One of the things you learn, if you spend as many years in the news business as I have, is that the news is not random. That is to say, the question of what stories will appear on the front page of the New York Times is not merely a matter of what happened the day before, because all kinds of things happen every day, and there is only so much space on the front page of a paper. Actual choices have to be made, by human beings called “editors,” to determine what’s front-page news, what gets stuck back on Page A14, and what never gets reported at all.
The process of deciding what is “news” is not random, as I say, even though some events are of such unquestioned importance that they must be at the top of the front page. If you picked up any American newspaper on Sept. 12, 2001, this was rather obvious, but such historic events are rare, and on most days the question of what goes on A1 leaves a fair amount of leeway to the editors to make their own choices. There may be one or two stories of such unquestioned importance that they must be on the front page, but when it comes to the rest — Story 3, Story 4, Story 5, etc. — the editors have more room to exercise discretion.
Trust me, there is often a lot of internal disagreement over such things. …
Human beings make decisions about what counts as front-page news, and there is a certain amount of selectivity involved. You know who figured this out? Matt Drudge. The story is that when he was working as the overnight clerk at a 7-Eleven in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., he would read all the newspapers to pass the time in the wee hours when there were no customers. Reading the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Times, the New York Post, USA Today, etc., back-to-back every day for weeks on end, Drudge began to notice the different choices reflected in the content of the papers.
From that insight sprang his subsequent approach to aggregating news at the Drudge Report (which, alas, he seems to have turned over to a gang of liberal dimwits in the past couple of years). Thanks to the Internet, all of us now have more access to different sources than was possible for most people back when Drudge was reading all those newspapers at 7-Eleven, so there is more widespread understanding of how media bias operates.
The power of media bias lies not so much in telling outright lies (which is rare), but in deciding on the agenda, the topic of conversation. That way facts that don’t lead to the approved conclusion just “disappear.”