U.S. News Becoming Too Politically Slanted, Visiting Journalism Scholar Argues

Paul Ramadge, former editor of The Age, is now a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at Monash University in Melbourne.

With the presidential election heating up, more Americans have been tuning into their favorite news broadcast for the most up-to-date reporting from the campaign trail. However, they might not be getting the whole truth, according to Paul Ramadge, former editor of The Age, one of Australia’s most respected newspapers.

On Oct. 4, Ramadge ­– now a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at Monash University in Melbourne – gave a talk titled “Truth, Knowledge, and Trust in the Media” at the School for International Relations and Pacific Studies’ Deans Roundtable, where he discussed how partisan news reporting was distorting the cornerstone of quality journalism: the truth.

The talk was part of Ramadge’s residency as a fellow for IR/PS’s Pacific Leadership Fellows Program.

At the event, Ramadge said that from his observations the US media’s coverage of the leaking of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” video had been distorted. He noted that coverage of the story on Fox News had been minimal while the story had been wallpapered on many broadcasts on MSNBC.

Ramadge, who led The Age’s newsroom of foreign correspondents, investigative and political reporters and production staff, argued for more accurate and transparent reporting.

“It would make life easier if Fox News proclaimed that it ‘reports and comments with a conservative voice’ instead of its current selling line, ‘fair and balanced’,” Ramadge said. “Instead of saying it ‘leans forward’, MSNBC could say it ‘offers news for the liberally minded’.”

Ramadge discussed the positive impact quality media can have on society, but warned that if truth and trust were not part of the future of journalism, the consequences for democracy would be dire.

“Imagine a world that didn’t know about, and wasn’t improved by, the Watergate scandal or the effects of thalidomide or asbestos; that didn’t know about Guantanamo Bay or sub-prime loans, the Pentagon Papers, human trafficking, famine, the worst warlords and so many other stories that changed our lives,” he said.

On Oct. 4 Ramadge gave a talk, titled “Truth, Knowledge, and Trust in the Media,” at the School for International Relations and Pacific Studies’ Deans Roundtable.

Political bias or “post-truth politics” was a divisive phenomenon that was appearing increasingly in US media, Ramadge said.

“Parts of the media have always been partisan, but what happened to the ideals of independent, trusted journalism?” he said.

He asked, in jest, what if “post-truth” reporting was applied to other areas of news, such as sports? “Imagine a major-league ball game. It’s a thriller, but your team goes down in the final inning by a run,” he said. “Hey, don’t worry – just tune in to your friendly, like-minded network or website and you will be told that your team actually won! Fantastic. But once the truth is twisted, once it is hidden or distorted, how do you find out what really happened?”

Ramadge’ s career in media spans more than 30 years.  At The Age, he made investigative reporting the paper’s No. 1 priority while strategically positioning the paper to be a leading multi-media publisher.

“We believed that investigations were the heart of our craft. We asked tough questions. We had an unwavering belief in what’s right and what’s wrong. The truth mattered, and without truth, how can you build trust?”

He cited the US studies by the Pew Research Center between 1985 and 2011, which show that negative opinions about the media are growing.

“In response to the statement that ‘stories are often inaccurate’, 34 percent of recipients agreed in 1985; the figure last year was 66 percent. On the proposition that ‘media tend to favor one side’, the rating was 53 percent in the ‘80s; now it is 77 percent; and thinking about the line ‘often influenced by powerful people or organizations’, 53 percent said yes in 1985; now the figure is 80 percent,” he said.

These statistics were alarming and required dramatic change, Ramadge said.

He encouraged the audience, when reading or watching or listening to news reports, to ask: “Has this journalist set out to tell the truth? Have they presented a balance of opinions and perspectives? What might be the journalist’s motivations in writing the piece?”

Ramadge argued that journalists who built trust would have an advantage in today’s world where technology had enabled the market to be flooded with millions of different news sources.

“To cite the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, ‘the duty of the journalist is to seek truth and provide a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues,’” he said. “It calls for journalists to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable. My argument this morning has been that the media needs to get back to basics if it is going to be relevant.”

Ramadge is in residence from October 1 to October 12 for the Pacific Leadership Fellows Program, which brings experts to UC San Diego from around the Pacific region to engage in dialogue, research, and teaching with students, faculty and the San Diego community. For more information on The Pacific Leadership Program at IR/PS, go to empac.ucsd.edu/pacific-fellows/program-overview/.

Media Contact

Christine Clark, 858-534-7618, ceclark@ucsd.edu