting to enjoy a program, reporter, writer, or newspaper, do research to see the biases the sources are known for," Bradley said.
Bradley said NPR is the first place she receives her news from because she believes they are neutral. She said beside the inflections in the reporters' voices, she can determine what is potentially biased.
Silver flips between all the major cable news networks to compare coverage. He said he first goes to MSNBC, then CNN, "even though it's dry like food you have to eat."
Despite its dryness, he said CNN is unbiased for the most part, with the exception of Anderson Cooper.
"We all know Rush is an entertainer first and foremost," he said. "He's not a thought leader. He's a rambler - he's the fat, old uncle with his new girlfriend sitting on your dad's couch with his cigar runnin'."
Silver said news consumers must understand news is never completely unbiased. He believes CNN's ratings have dropped because they try to appear that way.
"Fox News has four or five conservatives, then they get one liberal on the show so they can say 'Oh, we got him,'" he said. "It's their affirmative action."
Bradley said she purposely views sites like Huffington Post and Jezebel to get news based on what she believes.
"Knowing how you lean politically will also help," she said.