Charges of bias overthink the media's motives

Wicked lefties vs. evil righties.

Between them: Wicked-lefty/evil-righty media.

Depending on whose ideological eyes you peer through, we're both -- which essentially validates us as neither since we don't please either.

With extreme exceptions -- Fox News Channel and MSNBC braying like partisan hyenas -- the notion of rampant media bias is an easy fallback for the politically paranoid and intellectually lazy, unable to interpret a complex, contradictory world without conspiratorial scapegoating.

Last week, this column found Fox-5 free of FNC's rightward cant. That triggered viewer/reader reaction to this columnist contending that a leftward slant distorted even a fairly fluffy Channel 8 feature. To wit:

Reporter Aaron Drawhorn's piece covered opening night of Green Valley High School's "Rent," the musical containing gay/transvestite characters and drug references, even in a version tamed for school use. Last fall, parents filed a lawsuit to halt the production, claiming the content was too "adult" for the students, which was dismissed by a judge.

"Rent" went curtain-up, with coverage by Channel 8 and others, including the R-J, which filed a similar story on Sunday.

"The marquee is up and the lights shining bright," Drawhorn declared. Peppered with performance clips, the report quoted five pro-show sources -- two student actors, the school principal and theater director and an audience member -- all extolling what they cited as the musical's positive social messages in descriptions such as: "measure your life in love," "young people trying to discover who they are and what they stand for" and "really beautiful, existential things."

Only one clip of a parent last year questioning the appropriateness of the "adult" material made the piece.

Word-one to word-last, its tone celebrated the student victory, shunting dissent to the sidelines. Labeling it ideologically loaded, though, ascribes false motives to the media, crediting daily reporters for doubling as political plotters with lofty purposes. Who has time?

Straight news reporters fret over deadlines, not diatribes. Work of political reporters and commentators may be more debatable, but a feature like this? Filed on-site, where no parents who'd already lost in court showed up anyway?

We're story-mongers, period -- more obsessed with colorful narratives than ideological imperatives, craving white-hat-vs.-black-hat setups regardless of political stripe, or who wears what hat. That's true even when both parties are benevolent and well-intentioned, as with these students and parents.

Conflict? Cool. Winners and losers? Excellent. Sprinkling of social consciousness? Cherry on the sundae.

Edit it into a seamless story, rush it on-air, move on.

Human uplift happened to fall on the left side of this story. Had the judge ruled in reverse, be assured another easily digestible narrative -- responsible parents admirably protect kids from material they're not yet prepared to process -- would've snapped snugly into the storytelling model. Hand reporters conflict and a clear outcome -- ideology irrelevant -- and they're good to go.

Excepting cable extremists, TV mainstreamers abide by a simple mantra:

Drama beats dogma.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at or 702-383-0256.