June 17, 2004
Editor and Publisher Wants Answers: Are Newsrooms Too Liberal? Very Tricky Question.
Major trade journal enters the bias battle looking for answers. It wants to know: how liberal are the nation's newsrooms, really? "Liberal journalist" does not automatically mean that the news has a liberal slant. But if the goal is to gain ground in the bias wars, it's the opposite. Then liberal journalist does mean "news biased toward liberalism." Automatically so.
“The recent Pew survey raises more questions than it answers,” announced Editor and Publisher’s Greg Mitchell last week, “and we intend to answer them.” In the world of press think, this counts as news: Major trade journal enters the bias wars looking for answers:
How “liberal” are the nation’s newsrooms? What does “liberal” mean, anyway? Should editors embark on an ideological affirmative action program?
Certainly those are explosive—and important—questions. The Pew Research Center survey that Mitchell mentioned was released on May 23. It contains, as any such survey would, findings of particular interest in the bias wars, which I define as the permanently politicized discourse we have about fairness and equal treatment in the press. There are institutions dedicated to continuing it. As with any war sustained over time, supply lines have been established. From the Pew study:
The percentage identifying themselves as liberal has increased from 1995: 34% of national journalists describe themselves as liberals, compared with 22% nine years ago. The trend among local journalists has been similar 23% say they are liberals, up from 14% in 1995. More striking is the relatively small minority of journalists who think of themselves as politically conservative (7% national, 12% local). As was the case a decade ago, the journalists as a group are much less conservative than the general public (33% conservative).
Nearer the frontlines, The Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, headlined its summary of the Pew Report this way: “Five Times More Journalists Are Liberal Than Conservative.” And with that another shell got lobbed. It was a simple device (and common in journalism): the artificially explosive headline. In fact, a majority of journalists, by the same study, said they were neither liberal nor conservative. “In terms of their overall ideological outlook, majorities of national (54%) and local journalists (61%) continue to describe themselves as moderates.”
“Five times more”— that’s war materiel. “Majority say they’re moderate”— that’s not. To show how far this war reaches, Jeffrey Dvorkin, ombudsman for NPR, actually misstated the results in a column that tried to be critical of the study: “It found that a majority of American journalists say they are liberals” (which is false). He said this finding “is likely to follow news organizations around for the rest of the political year like Marley’s ghost” (which is probably true.)
But as Dvorkin also pointed out, knowing how many journalists are liberals does not tell you very much about their performance in crafting the news. “Liberal journalist” does not automatically mean “news account inflected with liberalism.” (Although it might.) But if the goal is to gain some ground in the battle over bias, an opposite logic applies. Then liberal journalist does mean “news biased toward liberalism,” and it does automatically. In a war zone thinking has to become automatic; that’s one of the costs of war.
Some of the Pew study’s other key findings have little directly to do with the bias conflict. But each strikes a note of alarm. (Based on surveys of 547 journalists and news media executives by telephone and online, March 10, 2004 through April 20. Rest of the study design here.)
- A “continuing rise in the percentage of journalists believing that news reports are full of factual errors. In the national media, this view increased from 30% in 1995 to 40% in 1999 to 45% in the current survey.”
- “Roughly half of journalists at national media outlets (51%), and about as many from local media (46%), believe that journalism is going in the wrong direction.”
- “Significant majorities of journalists have come to believe that increased bottom line pressure is ‘seriously hurting’ the quality of news coverage. This is the view of 66% of national news people and 57% of the local journalists questioned in this survey.”
- An “almost universal agreement among those who worry about growing financial pressure that the media is paying too little attention to complex stories.”
If the numbers are accurate that’s a worried profession.
In Mitchell’s announcement, there are three kinds of questions Editor & Publisher plans to ask. The first examines whether the Pew survey is, in fact, reliable. What do other studies show? The second inquires into the term “moderate.” When 61 percent of local journalists describe themselves that way, “I’m not liberal, or conservative, I’m moderate,” what does that actually mean?
The third kind of question accepts the Pew findings as accurate, and goes on from there:
- “Why are there so many more liberals than conservatives in newsrooms? Is it due to a certain do-gooder impulse among journalists in general? Or, as some charge, a bias in hiring: liberals won’t hire conservatives? Is there a certain amount of ‘right flight’ after conservatives fail to advance or feel uncomfortable among their peers?”
- “If conservatives were made to feel more welcome, would it make any difference? What if very few of that political persuasion want to become grubby, underpaid, widely dissed reporters? What exactly is the conservative hiring pool out there?”
- Journalism schools: “Are they overwhelmingly liberal already, or does the faculty indoctrinate them, or perhaps the liberal ones feed into newsrooms while the conservatives drift to other forms of journalism or related areas?”
- If only 15 percent of journalists think “you have to believe in God to be a ‘truly moral’ person, while 60% of the public feels that way,” is that a problem? “Or is the ability to be non-judgmental actually a quality that should be encouraged in newsrooms?”
- Finally: “Forget about Peter Jennings and Dan Rather in New York. What’s going on in Peoria?”
Reporting that raises questions is much easier than promising to get answers. (Safer too for a trade journal.) I salute what Mitchell is doing, and look forward with interest to the results, which will be published in the August issue. Impressed as I am with some of the questions, I wanted to know more about how Editor and Publisher was going to pull this off, and why Mitchell, as writer and editor, decided to enter a discourse that is a war zone.
So I sent him some questions. He said he got a flood of e-mail after announcing his intentions. “I think a lot of people really want an open-minded look at this and we will do our best to respond.” The focus will be not on the “liberal bias” charge generally but “the newsoom composition issue,” meaning the mix of liberals and conservatives at a newspaper, how that affects the news, and what might be done about it— if we buy the proposition. The E & P report, he said, will not be “yet another commentary on liberal bias in national coverage, yes or no.” Instead:
Our small “team” of reporters will first look deeply at the Pew numbers and methodology, and try to find every other survey in recent years on make-up of newsrooms and beliefs. We will also see what’s out there in surveys of j-school students, their poltiics—and what happens to them afterward. There’s a theory that the liberal types go into newspapers, the non-ideological to TV and radio, and the conservatives mainly to publicity and other business-oriented fields. True? Maybe not.
We will also look at j-school faculty, what is their political orientation, what do they teach about “objectivity,” and what do they think of all this. Then we will interview dozens of editors at papers big and small about what they think of the make-up of their newsrooms, do they see many conservatives applicants, what questions do they ask of applicants, what do they think of bias at their papers, etc. Then we will ask them, and some outside observers, whether there needs to be an ideological “affirmative action” program at newspapers. And there are many other issues as well….
Greg Mitchell has been writing some biting commentary lately, and he has an interesting background. For eight years (1971 to 1979) he was executive editor of the famed counterculture and music magazine, Crawdaddy. During the 1980s, the height of the nuclear freeze campaign, he was the editor of Nuclear Times, kind of a trade journal for that movement. He also co-wrote with Robert Jay Lifton a book about (and against) capital punishment.
More recently, and of relevance to the bias study, Mitchell has published two works of political history that examine the media’s role. Campaign of the Century (1992) is about Upton Sinclair’s 1934 race for governor of California (as a socialist) and “the birth of media politics.” Mitchell saw that race as a laboratory for the kind of campagn where driving up an opponent’s negatives is the strategy. Six years ago he published a book on Richard Nixon’s 1950 Senate race against Helen Gahagan Douglas, “widely remembered as one of the dirtiest ever,” as his publisher, Random House, put it.
I asked Mitchell how much of his interest in media bias was connected with his books on attack politics. “Every one of my recent books,” he said, “have had major themes of ‘biased’ media coverage, so you might say this is one of my passions.” That’s true for readers of PressThink, too, where the comments section—attracting both liberals and conservatives, plus others, including journalists—frequently becomes a skirmishing field.
There is no question that this is one of the passions of the day. Media bias discussions (including dismissals of the bias charge) are a popular way of participating in the news— and of intervening in journalism as it rolls along. They are an entry point into a news system that is without a lot of good entry points. And so I pay close attention to the bias discourse. I try to understand how it works, why it’s so popular, what it’s really about.
But media bias is not one of my passions. Nemesis is more like it. For in my line of work—discovering press think, and then getting people to reflect on it—bias is what all discussion threatens to become. Despite this black hole effect, some important things are said, done and thought about as the war drags on. Here’s some of what I mean:
First Complication: Attack Politics. Mitchell’s interest in attack machines, or what Hillary Clinton called “the politics of personal destruction,” is not unrelated to the bias wars. In fact, the connection has been explicitly drawn by John Caroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, in his Ruhl Lecture on Ethics delivered at The University of Oregon and published in the Times May 6th.
Carroll talks there about charges from the right that the Times interfered in the California recall election last year, and that it wanted to sink Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger by reporting on his habit of groping women in a front-page story published just five days before the election. Rejecting the charge outright, Carroll points to an “effort to discredit the newspaper” after it published the allegations. He didn’t mention that 10,000 subscribers were angry enough to quit the Times after the groping stories. (See his column explaining the decision here and PressThink on it here and here.)
“Never has falsehood in America had such a large megaphone,” he added in ranging over that incident, the rise of Fox News and its star, Bill O’Reilly (who joined in the outrage over the Schwarzenegger stories), and the talk show climate of instant accusation. “Pseudo-journalism,” he called it, almost indistinguishable from propaganda. “The propaganda technique that has invaded journalism is of a particular breed,” spoke Carroll. “It springs not from journalistic roots but from modern politics — specifically, that woeful subset known as attack politics.”
In attack politics, the idea is to “define” one’s rival in the eyes of the public. This means repeating derogatory information so often that the rival’s reputation is ruined. Sometimes the information is true; sometimes it is misleading; sometimes it is simply false…It is the netherworld of attack politics that gave us Roger Ailes, the architect of Fox News.
Let’s underline what Carroll is saying, in a speech he worked carefully on and clearly saw as his statement: The bias wars are—at least in part—the eruption into the press of the “attack” style in politics, but instead of defeating a candidate, the goal is to drive up the negatives of news organizations like the Los Angeles Times.
Fox News Channel, in Carroll’s view, is a dangerous hybrid: a news and propaganda organization, with some of the codes of entertainment thrown in. Its president, Roger Ailes, is a man accustomed to “smearing politicians.” He has changed industries, “but his bag of tricks remains the same.” Fox gains, of course, every time the mainstream media is successfully smeared. And pseudo-journalism gains every time people choose to believe it.
There is defiant tone in Carrol’s remarks, a willingness to draw lines separating real journalism from its counterfeits. “All across America,” he said, “there are offices that resemble newsrooms, and in those offices there are people who resemble journalists, but they are not engaged in journalism. It is not journalism because it does not regard the reader—or, in the case of broadcasting, the listener, or the viewer—as a master to be served.”
Instead, politics is the master, and manipulation the desired end. Crying bias is just a tactic. From this angle, what appears to be a conflict between “liberal” and “conservative” leanings in the newsroom is actually a struggle between real newsrooms and propaganda shops. What appears to be a complaint about a disservice to readers because of liberal bias is actually an instance of attack politics, where bias is the wedge issue.
Those who play the attack game will always find material with which to batter an opponent, the Carroll story says. He mentions in a tone of pity the “talk-show fans who know the Los Angeles Times only for its ethical outrages.” People who see the newspaper this way have had the Los Angeles Times defined for them by the propaganda machine, in roughly the same way that Michael Dukakis was defined by the Willie Horton ads run against him in 1988.
Opponents are trying to drive up our negatives. So Carroll took the platform to drive home some of Fox’s negatives, as if to say: you’re trying to define me? Well, I’m going to define you…. as “pseudo-journalism.” That’s an editor (whose newspaper won five Pulitizer Prizes this year) fighting back with blunt words and named names. Ailes, who likes to mix it up with journalists in his public statements, replied in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages, June 2.
Carroll’s “pathetic attempt to smear Fox News Channel will only drive his paper’s circulation down, as it should,” he wrote. Ailes then demanded an apology from the editor for “insulting comments.” When I say bias “wars,” it’s this kind of exchange I have in mind. Of course, it’s a war of words—and statistics!—with a highly ritualized quality. Dvorkin of NPR caught some of this:
So if there is tough reporting around the Bush campaign, critics will say it must be because of the inherent liberal bias as cited in the Pew poll. If the media is tough on the Kerry campaign it may be viewed as an overcompensation to show that the media isn’t as liberal as the Pew poll indicated.
In a follow-up column published today, Mitchell included reactions from readers. Jerry Carroll, of Hot Springs Village, Arizona, was already on a war footing: “Having somebody like you in charge of investigating liberal bias in the media is like, oh, putting Reynard the Fox on the case of the chicken house break-in.”
Complication Number Two: The Other Pew Study. How seriously we take Carroll’s perspective may be affected by a later Pew Center report on the credibility ratings of major American news organizations. It was released June 8th.
This was an audience study. It got much less publicity, but that’s odd because the results were even more troubling for the press. “News Audiences Increasingly Politicized,” said the headline. The survey showed one thing clearly: Fox is having a deep effect. First, it’s still gaining viewers. “Since 2000, the number of Americans who regularly watch Fox News has increased by nearly half from 17% to 25% while audiences for other cable outlets have been flat at best.” But it’s more than that.
John Carroll’s suggestion was that Fox can be understood on the model of a political campaign, which also makes marketplace sense. It’s attack politics aimed at a vulnerable opponent: the “liberal media.” According to Pew, it’s not only working for Fox’s ratings. It’s changing CNN into a “Democratic” network— whether or not the bosses have any such intention. “CNN’s once dominant credibility ratings have slumped in recent years, mostly among Republicans and independents. By comparison, the Fox News Channel’s believability ratings have remained steady both overall and within partisan groups.”
In other words, Fox has been able to drive up CNN’s negatives (or is the beneficiary of others in that line of work) without adding at all to its own. The wedge effect is starting to show: “Fox ranks as the most trusted news source among Republicans but is among the least trusted by Democrats.” As every student of politics knows, a wedge maneuver is not supposed to make you wildly popular. It’s supposed to divide the electorate to your side’s advantage. Republicans and conservatives are thus leaving the likes of CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS (although they still watch them, just as Democrats watch Fox).
They are also changing their opinion of the traditional news powers. In 2000, according to Pew, 27 percent of Republicans “believed all or most” of what they heard from CBS News. By April of 2004, only 15 percent did. In 2000, 29 pecent of Republicans believed NBC News. In 2004, it was down to 16. CNN fell from 33 to 26 with Republicans. But Fox rose from 26 to 29. “Political polarization is increasingly reflected in the public’s news viewing habits,” says Pew. And for the first time, “The overall audience for cable TV news exceeds that for network television news by a narrow margin.”
But the effect is wider than just TV News. The Wall Street Journal’s believability among Republicans fell from 46 to 23. What explains that? NPR slipped from 20 to 15. Are you listening? Trust in C-SPAN declined from 32 to 23 among Republicans. Among Democrats on the same measure—trusting all or most of what is heard as news—CNN came in at 48 in 2000 and 45 in 2004. CBS News went from 36 to 34. NPR from 36 to 33. C-SPAN: 38 to 36. Not the same dynamic there.
Thus the news climate is becoming more polarized, more like the political climate overall. And what does it say to the high church in journalism when only 14 percent of Republicans believe the bulk of what they read in the New York Times, while 31 percent of Democrats do? It’s not possible, I think, to answer hard questions about the political affiliations of journalists, (“where are all the conservatives?”) without reckoning with the shifting affiliations of the news audience— and the possible success of the wedge.
The rule in attack politics is define the other guy or be defined by him. CNN is slowly getting defined as news for Democrats whether CNN likes it or not. If that is indeed happening, then one of Mitchell’s questions, “Should editors embark on an ideological affirmative action program?” looks entirely different. A righteous journalist may warn against politicizing the news, and that is an important thing to do. But if the audience is being polarized this is not entirely on point.
Ask Michael Dukakis. It’s hard to know what to do when your negatives are going up. It’s not easy to know why it’s happening, either. (C-SPAN took a hit?) Of course one explanation is obvious: If half the press corps believes that journalism is “going in the wrong direction,” maybe they’re right. In a situation like that, the old time newsroom religion sometimes gains force, precisely because in new times nobody knows where things are headed. To me, the whole picture is unstable, like a television set that’s about to lose its vertical hold.
For instance, there’s nothing to stop Fox from “coming out” as the conservative network and sharpening the conflict even more, a rhetorical step that campaign manager Ailes has so far refused to take— for tactical reasons, I think. Fox’s friends all know, so why not be open? But the pressure is equally real for CNN and MSNBC. If their viewer base continues to skew Democratic, how long before someone makes the argument: let’s come out of the closet and claim our market? That’s when the old picture begins to break apart. All this lies in the background of the Editor and Publisher’s project, but not very far in the background.
Complication Number Three: Those Moderates. When 54 precent of national journalists and 61 percent of local journalists decline the labels “liberal” and “conservative” and identify instead as moderates, what are they really saying? It’s possible, I suppose, that they’re all Joe Lieberman Democrats or Arlen Specter Republicans (the political reporter’s definition of a moderate) but it seems more likely this is a statement refuting the relevance of labels like liberal or conservative.
It’s not so much that newsroom moderates stand in the middle, ideologically, as that they stand to one side of the premise that their personal ideology even matters. Perhaps they don’t want to dignify the idea by discussing it. “We don’t think in those terms.” Many journalists treasure their apolitical interest in politics, and a good number have a “pox on both their houses” attitude (sometimes called cynicism).
This is not a liberal, or conservative, or moderate outlook. There’s an ideology to it, but not one that appears on the standard political spectrum. It’s a professional ideology—newsroom religion, if you will—and it has no single name. Objectivity is one way of putting it, detachment another, professionalism a third. “News judgment” is part of the ideology. This is what journalists have in place of all those political judgments that, according to belief, they prevent themselves from making because their professional codes of neutrality and factuality prohibit such.
The Reader is our only master is an ideological statement because it seeks to describe journalism as pure, “cured” of politics in a way that outside critics can never be. Or take this one: “If the left says we’re in bed with the authorities, and the right says we’re in league with the liberals, it’s because we play it straight down the middle, and don’t please either camp.” That’s an ideology, too, and may be part of what journalists mean by moderate: Put me in neither camp, I’m a professional news person. Without investigating this belief system, Mitchell and team will have a hard time grappling with liberals and conservatives in the newsroom.
This is one of the problems with relying on self-identification, an issue raised by one of Mitchell’s readers, Bill Steigerwald, columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “Asking them to identify themselves is worthless,” he wrote, “because most of the liberals I know barely realize they are liberal, mainly because they never meet nonliberals, rarely read conservative magazines or columnists or authors and think that the New York Times editorial page and the New Yorker (all they read) are moderate.”
Complication Four: The Newsroom Diversity Dodge. Mitchell turns to the obvious solution when he asks: “Should editors embark on an ideological affirmative action program?” John Leo, columnist for US News and World Report, told Mitchell: “We all know that conferences changed the day the first black attended. And it was a very good thing…I don’t care how many Democrats or liberals there are in the newsroom, so long as we do something to change the one-note newsroom culture.”
That’s a good point. But efforts to diversify the work force in mainstream journalism almost never confront a big contradiction at the heart of that project. Diversity says: we need a better mix of perspectives, more members of under-represented groups. But “represent your group” is exactly what you are not supposed to do according to codes of the newsroom.
The whole logic of hiring more African-Americans or working class people or god-fearing conservatives is that they bring their own experiences, priorities and perspectives to the news— a different politics, we might say. Indeed, if they didn’t look at the world differently, why would it be an urgent matter to hire and keep them?
But once hired, these recruits join a newsroom culture intended to flatten out, or make irrelevant, the very differences that are allegedly so valuable to the operation. Compared to the headache of changing that, which would mean an overhaul in in newsroom doctrine and practice, the hiring of new faces from different places is easy. And in general that is what journalism has done: the easier thing.
This takes its toll on the recruits, who have to live every day in the contradiction their bosses tend not to acknowledge even once a year. The results show up in minority retention and morale (poor), the tenacity of a “one note” decision-making culture, and the simple fact that the news hasn’t changed composition much even with all the diversity hiring.
The problem, I regret to report, is a philosophical one. It is political too. It is ethical, and also practical. There is no reason to think that adding “endangered conservatives” to the affirmative action list would change any of this. I do not deny that there are marginal benefits, such as John Leo mentions. Major benefits await major action to revise the standard newsroom creed. You can’t add new voices and expect much benefit if work routines and professional acceptance depend on the journalist de-voicing herself. Ultimately that problem must be faced. In the meantime, denial works well enough. At least it did until the Internet.
Finally, an observation about Editor and Publisher itself. This was once a sleepy trade journal. But it is reviving itself after taking a hard decision in January to cease weekly publication, go to monthly in print, and put more into daily content and commentary on the website.
“The Internet demands voice,” wrote Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin in a recent Online Journalism Review essay. E & P is allowing the logic of this demand to work itself out, and the result is a more exciting publication. It’s a sign of how major change may one day come to the traditional press. First, you say the Internet demands voice, and you permit more of it to those working for the online edition. They’re Internet journalists, you decide; different rules apply. Then one day you declare, because it’s true, “we’re all Net Journalists now.” Presto: everyone gains voice. This might improve journalism, but it would not reduce bias. (And which of those is more important?)
“I’ve simply tried to make E & P more responsive to current events and related issues, in the magazine itself and especially on the web site,” Mitchell told me. “This has taken us into more ‘political’ areas but E & P is not a political magazine.” He reports that traffic to the web site has tripled since February to 2.3 million page views last month and half a million unique users. “This is simply not the ‘old’ E & P and clearly our coverage of topical issues has a lot to do with it.”
I say the Web is working its magic, and Editor and Publisher is one to be watched, especially its August issue.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links….
Pew Center study: Bottom-Line Pressures Now Hurting Coverage, Say Journalists. (May 23, 2004) Later Pew study: News Audiences Increasingly Politicized. (June 8, 2004)
Eric Alterman of The Nation and MSNBC on the Pew study: “True, 34 percent calling themselves ‘liberal’ is a bit more than the national average, but if I’m not mistaken, these same right-wingers have been crowing endlessly that the entire media was controlled by liberals. If the number is only a third — with 54 percent calling themselves moderates, then just what’s the problem?”
John Leo of US News and World Report writes:
In response to the survey, some argue that personal social and political views make no difference if a reporter plays the story straight. Well, yes. But nearly half of those polled told Pew that journalists too often let their ideological views color their work. This is a devastating admission, something like an umpire’s union reporting that half its membership likes to favor the home team. Even apart from loaded reporting, the selection and framing of news stories have a way of reflecting the opinions of editors. That’s why the steady march toward a more liberal newsroom is so puzzling. The news media have to cope with a declining readership and viewership and intense scrutiny of their wayward practices by right-wing outlets and relentlessly critical bloggers. Yet the mainstream media have only those few in-house conservatives who might warn their bosses when news reports are skewing left.
Geneva Overholser, former editor of the Des Moines Register, former ombudsman at the Washington Post: “I am hopeful that we are now arriving at a closely related yet broader awareness: That the old “‘liberal media’ charge is largely hooey, and dangerous hooey at that.”
For those with a deep interest in the subject, see Andrew Cline’s patient and detailed framework for understanding media bias. From Rhetorica:
Is the news media biased toward liberals? Yes. Is the news media biased toward conservatives? Yes. These questions and answers are uninteresting because it is possible to find evidence—anecdotal and otherwise—to “prove” media bias of one stripe or another. Far more interesting and instructive is studying the inherent, or structural, biases of journalism as a professional practice.
Robert J. Samuelson of Newsweek echoes this post: “The latest Pew survey confirms—with lots of numbers—something disturbing that we all sense: people are increasingly picking their media on the basis of partisanship.” (June 28 issue)
Columnist Vincent Carroll in the Rocky Mountain News (June 19):
Yes, that’s just what we need: an in-depth investigation to determine whether liberals outnumber conservatives in the media. Perhaps Editor & Publisher can then turn its attention to solving such equally elusive mysteries as the location of the Statue of Liberty and the fate of the Titanic….
For professional reasons, many journalists are reluctant to classify themselves at all, so “moderate” becomes a handy way to signal their lack of bias. Some also dub themselves moderate in comparison with the people around them. In my experience, however, many of these moderates are center-left and presumably vote Democratic…
“Should editors embark on an ideological affirmative action program?” No. There’s too much gender and ethnic bean-counting in hiring decisions already. Don’t lard on another category. Why should a mediocre conservative reporter get a leg up on a liberal with a first-rate portfolio of clippings?
Posted by Jay Rosen at June 17, 2004 9:10 PM
There is a lot to comment on – perhaps a bit too much. I’ll break up my comment into pieces. In case a reader hasn’t detected it by now, I am a social conservative (no label is ever precise, of course), with views probably closest to those of The National Review (with some important differences, of course), and am an engineer in electronics and software areas..
I have a strong opinion, based on decades of observation, that the MSM is biased towards certain viewpoints, and growing more so. Although the left/right axis is overly simplistic, the MSM would fall somewhere to the left of center by that metric. At the same time, FOX News would fall somewhere to the right, as would the Washington Times. Conservative Talk Radio is not a news source in any traditional sense, but by definition is on the right.
Here is an anecdote hinting at how world view affects journalism. A neighbor of mine is a liberal columnist for the Arizona Republic. At one point, I found myself with him and other journalists from the Republic, and I mentioned that I felt the paper had moved too strongly in the feminist direction. They were shocked and denied it. I asked (not knowing ahead of time) how many of their superiors were women. It turned out that all of them were. Coincidence? Certainly not proof – it is an anecdote – but I offer it for thought.
A few comments – I agree that the Pew survey of newsrooms is likely to be wrong. Self identification of political beliefs will almost certainly be skewed toward “independent” or “moderate.” It matters very much how the survey was conducted, but I doubt that there was a methodology immune to this sort of error.
It is human nature to view oneself as a moderate, as representative of the middle or the majority, as not an ideologue or out on the fringe. It is even more human nature to present that self-identification to others. This is not true for everyone, but for many, and I think especially for journalists (ignoring editorialists) who have a “religion” of objectivity.
Rather than asking people if they are liberals or conservatives, why not give them a set of statements to agree or disagree with? That is much more likely to elicit truthful answers. I would be shocked if more than 10% of the women in the MSM are pro-life. Does anyone know?
The answer to the question of what it means to have political beliefs in journalism is easy: political beliefs tend to follow personal world views, which are significantly affected by personal experiences and interactions with others – perhaps especially information from important others, such as respected members of your profession, superiors, etc. Furthermore, various selection processes act to produce a relative uniformity of political leanings within journalism and some other fields. For example, the prevalence of libertarianism among members of my primary profession – software engineering.- is very high – especially if you label libertines as libertarians. Anyone can sample this by visiting the discussion boards at Slashdot – News for Nerds.
Practices such as Anna’s “The Clinton Test” can help reduce problems resulting from group-think and bias, but that level of intellectual honesty is hard to produce and harder to sustain, especially in a group with consistent world views, and with real-world demands for timely product. Certainly I would expect that journalism schools attempt to teach critical thinking skills and procedures to improve objectivity. But clearly this is not enough, as the “leftish” bias of the MSM’s product is easy to discern (and not just by dishonest methodologies like cherry-picking facts).
One practice I see in MSM stories is a balancing procedure that fails to produce balance – see my previously referenced article and thought experiment challenge about the coverage of the Swift Boat Sailor’s press conference. The practice is to get information from one side of a dispute, and “balance” it with information from the other side. Not being a journalist, I would still guess that this is one procedure taught (or required by editors) to improve balance – i.e. reduce bias. Unfortunately, too many times, if appropriate context and critical thinking is not applied, the bias will show through in any case – one side’s strength will be shown against another side’s weaknesses, for example. The claims of both sides will be given equal merit, without investigation to see if they are valid.
Getting more to the core question – are newsrooms too liberal – YES, if you judge them by their output. Yes if you judge them by some surveys. No if the pressrooms are at outlets that do not hide (or imagine the nonexistence of) their liberal slant.
I don’t believe that bias can be removed by any set of procedures. The history of human behavior shows that partisanship is a deeply ingrained characteristic
How do we find a newsman? Does she have to have a college degree in Journalism? Isn’t this likely to start a commonality of personal experience? Are journalism majors self selected as part of a political world view or canonical set of world views? Of course! Do journalism professors largely share a consistent world view, tilting to the left, and passing on that bias to others? Again, of course! Does this guarantee a consistency of views? No, but it greatly increases it.
The Media Research Center’s headline strikes me as quite typical of too many MSM headlines – artificially explosive. In the same way that one can clearly see a bias (and deduce motive) with MRC, to many Americans, the bias is just as clear in the MSM. The early warning signs (not early anymore) indicate this: the success of right wing talk radio, the low credibility numbers in the survey, the dropping subscription and viewership numbers of the MSM, the growing cynicism of the public.
As to the question: “Liberal journalist means…” – It means that the journalist will create stories with a liberal slant. How could it not, unless liberal journalists are immune to the bias associated with any world view – in this case, presumably a liberal world view. Again, although the MSM pretends to be objective, I think we all agree that it cannot be.
Especially in areas where facts are questionable and their importance even more so, having liberal reporters (unless balanced by what? Conservative editors?) will result in a liberal slant to the news. Too many subjective judgments are required.
In a hard science like physics, bias exists but is self correcting. Mother nature cares not about the opinions of scientists. Even so, there are often long standing acrimonious debates and stand-offs over important questions. Bias exists in science, but over time the methodology corrects it. Journalism cannot afford to wait, and deals in many areas where the scientific method cannot be used in any case.
A side note:
One incorrect impression from the information about Fox News: O’Reilly is not a conservative and not acting as a journalist. His show, in a newspaper sense, is an editorial or op-ed piece with his views, which are not representative of Fox.. He is hard to label – my favorite is “arrogant, ignorant, opinionated contrarian blowhard. The O’Reilly show is a huge commercial success, for reasons I don’t understand and which might be enlightening, but it ain’t news (in any traditional sense) and it doesn’t represent the news side of Fox.
Regarding charges of bias as an “attack” style in politics, much of the discussion is surrealistic. It would also appear to be off the main topic, which was “are news rooms too liberal?”
“Crying bias is just a tactic” is a convenient dodge for one who is biased and has been called on it. That the Los Angeles Times is liberally biased shouldn’t be a question – it is obvious. That many people dislike that bias is shown in various ways, including the drop in readership. That “crying bias” has been used as a tactic, and will be used again is of course true. Both sides use it.
But, to deduce that all bias crying is a tactic is illogical. People complain about bias for other reasons – the most important being that they believe the bias exists and they don’t like it. It is one thing when a politico cries bias, and another when the public does so, but even the politico may be correct, although from that source the accusation is obviously less credible.
I would offer myself as an example in the "bias wars" - obviously not an influential one, since my megaphone is more of a nanophone, and it has been 10 years since I was a nationally syndicated radio co-host where I could occasionally toss out an opinion that a lot of people heard.
I have been upset with leftist media bias since the Vietnam War. When Walter Cronkite later admitted that Tet '68 convinced him that the war was lost, and he decided to use his position as "the most trusted man in America" to end it, I was shocked. The media got the story wrong from the start, and continued with a false narrative about that offensive that many people believe to this day.
So I have long been suspicious of the MSM, and as an observer of comparative propaganda, applied those overservations to the MSM.
Today when I accuse the MSM of leftist (or more precisely, AnybodyButBush) bias, I do so as a citizen who dislikes having this major force allied against my positions and the political party I support. I have done so with little effect for a long time. The ordinary citizen has little ability to penetrate that Iron Curtain.
This year I am also an activist. I am specifically acting as a Vietnam Veteran opposed to John Kerry. This means I have an activist's interest in the media, not just a citizen's interest.
Does this mean I am using "press bias" as a tactic? Not yet, because it won't get me anywhere. If it did, would it be dishonest? No, because I believe it to be true - way too true. Am I hoping that my arguments here will help my cause? Yes. Do I expect that they will? No. Do I argue here because I am an activist. Absolutely not - I do it because for once there appears to be a faint chance of my observations having some slight impact - an effect of bloggery. If John Kerry were not running, I would not be an activist this year, but I would still be commenting on this blog.
Carroll has been used to his monopolist’s world – where there is no significant challenge to what he has to say, no rich marketplace of ideas. The megaphone he complains about was in his hands until O'Reilly came along with another one. Many in LA had smaller megaphone, but that didn’t bother Carroll – it was when a megaphone big enough to be heard criticized him that he reacted.
His comments are ironic – O’Reilly went after him when his newspaper once again used its longstanding monopoly to attempt to skew the views of voters. I would like to see more of this. Let’s get diversity on the soapboxes with megaphones. Is it surprising that a long unchallenged, powerful media organization would develop bias that affects its reportage? The specific incident that O’Reilly attacked may not have been timed purely by bias – the LA Times may be correct in their defense that the information was published when it was ready to be published, not on a date chosen for maximum negative impact on the Governator. I don’t believe that, given the LA Times history, but it’s irrelevant anyway when one considers LAT's history.
Another suggestion is that since Roger Ailes is a former Republican political operator who runs Fox, Fox is a political machine (implicitly a Republican political machine). But if one watches Fox a lot (and I do – it’s the video/audio wallpaper of my office much of the time), one sees a much more complex operation. O’Reilly is a loose cannon – he can help the Republicans one day and slam them the next. He certainly isn’t a conservative or Republican operative. Anyone who would call Geraldo Rivera a republican operative should elicit laughter – yes, he’s really gotten into supporting the troops, but watch him on other subjects and the old liberal Geraldo is still there. Hannity and Colmes seems to be a reasonable show for that format – except this conservative likes liberal Colmes better than conservative Hannity – Colmes is smarter and more likeable.
Equally Ironic is Carroll’s view that Fox News is a news and propaganda organization. This is the pot calling the kettle black. I would extend that generalization from the LA Times to almost the totality of the mainstream media. If you have lexisnexis, look up the transcript of CBS’s report on the Swift Boat May 17 press conference. It is blatant propaganda.
“Opponents are trying to drive up our negatives.” That is an interesting and revealing way to phrase it. How is Fox News an opponent of the Los Angeles Times? Competitor? Yes, but in an alternate media. Opponent? If you don’t have a political agenda, you don’t have an opponent! Critic? Sure. But Opponent?
I would agree, by the way, with Jerry Carroll to some extent. Having liberal media critics investigate liberal bias in the media is not the best way to get the truth, although I suspect more will be found than Jerry Carroll expects.
Paul Moll’s comment on not having ideological affirmative action in Newsrooms is priceless, given the rigid affirmative action practices (with regard to race, gender, sexual preference?) at the New York Times. If you have a nice mix of races, genders and whatever, and they are all liberal, then you have a liberal newsroom. Affirmative action for conservatives would be silly and Paul Moll’s reasoning (heck, they’re liberal, they’ve got liberal customers, don’t sweat it) would be fine if the New York Times wasn’t so important in setting the news priorities for the MSM in general, and if there were a corresponding, important, conservative newspaper of the quality of the NYT – but I am not aware of one that even comes close anywhere in the United States.
Main stream journalism ignores or discredits the cries of "bias" at their own and the Nation's expense. The bias exists, is consistent, and has caused the public to not trust anyone for their source of news. The result is an open field for looney movements, left, right, environmental terrorists, black helicopter survivalists - the whole range of madness. It is aking to the situation in Iraq under Saddam, where rumor, many outrageous, was the only source of news, because the main stream media was distrusted. I have encountered too many individuals this year who don't trust the MSM, but somehow have collected a dangerous collection of bizarre ideas.
When 54 precent of national journalists and 61 percent of local journalists decline the labels "liberal" and "conservative" and identify instead as moderates, what are they really saying? It's possible, I suppose, that they're all Joe Lieberman Democrats or Arlen Specter Republicans (the political reporter's definition of a moderate) but it seems more likely this is a statement refuting the relevance of labels like liberal or conservative.
What they are saying is they don’t want to admit their personal viewpoints, or alternatively, that they have subscribed to the myth that their viewpoints don’t keep them from being “professional” and “objective,” or even that they actually are moderate (which I doubt is true for most who claim to be). Again, a measurement of person opinions issue by issue would be far more instructive – and with the magic of the internet, the raw data (identity protected) could be provided to allow anyone to analyze or classify.
While a simple linear scale – left/right or liberal conservative certainly is not sufficient to accurately describe anyone’s views, it turns out to be a relatively good predictor – in other words, if you know someone is to the left, you can usually predict their views on a large number of issues, and rarely be wrong. The same is true for the other side.
That left/right should form a useful dichotomy is not obvious and in fact is counter-intuitive. Humans are complex – how can a single scale rate them over a broad area of beliefs? The answer is: it works, just like IQ measurement works, over a surprising range of ideas/skills. We would prefer people to be more nuanced, but just as mother nature doesn’t care what the scientist wants to find, the polarization of left/right is, for whatever reasons, a good predictor for many people on a large number of issues.
If nothing else, when discussing political subjects, you don’t want to have to label each individual or group with their position in a 25 (or whatever) dimension space. But more important, if you actually put individual viewpoints into such a space, dramatic clustering occurs – the axes are not orthogonal – 25 is too many dimensions – one is good enough for much of political discussion.
Bill Steigerwald’s comments “…most of the liberals I know barely realize they are liberal…” is important. In my work, which is not political, when politics comes up, left and right are likely to be present. But this isn’t as likely in a news room..
I offer up another anecdote: When I first started storm chasing, I rode in the car of a strongly liberal couple –Matt and Betsy - both meteorologists. We had many political discussions and continue to do so 10 years later. But at one point, Matt commented that before he met me, he didn’t know there were conservatives who could make rational and even reasonable arguments. No, I didn’t turn him into a conservative, and he will vote for Kerry this year. But his observation was amazing – he had not encountered enough conservatives in his life to know anything about us, and he lives in a southern state.
When he spent time talking with me, he realized that a number of his beliefs (learned stereotypes) were incorrect. Not his core political beliefs, but many beliefs about conservatives. It is a tribute to his intellectual honesty that he was willing to both consider this possibility and state it.
Now imagine people in the highly selected world of the major media. How many conservatives do they meet? Do they believe that Joe Sixpack with his hunting rifle and perhaps racial bigotry is a typical conservative? Do they think that Randall Terry represents all religious conservatives? Was Tim McVeigh just a conservative who did what the rest want to do?
Why not, when they don’t have an opportunity for discussions with conservatives, except perhaps in highly charged confrontations where mutual understanding is not the goal.
I have an email friend who lives in Westchester. She used to be a solid Westchester Democrat, but has been turning against the Democratic Party. She can't find anyone in her social circle (which is large - New York City Intelligensia ) that has views anywhere close to hers (and she is still pretty liberal).
I have a habit of talking to servicepeople who come to my house or fix my car or whatever. Having grown up in a faculty-brat environment, I had little diversity of exposure until I joined the Navy. There I worked with and took orders from poorly educated and not highly intelligent blue collar people, and I grew to respect them. In my hobby of amateur radio, I also run into a wide diversity of people - especially after the CB craze drove many blue collar folks into the hobby - truck drivers, for example.
You can learn a lot by making a habit of talking to people who otherwise might be viewed as just objects in the infrastucture.
Jay’s comments in Complication 4 (The Newsroom Diversity Dodge) are spot on. I can add nothing to them.
First Complication: Attack Politics. Is it attack politics, or a Borking? How does Carrol's attack politics analogy differ from Eric Alterman's "working the refs"? Do these nuances need to be addressed in E&P's survey framework directed at newsrooms and academia?
And why did you use Dukakis exclusively as your victim of "attack politics"? Couldn't think of a conservative victim? Bias!! ;-)
Complication Number Two: The Other Pew Study. So, where attack politics affect the newsrooms, it is also being used to affect the news consumers?
Therefore, the losses in subscriptions/viewers among liberal MSM is not just a spreading of the viewership given more choices, it is a polarization of consumers? And this polarization is following political polarities - with larger minorities of Democrats believing liberal MSM than Republicans, but losing credibility with independants as well.
This implies that viewers are being excited into higher states of partisanship, which causes them to be more sensitive, which means they are attracted and repeled by "objectivity" in their choices - or by bias from a news source?
And doesn't that lead back to the concern that the Pew surveys (and others) support the notion that the "one-note" newsrooms are playing left of middle-C?
(Although for some reason I think of the Left as more the melodious and feminine high notes right of middle-C and the Right the more harmonious and male notes left of middle-C. But that might just be me.)
Complication Number Three: Those Moderates. I definitely agree that Mitchell needs to distinguish the cynics, agnostics and cross-overs (Reagan Democrats?). But more difficult will be measuring their impact against an allegedly more populus but constrained liberal minority and endangered but emboldened conservative minority. Most moderates I've met don't want news absent the liberal or conservative spin, but that allows both to make their case. Of course, that leads back to Krugman's complaint: "The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media--fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance'--won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."
Complication Four: The Newsroom Diversity Dodge. Diversity says: we need a better mix of perspectives, more members of under-represented groups. But "represent your group" is exactly what you are not supposed to do according to codes of the newsroom.
This seems to parallel the whole David Horowitz Academic Freedom movement. Is it very different? Should the institutionalized philosophical, political, ethical, and practical processes in the newsroom direct that energy be spent objectifying and sanitizing (de-voicing) the journalist or in developing the journalist to compile and create symphonic and historically rich compositions? Does that require more instruments, or a new type of synthezier?
I am an avid consumer of the news.
I read NYT, WSJ, and my local paper each day. I review the week with magazines. In the car, NPR has my attention. At home Fox News leads, but MSNBC and CNN have well-worn quick-tune buttons on my remote. At work, the BBC, CBS News, Chicago Tribune, CNN, Google, Yahoo!, NYT, USAToday, Washington Post, WSJ, and Le Monde are all bookmarked in my browser and visited when time allows.
I used to trust the news that I was reading, viewing, and hearing.
I was annoyed by the overblown headlines but I could forgive them as a means to draw attention – they were not necessarily damaging to the veracity of the report.
I was annoyed by the bias exposed in the report; but I could forgive that as an acceptance of multiple points of view necessary to get more than one side of the story. I could ''filter'' the bias and still get the story.
I was alarmed by the exaggeration of facts, or erroneous facts reported, but comforted by the fact that I caught it.
I was viscerally aware that bias might be affecting my understanding of the world: not through the reports I got, but through the selection of what I got. I was arrogant enough to think I could filter the bias out of what I consumed; but was aware that I might be consuming from a menu that neglected major staples while overloading on others. I still though I could correct my world view through something approaching ''Kentucky windage.''
Finally, I began to suspect that I was being misled. I occasionally saw events ''live.'' Not packaged, processed, canned for my consumption - but the real thing! The actual speaker presenting the rationale for war; the Palestinian boy being shot in a village square; the horror of collapsing towers in New York. With these sights and sounds clear in my mind, the press coverage of them alerted me to the facts: the press doesn’t have a clue!
I believe that the public forms opinions of world events through multiple sources. The occasional live events serve to show the press as the emperor with no clothes. The multiple sources of information now available to the public further exposes them to a rich set of points-of-view and allows them to come to their own conclusions -- not those spoon-fed by the mainstream press.
As a direct result, the MSM readership, viewer-ship, listener-ship is declining and the public trust is eroding.
Terry Krepel (above) shows us part of the problem. While it is true many of the so-called media watchdogs have a bias of their own, there is truth in what they say.
The fact is, it is getting harder and harder to find (as Mark York reminds us) -- Critical Thinking -- in the reporting of news.
The simple recital of the relevant facts in news reporting has given way to something called journalism.
Journalism was supposed to bring context and critical thinking to reporting. Instead it has brought unbalanced and often incorrect reports.
Why does it take a web-log to get point and counter point? Why is a consumer of the news required to verify facts, and to get the original text of a speaker or a commission to find out that the report is significantly off from the facts?
While I agree that most of the media are left-leaning (NYT, LAT, CBS, ABC, NPR) and some are right-leaning (Fox, talk-radio,) the real issue is that the bias is getting strong enough that the news itself is sacrificed.
Where is the critical reporting illustrated by the Woodward reporting of the 70s? Where the story was more important than whose ox was getting gored?
Now the story grinds one side of the ax for so long that the other side of the ax is gone!
Pursuing both sides of a story, reducing it episode after episode by eliminating the non-factual and arriving sooner-or-later at some version of the truth -- where is this kind of reporting?
Most of the news today is continual repetition of a given point-of-view. The public is left to get the other side. There is no elimination of extraneous spin but just a replay of entrenched positions.
Certainly if a story has only one side, then another doesn't need to be created and reported.
However, if a story's thesis is that John Kerry is supported by veterans (for example) then it is appropriate to air the veterans (who appear more numerous) that do not support him.
If a story's thesis is that there is a uprising of the masses in violent protest to American presence throughout Iraq then it is appropriate to let us all know how many towns, villages, and cities this is occuring in, and how were are fairing against all 35M people who are now rising up in violence against us. Or, if it is not the masses, then perhaps a word or two from those who are not rising would serve as the "other side."
If the economy is in the dumper, as alleged, then perhaps providing the story in the context of accepted economic data would be appropriate.
The essence of critical thinking, and writing, is that there is a thesis, that the thesis is supported by evidence, and that counter arguments are considered and dealt with.
There are daily examples of news, not editorials, not columnists, but purported news, that serve to alarm or advocate, but not report. The facts are often incorrect, the provision of countervailing facts omitted, and the headline trumpeting.
I would hazard that this is a minority of news reporting, however, some outlets are more inclined to do this than others. And those that do, do so in a consistently left, or right, fashion.
John Lynch best describes the way “Big Lie” techniques work from the standpoint of the deceived. The MSM today is engaging in these techniques, whether by design (in a few cases) or out of their inability to compensate for the influence of the “left” environment all around them, one that they tend to agree with. In fact, one might consider the following:
The very same effect that John Lynch describes is likely at work in the MSM. Not, of course, a conscious skillful propaganda technique aimed at journalists (although those exist and there is big money in it), but the accidental equivalent – an emergent phenomenon related to various selection and group-think tendencies.
In answer to the general question of how to deal with this bias, perhaps one could find a way to break this strong positive feedback loop. How, I don’t know. Certainly if we took leftist reporters and stuck them in an isolated workshop, and simply fed them contradictory information over a significant period of time, some of them would come to believe it, or at least question their own beliefs. But how one could actually do something like this, and pay for it, and keep it on track, and not turn it into Fred’s Conservative Brainwashing Clinic are all serious obstacles. So I don’t have an answer. Perhaps intergenerational differences (don’t trust anyone over 30) may lead to new journalists with different worldviews.
John Lynch raises a point that I think gets lost (a loss which politicians do their best to take advantage of):. In essence, it is that spin is not necessarily content free or wrong. It is merely one side that needs to be investigated. Beyond that, media critics, whatever their goals, should be listened to.
I have been very open here with my background and my viewpoint. Does the fact that I am a conservative without journalism training, and even worse, an activist in the anti-Kerry movement, automatically make my statements wrong? I would hope not. I would hope that critical thinking ( a skill missing in way too many areas ) and investigation would be applied to my statements and views at the same level as they would be applied to a pro-Kerry activist. Furthermore, although I have an up-front agenda: get our story out to the press, I am neither the press officer of any organization, nor solely motivated by that in this discussion (I don’t get paid for this, I have long participated in this kind of discussion and it is only change that I stumbled onto this blog at the same time I am politically active).
David Ehrenstien’s link points to a good example of poorly done amateur leftist propaganda – true hate speech. This sort of thing is all over the web. It doesn’t address the issue at question here, it merely attacks a conservative journalist. On another blog, I would shred it. Here, I just want to label it.
Ormasnd’s reference to the Groseclose and Milyo study of media bias highlights the danger of the “balancing” technique in removing bias (or more cynically, in an attempt to show fairness):
…depending on the issue, a media outlet could give equal treatment to both sides, yet still be biased because of the issues it select (page 15, first paragraph of Discussion section). They show two examples – one gives a rightward bias and the other a leftward, both using the same technique and without regard to the ideological views of the reporter. An inappropriate us of this balancing technique showed up with many of the stories about the Swift Vote veterans which I analyzed for “The Clinton Experiment” discussion.
William A. Dorman quotes my recitation of my memory: “When Walter Cronkite later admitted that Tet '68 convinced him that the war was lost, and he decided to use his position as 'the most trusted man in America' to end it, I was shocked.”
It is entirely possible, even likely that this this is a false memory. It may be that Cronkite did not admit this. I have a memory of hearing it many, many years ago, while in California, and on matters of that importance, those memories are usually right. But in this case, unable to offer proof, I will concede the point that Cronkite may very well have never made that admission. Something triggered my awareness of and interested in leftist bias in the News, long before I was a conservative (“He who is not a libertarian when young: :-)
However, I offer a report (by Arnaud de Borchgrave) of a different Cronkite statement, made before the one cited. Now perhaps he is also suffering from ideologically slanted memory, but I doubt it. The allegation is different – not that Cronkite admitted to using his position, but that he declared the war lost in a somewhat dishonest way. However, since my mention of this was an aside as to how I came to my interest in bias in journalism, the only relevance to this discussion is that it shows my memory is not perfect (and, probably, biased towards my own beliefs). In that sense, I am subject to the same natural process of bias as reporters, which is hardly surprising since we are all human beings. We could go back to post-Tet 1968 and examine the coverage, but that would be a diversion. However, for those who have memory of the period, let me offer some assertions, not to be argued here, stealing the thread, but to let people see if their view is accurate (people on this blog are likely to have good ways to verify facts) or a result of misleading reporting: Tet-1968 was a tactical catastrophe for the Viet Cong (and hence, the North Vietnamese); there were three VC offensives planned for that year (including Tet) - all were catastrophes for the VC and after the last one, the VC was effectively eliminated as a fighting force; after the Tet disaster, the North Vietnamese concluded that they should sue for peace, until they saw the news reports and reactions within the United States; because Tet was such a disaster, General Giap was quietly demoted - he no longer was allowed to control the war - although the word "demoted" itself does not appear in any history I have read; the PRG with whom John Kerry met was a puppet government-in-waiting, created and totally controlled by the North Vietnamese to provide an artifical "southern" alternative government.
I do feel like I have brought a knife to a gunfight. Academics who can spend entire careers studying and publishing on specialized issues are obviously at a dramatic advantage in knowing the literature and conclusions of their field. I am trying to introduce views that may be at odds, but I may introduce some “brilliant” idea that is old hat. On the other hand, I have the advantage of having watched the times through a different filter, focusing on different facts (i.e. having a conservative bias/leaning leads me to likely have information, with all appropriate caveats, that those who lean left may not have). I also have, of course, my personal experiences and acquaintances which are especially relevant to this issue both because of the Kerry/Vietnam controversies, and the Bush/TANG controversies.
Dornman’s use of studies is interesting, because he asserts that widely shared cultural bias is significant. I would suggest that we live today in a society widely divided on just the issues where press bias charges are made. In those areas there is no “dominant” system of ideas – there are at least two which are antithetical. Which side influences the press in this situation? I would suggest (and refer to the Groseclose study as indirect corroboration) that it is the leftist/liberal/pro-choice/ side.
I assume that Terry Krepel is correct in pointing out that three internet-only conservative news organizations did not question the facts at the press conference (I only read the WND account). These are not major news outlets with pretension of balance or non-bias – they are news organizations with declared or well understood political positions. WND has surprisingly high ratings for a web-only service (and has some interesting business approaches also - which might be worth a topic some day - they mix ads and news articles - not infomercials - but in any case, they are an odd duck, and a quite successful one).
I of course agree that any good reporter ought to be suspect of motives (facts offered, also, of course). The MSM swallowing Republican spin about Gore merely informs us that the MSM is so careless or lazy as to allow such things. We could play the game of whose spin won in the MSM forever – I am pretty sure that Republican spin (at least post-Reagan) would be the serious loser.
My complaint about the Swift Boat coverage is twofold: (1) The story was more important than the coverage given.(2) While the press was very suspicious of the Swift Boat veterans, it showed no suspicion of the Kerry counter-spin. The latter may have, in the liberal minds of the reporters, caused them to discount the importance of the story. The failure to actually understand the organization and its members, but rather to allow guilt by past association to be presented without investigation, and worse, to influence the definition of importance, is lousy journalism – whether one considers it bias or not.
Why the hell do we live in a society where news is determined by whose spin is presented and how is a question we should be asking? What happened to investigations? Why do leaks by people that clearly have agendas play such a big part in national news, while the motives of those people are not themselves an important part of the story?
I want a skeptical (but not cynical) press. I want one that (by whatever magic) avoids group bias, or compensates for it in some manner. I want one that has diversity of world-view and related ideology.
I can’t comment on exactly what the MRC’s agenda is. I know mine when my amateur activist hat is in place. I want the media to present, in a fair manner, some truths that I have solid information on (much more solid than 30 year old memories of Cronkite) and which I think are critical to those public debates. I have no objection to serious investigation of either our charges, our funding, our supposed ties to the Republican “attack machine” (my tie is simply as an inactive precinct committeeman, which I became to please a former boyfriend of my daughter). I have a significant objection to the media putting out our charges and Kerry’s responses, without investigating both.
Finally, for those who make rigid stereotypes, my previous work as an activist was a major coordination role in Hands Across America.
Terry Krepel also characterizes my attack on Kerry spin as “disingenuous,” specifically characterizing “the flip-flop of past evaluations by some of them vs. current views.” The so-called flip flop was explained, but that explanation was apparently ignored by Krepel. Because Krepel has raised the issue and is in fact a participant in the subject of discussion in addition to the discussion itself, in depth analysis is, sadly, necessary. There are a few places below where I have intentionally let my feelings show through (in terms of word choice, etc). But since where I stand is well known, while people may object to specific terms, it doesn’t change the message.
This story is deeper and more related to the issue of what to do about bias than one might think. We have, right here, a working reporter who is engaged in the bias (and attacks) I have been decrying, on the exact same story.
That Krepel has an unacknowledged bias in this discussion is telling. I have been open about my position. Krepel’s wrote an article on the subject of coverage of the Swift Boat Veterans for a partisan web site (conwebwatch.com) which has as its purpose attacking conservative web sites
The goal of ConWebWatch is to document the distortions, excesses and hypocrisy of these conservative media sites. Using their own words, ConWebWatch hoists the conservative media on the petard of hypocrisy, accuracy and objectivity.
Krepel operates that web site, according to the “About” section. As a side (or snide) comment, a petard made of hypocrisy, accuracy and objectivity wouldn’t hoist anyone – Krepel ought to discover what a petard is. Sometimes the use of symbols gets truly amusing.
Krepel’s argument complains that CNS, while reporting the Kerry spin, didn’t take it any further. This is an eerie echo of my charge that the articles I attacked took Kerry’s spin at face value, printing them with no investigation or skepticism. Krepel used the following words: “a fact the Kerry campaign subtly pointed out.”. If it was so subtle, why did it appear in almost every media report I found? It is ironic that Krepel engaged in exactly the type of highly partisan attack on CNS (and indirectly the Swift Boat veterans) as I decry.
There is another fact that was pointed out not at all subtly, but carried in only a couple of reports: John Kerry allegedly called one of the leaders of this organization and spent 45 minutes trying to dissuade him. Put on your Clinton Experiment attitude and read that sentence again, then tell me if it should have been reported.
But it is handy to have a genuine left wing reporter, who implies independence of course (behavior relevant to the problem of a survey dependent on self identification):
“ConWebWatch is totally independent -- it is not affiliated with any political party or organization, and I am not a member of any political party (though an active voter)
Check out the site and honestly tell me it has the viewpoint of an independent! I could change my registration to moonbat party or something else not relevant, and make the same claim.
Krepel complains that three conservative outlets didn’t give enough coverage of the Kerry spin. (3 paragraphs of 63). Perhaps she should look at what the mainstream media did. They gave it roughly the same 3 paragraphs (except for some who followed the dots about O’Neil a bit, and CBS who did a total hit piece ), but most gave far less to the story, as opposed to the meta-story.
Krepel then elaborates on the Kerry spin (response is the term she [I am guessing about gender] prefers, of course, since she is a partisan). First, the “favorable evaluations” that Kerry’s military superiors gave in Vietnam are claimed to indicate a flip flop, since those superiors are now against Kerry.
Krepel ignores domain knowledge which I provided: specifically that FitReps for junior officers make Ivy League grade inflation look trivial in comparison. According to several high ranking officers whom I know and who looked at Kerry’s fitreps, there were several which would be career destroying. Not because they don’t sound glowing, but because, for that rank, they were well below average in one or more individual rating areas, including ability to work in harmony with others, which to a fellow officer would mean that they were bad fitreps. It is a shame that journalists, hearing that Kerry flip-flop spin, didn’t bother to take those reports to military people who are familiar with them. Jay, why would that be?
When one combines this with the reason for the existence of the Swift Boat association, which was both Kerry’s behavior in Vietnam and Kerry’s flip-flop from “brother in arms” to publicly and loudly proclaiming that he had witnessed war crimes in his duty, and his many other false attacks on American servicemen and America, there is no flip-flop by the Swift Boaters. Those are men who knew Kerry, fought with Kerry, commanded Kerry, or did the same job as he did, and were viciously smeared by him as he used the VVAW to gain political power. They are obviously important witnesses regarding the character and abilities of John Kerry. It is not surprising that a leftist (oops… independent) like Krepel devotes so much ink to discrediting them. Is it a coincidence that CBS has the highest left-bias rating, and CBS did, by my analysis, the worst job of reporting this story, and the best job of attempting to discredit the veterans? I was not aware of CBS’s place in the study (or the study itself) when I wrote and published my article.
The other “flip-flop” allegation is especially ironic, because it makes the claim that the support of Kerry in 1996 by some who now opposing him is flip-flopping. But that isn’t the complete story. These men supported Kerry against charges by his political opponent that Kerry had committed war crimes. Since these men knew that war crimes had not been committed (by Kerry or other Swiftiess, despite Kerry’s 1971 testimony), they defended his reputation - the charge was wrong and a smear on them, too. They could not let a fellow veteran be attacked that way.
To have them now come out against Kerry, who accused all Vietnam Veterans of routinely committing war crimes (see the “day by day” clause and the “created a monster” section of his 1971 Senate speech), and whose recent book reportedly repeats many of those charges, is hardly a flip flop. Just as they defended Kerry against false charges, now they are defending themselves and the nation, and because Kerry made those false charges in 1971, and of what they knew of him from the war, they have deemed him unfit to be Commander In Chief. They considered saying “unfit to be president” but decided to hold themselves to the military arena which was their area of expertise.
There are two additional charges made against the group which would appear to tie them to the “Republican Attack Machine” or the Bush Campaign. Both are based on Kerry spin, this time attempting to smear his “comrades in arms” through guilt by association.
John O’Neil, the man who took over Kerry’s boat, was selected by Richard Nixon to debate Kerry. This is a fact, and one form of attack on the River Boat group was to show a picture of Kerry with Nixon. Nixon is long dead. To me, this indicates that Nixon felt that O’Neil disagreed with Kerry and was in an appropriate position (and had adequate speaking skills) to be of use in countering Kerry’s many false charges. I watched a replay of the Kerry/O’Neil debate on Dick Cavette (CSPAN), and Kerry was the superior debater at that time.
In full attack mode, Krepel writes: Well, since CNS refuses to live up to its mission statement "to fairly present all legitimate sides of a story," we'll have to do it for them. CNS gives the innocuous version of the biography of John O'Neill, a member of the group -- "a Houston, Texas, based attorney" who "served in the same naval unit as Kerry and commanded Kerry's swift boat after Kerry returned to the United States" and who "engaged in a nationally televised debate in 1971 on The Dick Cavett Show." But as Media Matters reports, O'Neill is a registered Republican who was encouraged by Richard Nixon himself to spar with Kerry on TV in 1971. In addition, he is a former law clerk for conservative Supreme Court justice William Rehnquist.
What is the message? O’Neil is a Republican so he’s a liar? Service as a law clerk for Rehnquist makes one a liar? Those connections make him a conservative (he may be, I don’t know), so he’s a liar? How about the over 200 other people? Did Krepel investigate their backgrounds and party affiliations? How many were Democrats? Are they dupes?
This isn’t presenting facts, it is character assassination by innuendo and guild by association.
Then we read this complicated series of connections that supposedly lead to O’Neil having strong connections with the Bush administration. The PR firm, which was used to set up the event, has indeed been involved in Republican PR operations (and has, not surprisingly for Texas, connections to O’Neil). Would Krepel expect them to hire a Al Gore’s PR firm? Please! Is there evidence that this is a White House operation? Where is it?
So here we have it. A strong message about a presidential candidate’s qualifications, from over 200 people who served with him or in the same tiny piece of the Vietnam War, people whom few have ever been part of political activism, with the exception of John O’Neil. They used a Republican PR firm to set up the event.
What is the message? That a bunch of Republican stooges are out to smear Kerry? That’s CBS’s obvious take on it. That’s Krepel’s take. That’s a message easy to find in almost all the mainstream reports (if you can find the reports at all). On top of this, the message is that whatever happened, it was not very important (except from Krepel, who is on a slight tangent to the main story), otherwise the stories would have included more details, such as the following "human interest" one:
I would prefer not to be here, but I feel it’s my duty to be here and stand with this association and explain why I’m here. My family feels it’s my duty. My daughters and wife have read portions of “Tour of Duty” and wanted to know if I took part in the atrocities described.
Read the last few paragraphs and substitute “communist” for Republican and see how it sounds.
With regard to what to do about bias in newsrooms, my answer would be: don’t hire people like Krepel, or if you do, hire them for an avowedly liberal newspaper or one which needs leftist balance. Of course, you probably wouldn’t want to hire me, except perhaps as a logorrheic op-ed columnist.
But this story shows something else probably strongly affected by bias: the failure of the media to investigate the Kerry spin, yet its willingness to investigate (more likely report what was provided by Kerry) the complex chain that is used to discredit this operation as a Republican operation.
Finally, let me toss in my own knowledge. I now know some of these men. I know how shocked they were at what happened to them. I have a picture of three of them on my blog – sent by one, in an article entitled “Dangerous Political Operatives.” I asked their political affiliation and got Democrat, Independent and don’t know. I’m going to buy Boats Turley a beer (or whatever) when he passes through here on his vacation.
It is easy to forget, in this world of symbols and manipulation and spin and operatives, that sometimes people are just who they say they are, in this case ordinary Americans with no political experience and not usually much interest, but Americans who risked their lives and have been now repaid twice by Kerry – both times with smears on their character.
It may be that the MSM has not adapted yet to the fact that controlling printing presses isn't as important in the day when anyone can use the internet, and cannot only read alternative opinions, but sometimes interact with the subjects of stories. The MSM has to have a value-add in order to survive. It needs to have something special. In the television news area, it is two things: a government granted monopoly on very rare bandwidth - the equivalent of a free concession in a national park; and, content. Given that, it is a money making machine. A network needs affiliates, and for that, it provides content and branding.
A newspaper has a different situation. Readership is dropping. As the generation now in college grows up, they aren't going to read the paper at all - in its current form. They are on-line electronic technology-induced "ADD" folks.
In the news business, the obvious value-add is the content, and ways to acquire and produce it.
Today, more and more people are coming to believe that the MSM is not up to the task.
You mention the battle of facts. We have on this blog an example of how that might go in the future. I can provide information from one side - mostly originally derived from public information (CSPAN transcripts, for example). I can provide domain expertise - mostly through contacts I have made.
But in the case of the Swift Boat Veterqans, as far as I know, all the facts have been revealed (although some not widely reported on, such as the apparent fact of Kerry's 45 minutes phone call, and many details are available only on the Swift Boat folks' site - you can easily find plenty from wintersoldier.com.
What remains are interpretations. I have an advantage of knowing or having direct contact with those who know many facts about Kerry. I have the added advantage of having served myself, thus having an insider's knowledge - I joined the USNR within a couple of days of Kerry. But my disadvantages are that I have no outlet (other than blogs), I have less access to research capabilities (lexisnexis costs me $3/article - I would expect a journalism department to have an unlimited access covered by a master contract), and I'm a conservative, which carries a stereotype of stupid/lunatic/untrustworthy-partisan/shill-for-Bush/whatever.
Furthermore, it is a fact that I am partisan (have been a long time) and this year am an activist with my own agenda. It's just unusual that I admit my agenda in a place hostile to that agenda.
In answer to your question: you are damned right we have a problem, especially if you don't support those policies favored by the MSM (anti-Bush, anti-Iraq_war, pro-choice, anti-religion, pro-gay, anti-military, radically feminist, etc - a list of questions on agreement with these views would have been much better for media bias surveys).
The Swift Boat veterans refer to the MSM as The Iron Curtain after their bitter experience.
I call them Pravda and Isvestia (not meaning the Russian translation of those words, of course) and conservatives and others against the MSM's pet agendas communicate via samizdat.
And yes, Jay, although it's off topic, I do believe that the list above is an incomplete list of MSM positions that strongly and routinely color the reportage.
I'm going to put my Antioch University education to use (briefly.)
Writing for news reporting should not require multiple points-of-view. It is acceptable to present a story advocating a position without creating a moral eqivalency by considering another point-of-view.
Journalism does not require a simple recitation of the facts, nor a reduction of the facts to non-biased salient facts.
Journalism has lifted reporting above simplistic recitations and allows advocacy. Dong so has allowed social justice to be meted out by strong and forceful journalism exposing the injustices and advocating solutions.
Journalism is a noble cause.
Now, with all of that understood -- where does the public go to get news?
In as much as any certain outlet, or group of outlets maintain singular points-of-view -- the public will seek out alternatives points-of-view in order to get a more complete, less cognitively disonent world view.
The availabilty of alternative outlets, the rapid emergence of FoxNews, the popularity of blogs -- each of these speak to the appetite of the public to round out their views.
The specific purveyor of the news is in danger of becoming irrelevant if they do not present sufficiently complete news.
It is not necessarily "too liberal" or "too conservative" that alienates consumers of the news. It is if the news outlet is too "single note."
There are some outlets, and I'm sure the reader can identify for themselves outlets that fit this particular shoe, ... outlets that have the same stirdent tone in almost all of their reporting.
Harvard JFK School of Government
Goldberg, Bernard, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, Washington D.C.: Regnary Publishing, 2002
Jay, thanks for the forum. I hope the dialog was close enough to your intended target.
John Lynch writes:
Writing for news reporting should not require multiple points-of-view. It is acceptable to present a story advocating a position without creating a moral eqivalency by considering another point-of-view.
Journalism does not require a simple recitation of the facts, nor a reduction of the facts to non-biased salient facts.
Journalism has lifted reporting above simplistic recitations and allows advocacy. Dong so has allowed social justice to be meted out by strong and forceful journalism exposing the injustices and advocating solutions.
This is an interesting set of assertions, but leads to a few questions:
Under what conditions do each of the above apply? Editorial page? Regular news? If the latter, must they be identified as containing opinion? If not, why not?
Are these statements valid if there are not alternate choices, or if the all choices using a particular medium have the same advocacy positions? In other words, is it a problem if the evening news has essentially the same bias on all channels, given that a very large part of the populace claims to get their news only from that source? The operant issue here is not what choices do they have, but what choices do the non-news junkies have in the medium they prefer?
It is not necessarily "too liberal" or "too conservative" that alienates consumers of the news. It is if the news outlet is too "single note."
It may not be necessarily the case, but it is certainly the case for a growing number of consumers, as the MSM gets less diverse even in the face of alternate sources on alternate technologies.
In fact, it is not clear what the difference is between "too conservative/liberal" and "single note." Also, branding is a long standing marketing technique, and consumers like it because it gives them an assurance that they will "hear the same note" each time.
The point is that a brand is a major asset, and a brand is a shorthand identifier for a set of consistent characteristics a customer can be assured of.
Today in the MSM, what are the brands? I would suggest (more as examples than precise sets) they are:
For television news:
ABCBSNBCNN - All one brand
For newspapers, the brands are:
Newspapers have a significant brand identity simply by being "THE" local paper. NYTLATWAPO, WSJ, WSJ Editorial Section, and WT (question on LAT and BG) are national also. WT is national only because it is the only conservative paper in Washington, but it has meager reporting.
In radio, there is a common marketing dilemma: do I imitate the successful guy, picking off a percentage of his market, or do I do something original, and go for my own market?
It would appear that, at least ideologically, the MSM has taken the former approach.
What is the difference between ABC and NBC news operations? They look the same to me. From my consumer viewpointt, at the moment they exist to feed me heavily biased and selected editorials that will aid the election of John Kerry. If Bush is reelected, they will exist to tell me about some major social spending that needs to be done; if Kerry is elected they will exist to attack his opponents.
Oversimplified? Sure. Wrong in spirit. I've seen nothing to convince me otherwise.
Let me make one more comment, specifically on the New York Times. Anyone who says that the NYT is liberal and hence worthless is wrong. The NYT has great depth and breadth of coverage, and is valuable for that. That it is amazingly politically correct and liberal is sad, because it means that some of that effort is misfocused.
1) Regarding formatting the comments box - this blog, like many, allows a subset of HTML (the language of web pages) in its comments.
To make something bold, but <b> before it and </b> after. If you leave out the latter, the bold may go to the end of the comment and possibly into subsequent comments (depending on the blog software).
To make italics, use the letter "i" instead of "b".
For links, use <a href="the link"> followed by the link text (the stuff that will be blue) and then close it with </a>
To write the stuff I did in the line above here is a bit trickier, by the way - putting a left angle bracket in a document, when that character is part of the metalanguage, requires an additional little bit of magic.
On most browsers, there is an option to look at the actual source text of a document. If you do this, you will see the hidden formatting instructions of HTML. That's a good way to see this in action (although you want to use a search to avoid wading through a bunch of mysterious stuff) - look at one of my posts where it contains some formatting you want, and see how I did it. There is a caveat: the page you see is not what was typed into the comment box - the blog software filters it and puts it into a larger page format. Depending on the blog settings, some of this formatting may disappear.
2) It's an interesting twist. I wonder how long they have been doing it. I'll try to remember to ask my brother if this is the sort of thing Dr. Calder Pickett taught when my brother got his journalism degree 25 or so years ago. My problem with it is that, as put, it seems like an unjustified ideology, as opposed to a set of rules. To me it says "Forget all those rules we used to teach about objectivity, we are noble revolutionaries and watchdogs. We we can lie by omission and commit advocacy without labeling it, because we are noble, our hearts are pure, our goals good, and hence the end justifies the means"
Is it really being taught that way?
I wouldn't be surprised to find this. After all, take a look at some of the anti-intellectualism so common in many humanities studies, such as history departments, anthro departments and especially English departments these days, or read the nonsense from the Modern Language Association. Any scientist reading this would be amazed at Higher Superstition, and of course those of us with physics background loved it when the peer reviewed journal, Social Text, published "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity."
The memory hole is filling up with good information, while the text books are filling up with excrement. I bring this up because presumably journalism students encounter this anti-intellectual sort of nonsense in their humanities studies, if not in the journalism departments themselves. I can think of no better way to short circuit the critical thinking abilities of those students than exposure to the fads in many humanities departments.
3) It would be interesting to know what set of news consumers roam around. I have had the ghastly experience of watching CBS news because I turned on the channel for the local news and was too busy to change it. I have this internal model (which may be wrong, which could explain the questions) of a non-nerd, non-intellectual, ordinary guy who watches the network news on one channel as part of his evening routine - this is certainly an old stereotype but when I read that 45% of consumers claim that all of their news comes from the network news, it reinforces my model. I have no equivalent model for females, who of course are also consumers.
In other words, my internal model says a lot of casual news consumers won't move on. Perhaps the situation is better than that.
Well, if we can be allowed the arrogance of consensus represents accuracy, I think you've got a good hypothesis.
It fits well with what others, i.e. John Moore, has said about (paraphrasing) not believing the NYT but finding it to be a "good read". So where a single MSM source may not be seen as believable, a personalized compilation satisfies the modern press skepticism. Another thought might be that a compilation of sources is desired to find the diamond in the rough on an issue among the chattering chaff.
What's interesting also, is if you accept the idea of "one note" newsrooms, there is also a reality that even within the MSM monotones, a few are out of tune with each other. That nuance, if desired, is different than seeking a chord of news views. So does the believability factor drive consumers to a more narrow cross section of liberal/conservative MSM sources, or a more broad selection, widening the MSM umbrella to include previously labeled "alternative" (in ideology, not technology) sources? For example, did - or has - FNC move from alternative to MSM, or was it always MSM out of key with the other "tuned" sources?
I also agree that swimming against the "one note" newsrooms, or the cultural conventional wisdom, can result in a label of alternative, extreme, fringe, winger, ..., that is difficult to overcome if not desired.
Last thought, couldn't the Pew poll be compared with the self-observation of Nielsen ratings to support the E&P study?
Thanks for the response, juicy thoughts!
And is that need for diversity as true in the newsrooms as in the classroom, among the humanities, the sciences/engineering/mathmatics, the government and coporations?
I think the need for diversity in classrooms is dependent on the built-in truth checking of the field. It also creates problems, because if one professor teaches a section [scheduled time period] of a class, his students don't benefit from the views of diversity provided by another professor who teaches the same class but a different section.
However, mathematics, physics, and chemistry rarely have a need for diversity of views. Except on the edge of research, the issues have been solidly settled (in some cases, not as solidly as non-scientists might believe, but most of it is very solid). As you move into fields where it is harder to create and test falsifiable hypotheses, opinion often outweighs evidence.
An example is climatology. Almost all climatologists agree that the world is warming. But if you look into the assertions about how much of that warming (if any) is anthropogenic, you find a number of positions, and few scientists (other than the sort who tend to take their views to the public in political terms) will give high confidence to their views. Most would agree that mankind is probably adding to warming, but that's about it (and, keep in mind, majority does not determine truth in science). Furthermore, there is a lot of flux in the field - major pieces of new evidence appear and major factors are known to be unknown (such as a the contrails vs no-contrails study, major finds in oceanic carbon sequestration, and so far ineffective attempts to account for 1/3 of carbon sequestion), so the views vary quite a bit. This can happen in a number of scientific areas, most of which are not politically interesting to the external world.
Reigning paradigms exist, and sometimes quite nasty battles ae fought to put down challenging paradigms - personal battles, reputation and maybe tenure at stake. The theory of continental drift (plate tectonics) was resisted for a long time. At one time, there was considerable dispute as to the agent which caused AIDS (or whether there even was one), and to this day a noted retrovirologist denies the HIV hypothese (but IMHO he's very wrong, and probably denying the hypothesis to avoid admitting he has been wrong for 20 years). You would not want the HIV denier to be the only person teaching about AIDS (or retrovirology) at a university. In those areas, it would be best to have diversity of viewpoints on the current genuinely hot issues.
Ss you move into areas that are more subjective (many branches of psychology, for example, or sociology), diversity might be helpful if opinions are so polarized that a single professor is unlikely to teach the field well. Likewise economics, history, and just about all humanities.
To throw in a counterpoint, my Econ 101 professor was a communist. He stated at the start of class that his purpose was to teach us that communism was the only valid economic system. Then he pulled out Samuelson and taught freshman economics just as well as anyone else.
There are some areas of academia that have become intellectually decadent and essentially insane. Deconstructionism and poststructuralism are simply not truth oriented, or more accurately, they are nonsense.
Some humanities fields have as a result adopted some really proposterous ideas (anyone familiar with the philosophy behind "feminist physics"). As I mentioned before, the example of "Social Text" publishing "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" shows the bankrupcy of those "intellectual" trends.
In the history profession, a number have prospective graduate students who were conservative have been advised to pick a different major. That profession, at least at many universities, has turned Orwellian. Diversity is actively discouraged, in a field where diversity is clearly important - history is full of disputes with the interpretation of evidence being necessarily subjective. Anthropology is another field where incorrect (and ultimately embarrassing, I hope) ideas dominated the field (I'm not talking about physical anthro, of course). Sadly, some of the nonsense of the anthropological frauds have made significant inroads into our culture - especially those of Margarette Meade, whose nonsense reigned from 1928 to 1983. t is an area full of disputes, because the subject is so difficult to do good studies in.
So, going back to the newsroom. Where are the proto-journalists learning their history? Orwellian history departments? Are their English Lit classes focused on oppressionsim (my term - the belief of manyf left wing intellectuals that most events and human structures can only be defined in terms of oppressor and oppressed)? Are they indoctrinated in a world view that America is an oppressor, a colonial power, fascist, run by big business?
How much science, math, and especially history of science and study of the scientific method have the learned? Have they been taught a doctrine of relativitism, of facts being only a matter of perception? Do we see a journalistic profesion as characterized by John Lynch's list?
Do journalism departments try to focus on techniques for countering some of the more absurd ideas mentioned above, or they accomplices in spreading them?
Not being at a university, I can't answer my questions. I am aware of the various bizarre idea systems floating around in the humanities, and would expect them to do some damage to the truth distinguishing functions of a proto-journalist, assuming that producing output based on truth (or its closest approximatino) is considered a desirable result of practicing journalism.
TIm also asked about the need for diversity of opinions in government and business.
Businesses either do or do not need diversity, depending on what they are doing. Furthermore, if they need it and don't get it, the natural feedback systems of the free market will usually destroy the company or force it to recognize that need.
Government, which lacks the feedback mechanisms of science and the market, and which has very critical functions, would seem to need a significant diversity of viewpoints. Unfortunately, this goes against both the political nature of government and the conformity producing results of bureaucracy.
Hence I would argue that diversity of opinion is likely badly missing in most of our governmental organs.
Interestingly, the military, especially in wartime, often develops diversity. It is naturally diverse in terms of the normal PC measure (other than number of females), and it draws people from a lot of backgrounds and world views.
Furthermore, a military person changes environments frequently - different unit, different people, different place. This means that a commander who suppresses an opinion cannot do it for long for any particular subordinate.
At the same time, many high level people are likely to be highly egotistical (military or civilian) and intolerant of diversity of ideas. Hence there is a natural struggle continuously in the military for diversity. Civilian control on top of this whole thing adds more diversity, but may be intolerant of diversity in opinions of those below them.
There are military professional journals where new ideas can be introduced and discussed. I do not personally have enough knowledge of these to comment on whether they provide the benefit of diversity.
What passes for bias is simply unexamined thought or sloppy work.
What passes for bias is usually biased. It may also be sloppy or unexamined, but that is irrelevant if the result is bias.
People who are actually ideologues, who have undertaken to study a particular view, are more open-minded than the "moderates" because they have, as part of their education, engaged in critical thinking about their own views. Moderates don't have views, to the moderate only other people have views, and the moderate rejects taking a stand and that is his alibi to persist in ignorance, and he labels that ignorance "objectivity".
This is quite interesting, and as tomoderates, true as characterized. It's like having an election decided by "the undecideds." Can you think of anyone less qualified to vote?
However, I wonder how many moderates, in this sense, there really are? As characterized, it is a particularly silly philosophy.
Ideological people (of which there are plenty here) may have studied issues more closely, but the natural tendency is to only see one's own side of the issue. Why should one believe that those with ideologies are more "open minded?" I have certainly met plenty of ideologically minded people who have obviously never applied critical thinking to their viewpoints. I have met some who have, and an activity I enjoy is discussing issues with those kinds of people because we can both learn things - and have the fun of rhetorical fencing at the same time.
If you have people of clashing ideologies, there are possibilities of producing better information, but all too often they argue past each other.
At least a "Hannity and Colmes" brings out the arguments of each side. It doesn't provide a good way for them to be engaged, but at least you get the "talking points" of both.
So, no, there isn't a need for the inane point/counter-point thing, as that is provided internally within the individual journalist. A socialist journalist can engage anti-socialist ideas, and in a more effective fashion than two left/right nitwits trading ad hominems.
This strikes me as totally counter to human nature. Furthermore, it is counter-factual. The MSM is biased. The biases are clear. If what you say is true, then they producing biased results even though they have the capability not to.
Anyone can play "point/counter-point" internally. That doesn't mean that the result is unshaded.
I try to be objective. But I know that I am more likely to find, and remember, those points which support my pre-existing viewpoints (unless I find ones that oppose it that are of sufficient power and interest to be remembered). Again, this is a well known tendency of human beings. I have seen zero evidence that journalists have some amazing ability, or powerful mental technique, that makes them immune to this.
I have certainly discussed issues like this with cynical journalists. They tend to be more centered in a sense, but they also tend to view the whole world as a silly game, and hence are hindered in their ability to recognize what is important.
Show me an unbiased journalist and I'll show you someone who has a bias about his self image.
A more interesting question would be: why are journalists so biased? Put another way, why are journalists people who apparently care enough about issues to develop biases? Or is it just lazily inherited group-think or mimicry in order to be more succesful?
I absolutely reject the myth that journalists can be unbiased (except perhaps some extraordinary individuals). I do believe some journalists are far more capable of balance than others, but there I know of no reason to expect them to rise to the top of the pack, since bias doesn't seem to carry an individual cost, and may in fact carry a benefit as part of group membership.
I reject the concept that events are necessarily unambiguous.
Who shot the Palestinian kid in the famous video?
How many people were killed in the Jenin massacre? The answer changed over time - but the event itself did not.
How many civilians were killed by the Marines in Fallujah? 600 or 50? Since the number went from approximately the first to approximately the second, either we had a lot of risings from the dead, or something changed.
How about second hand knowledge of an event - received from a source? Is that unambiguous?
How about events which are not detected? How did that happen? Is their non-detection itself an unambiguous event? If a person who witnessed George Bush peeing in the White House rose garden says it in the woods and nobody hears, what event?
You have film of a person shooting a semiautomatic AK-47. That the person fired the weapon is pretty simple. But what did he shoot - an assault weapon? If you said yes, you got the event wrong (which the press has done a number of times on this particular example).
Which brings to mind a journalistic fraud on that subject. In 1994, WBBM-TV showed a reporter buying a legal semi-automatic Uzi. Video showed an Uzi being fired "spraying" bullets at a high rate - obviously a fully automatic submachine gun. The purchased weapon was incapable of "spraying" bullets as it was only semiautomatic. This was outright journalistic fraud.
A large amount of reporting in 1994, during the campaign to pass an "assault weapon ban," mixed the concept of machine gun and the "assault weapons" which the ban would, well, ban. A fair amount of this may indeed have been sloppy journalism, by journalists who didn't know the difference. But the number of times the mistake was made, always with the same effect, led to many allegations of intentional bias. It is entirely accurate to say that the journalists, on purpose or otherwise, provided millions of dollars worth of free advertising for the "assault weapon" banners.
This may happen again this year (the ban sunsets). However, the ban cost the Democrats so many seats in Congresse that they may not dare try it again. However, if they do, does anyone expect a more balanced treatment from the press?
Should newsrooms have a resident gun nut who reviews any story on firearms? How about a veteran who reviews any story on the military?
Here's another event that was poorly reported, because a related fact was left out. So is the event unambiguous?
The event was Clinton's agreement with Yeltsin to retarget both nations ballistic missiles away from the other nation. Clinton claimed that for the first time in many years, Americans no longer had to fear nuclear missiles targeted at them. There's one unambiguous event - that Clinton made the claim. Uninteresting also, compared to the obvious quesiton: was it menainfully true that Americans no longer had nuclear missiles targeted at them.
Here's one missing fact that is sufficient to answer the question, and could easily have been asked and reported (there are others along the same line): both the United States and Russia had the capability to retarget those missiles essentially instantly. In other words, the "event" was meaningless, but a missing fact obscured the truth. It wasn't hard to figure out - the Titan Missile Musem is in Green Valley, Arizona. It includes an actual Titan Missile Silo, completely preserved (minus the nuke). This silo was deactivated by 1984. The equipment in the control room is primitive. Specifically, the targeting data was fed to the missile with punched paper tape. When I asked the guide, who had been a missile officer at that site, how long it would have taken him to retarget that ancient missile with its old technology, the answer was 30 seconds.
Mark: You wrote, "I have to say that I can't believe a Journalism professor can allow the spread of this kind fallacious propaganda on a website about Journalism. This is a sad joke."
That compels a reply.
I am not sure what you mean by "allow," because I am not sure how I would disallow people from saying whatever they're saying. There are ways, of course, but which of them did you have in mind?
I can ban people. (Which I have never done, but will if necessary.) I can censor or delete their posts. (Which I have done in a handful of cases and will do again when needed.) Or I can write "against" them, exposing their "fallacious propaganda," rather like you do. Which option seems right to you?
I'm pretty sure you would pick option three-- the writing against response. If I took one of those yellow highlighters to every sentence in comment threads that I saw as "propaganda" my screen would be jumping with yellow, and a great many of your statements would be highlighted. Do I care to specify instead of throwing out a cheap shot? NO. I do not. I know where that goes. And you may call my shot cheap, if you like. But you'd be wiser to listen up.
I am simply telling you that I allow your propaganda, on those occasions when you indulge in it, as well as that of others-- "allow" in the sense of neither denouncing nor supporting it. Liberals are supposed to understand that approach-- intuitively, I would think.
But I allow you a good deal more than that. I allow you to insult and ridicule people, in a casual, offhand manner that suggests you do it every day. I allow you brilliantly incisive put downs like "Are any of you people writers?"
Your totalizing style reminds me of Noam Chomsky's: no one is ever in error, only "totally" in error. No one is ever just wrong. It's 100 percent wrong, a demented lie, a sick fantasy. Opponents don't lack good reasons; they lack reason itself. They don't have a selected view of the facts. They have all the facts wrong, unless they have NO facts. You have reason, truth, science. They have lies, propaganda, delusion, or total ignorance.
It would do you well to learn that this totalizing style of yours (shared with others) is itself a mark of propaganda-- in my book. Got that?
Am I singling you out as the only one who resorts to tactics like these, as if "conservatives" (wingers, in the parlance) don't do the same? HELL NO, I am not. They're often worse, because they're a majority party--the party in power today--still thinking as victims.
That's why the media bias discourse is so important to some on the Right. It's a way for those in power to call themselves--but more important, I think, actually consider themselves--victims of the press. Nixon had that mentality, and it did him in, because he used his immense power to get back at his suppposed victimizers.
No, the reason I am singling you out, Mark, is that you have the gall to insult me after I have indulged you all this. (But you are not the only one I have indulged.)
I watch you out on the dance floor, Mark. And as the posts mount, I have come to one conclusion: You don't seem to realize that you are dancing with the writers you deride-- in particular John Moore and Tim. You move in mirror steps with them. You feed each other lines. You egg each other on. It's beyond tit for tat. It's a partnership in flaming, a collaboration in derision-- and that's the dance.
If it continues (and I have every expectation that it will, but you're invited to surprise me) then I will start censoring comments, something I am loathe to do for obvious reasons. If it continues after that, then I will ban my first poster and it may be more than one person.
There used to be many more readers commenting at a typical PressThink post before the dancing you're involved in started. That means you're an immediate threat to the health of this forum and an exceedingly rude guest within it. Why do you think Stephen (sbw) posted above: "I think I'll go outside for some fresh air"? That's your air he's getting away from-- yours and others.
Well, I can't go outside, or get away. This is my weblog, my house. And you are advised to heed the host's warning.
Ad Homina Delenda
I'm afraid I did toss in a couple more ad homina. Target rich environment... At least I kept them short and it was only a couple. I was able to avoid it for a couple of days. Will try abstinence again. He did leave a dropping on my site also, which was a trigger for my inappropriate ad homina.
I do want to take strong intellectual (not personall) exception to the following of your statements (and since your brought it up, I assume this tangential subject is acceptable to discuss):
as if "conservatives" (wingers, in the parlance) don't do the same? HELL NO, I am not. They're often worse, because they're a majority party--the party in power today--still thinking as victims.
That's why the media bias discourse is so important to some on the Right. It's a way for those in power to call themselves--but more important, I think, actually consider themselves--victims of the press. Nixon had that mentality, and it did him in, because he used his immense power to get back at his suppposed victimizers.
First, a question. If right wingers are called "wingers," what are left wingers called? The very nickname implies an emotional separation from the right.
Otherwise, I think your analysis of media bias is very convenient to a leftist ideology, and otherwise (with some exceptions) is (with all due respect) utter nonsense.
You act as if the majority cannot simultaneously be a victim. Do you believe that?
Nixon screwed up, but the Media really was after him
You bring up Nixon, but Nixon had many unsual characteristics in an unprecedented time. The press objectively was his enemy, and he objectively was their victim. But his sneakiness and his willingness to use the powers of government for partisan purposes (which his predecessors did also, of course), was his downfall.
I think Nixon has on relevance to this other than as an example of what not to do. Not to avoid considering one's party as the victim of press bias, but rather to deal with the situation much better.
Why is Right Wing Talk Radio Much More Successful than Left Wing Talk Radio
I have offered before an argument suggestive that the MSM press is indeed biased against the right. I'll do it again and hope for a response, and then add another...
The Right has speen spectacularly successful in talk radio. When Limbaugh came along, the phenomenon exploaded. To this day, the left has failed at national talk radio, and other than the fact that I made some money off of Air America, I consider it to be yet one more object lesson. All of this leads to the question: why is this so? Why do liberals have so much trouble on national talk radio (they have some success in very large blue markets). My answer is that conservatives (and many moderates) find their experience with MSM to be unsatisfying and disturbing. They either recognize bias, or the just don't feel right with what they are hearing. It creates cognitive dissonance. Then they find Limbaugh, or Hannity, or (heaven forbid) Bill O'Reily (the exception - he is not a conservative, he's a buffoon), or Michael Medved, or Ken Hamblin, or (and this is sweet) Gordon Liddy, or many others. And there they find an ideological home.
On the other hand, liberals don't need to go far to find their ideological home. They can watch the MSM and they've got it. They can read the NYT, listen to NPR, watch the big 3 evening news, and fell right at home.
So, what is your explanation for this phenomenon?
CNN Seeks Advice From Congress
Here's another one. When FOX News started eating CNN's lunch in the ratings, CNN was (obviously) troubled. The recognized that they had lost just about all of the conservative demographic. So they sent people to DC to ask some conservative leaders how to attract the conservative audience, and they got an obvious answer: give the conservative viewpoint equal time. They have failed to do so, and they now have 1/3 the prime time viewership of FNN.
Does this suggest that CNN is a liberally biased network? If not, what is the explanation?
Deconstructing the Crypto-Marxist Logic about Conservative Bias Discourse Motivations
Finally, let us examine the logic of your assertions.
[media bias dialoge] It's a way for those in power to call themselves--but more important, I think, actually consider themselves--victims of the press.
Well, if you think you are being mistreated (I hate the word "victim") by the press, don/t you think you are going to talk about it? The fact that we are the majority party (barely, and conservatives per se are not in the majority) has no bearing on the truthfullness of the assertion. That you would connect the two implies at least trace of classic Marxist-inspired analysis (no, I am not red baiting any more than I hope you were not nixon baiting). There is a strong strain of a victim/victimizer dichotomy in leftist through. Specifically, those with power are victimizers or oppressors, and those with less are victims or oppressed. This is one of the reason so many of the left support the Palestinians and in often label as "freedom fighters" their suicide bombers. My characterization of the philosophy is obviously oversimplified, but accurate for many, many arguments from the left - whether tied to conscious Marxist ideas or unconscious habits of thought. However, it is an extremely simplified model, and in this case fails (within that dichotomous system) to account for other dimensions of power.
One could use the same (imputed) analytical technique as follows: The press is left wing. The press is powerful. Therefore it must victimize the right.
However, the right (except for hopeless ideologues) tend to work backwards to such an analysis. It isn't obvious from the start. The right sees itself being treated in an imbalanced way, repeatedly and consistently, and hence properly concludes that the press is biased against it. Only if the right goes hunting for reasons for this does the rest of the analysis appear, although not necessarily in the form I gave it.
In this case, the right can find information to support this model, and rightists activists may use this material in dishonest rhetorical ways (as exemplified earlier in the headline form the right wing media watchdog organization). Of course, the left does the same thing, so this says nothing about differences between left and right.
Hence the "majority party" characterization in your argument is a red herring (blue herring?). It says nothing about the actual truth of the assertion that the right is being mistreated by the press, but rather seeks to discredit the idea by placing it into a crypto-Marxist political context.
My assertion is that the media bias discourse is important to the right because the media is biased against us, and the media is very powerful. Not a highly sophisticated concept, but a naked enough assertion to be directly analyzed.
Finally, a comment on number of readers/commenters. I have noticed a significant drop-off in traffic on my site in the last week. It may be that the summer season has just reduced the number of people spending their time in front of computers.
John Moore said:
"I reject the concept that events are necessarily unambiguous.
Who shot the Palestinian kid in the famous video?
How many people were killed in the Jenin massacre? The answer changed over time - but the event itself did not...."
You are providing support for my assertion rather than contradicting it. Yes, the answer (the narration) changed over time, but did the event itself? I think not.
Events are unambiguous. Narration introduces ambiguity.
I was in a rather unambiguous car accident where my head rather unambiguously smashed the windshield. Afterwards, however, in the narration, we found some some interesting ambiguities. In my version, we had run a red light, in the version of others it was green.
Maybe an analogy to Heisenberg is appropriate, where the act of observation changes that which is observed. But I don't think that's totally analogous with the problem in journalism.
It is a commonplace that an aspect of the postmodern era is an incredulity towards "meta-narratives". I would suspect that the meta-narrative which structures the believability of the individual narratives within journalism is suffering from that same incredulity, that the appeal to some transcendant ordering principle (or symbols) that both resolved and masked inconsistencies is no longer functional, and that this is part a larger change in the culture, not just limited to journalism.
I would also assert that the influence of the internet on journalism is not entirely for the good, as the push towards transparency fostered by the interent has also induced a paranoia toward all journalistic content and practice.
Here is a quote from a book called Cyncism and Postmodernity by Timothy Bewes"
"'The paranoid's fantasy is the removal of that which appears in elementary models of communication as "noise", leaving behind only pure meaning. Yet noise is the very condition of the possibility of meaning; the perception that cyberspace constitutes a realm of pure meaning actually imperils meaning... Likewise the compulsive desire for the eternal, for perfection and for completion, precludes the possibility of experiencing anything but a cheapened immortality, a literal immortality which replaces the classical, productive quest for fame and glory after death with a codified form of perpetual death.
The paranoia of the internet, directed towards structures of signification, including the institutions of communication, is the same as that political paranoia - also called "cynicism" - towards all politicians (as a type) [i.e., as symbols] - the view according to which politicians are "all liars." It is this paranoia which fosters the illusion of the "end of politics: ...that we have ways of going around the old political structures by cavorting on the net.' "
IN the last paragraph above substitute "journalism" for "politics" and you can see what I'm getting at.
Examples would be helpful in some of these discussions, especially for outsiders like myself, who are not reading the journals, attending the conventions, teaching or taking the classes, or practicing journalism. As in any field, a jargon develops, or a specialist meaning develops around common words and phrases, and a common shared experience base exists. This results in an (entirely appropriate) shorthand way of discussing issues. If you ask me questions about computers, I can emit nerd speak, which contains almost completely normal English words, and you wouldn't understand a word I am talking about unless you share the common experience. Or, depending on the subject, I can explain it in a longer way that does not depend on the specialized jargon and common experience.Shannon's Information Theory is a model for understanding this. A fundamental concept there is that in a two-way communication, fewer bits have to be exchanged if the two sides have a greater shared amount of related information.
I used the example of the news coverage of the issue of banning "assault weapons" in 1994 before, because I believe it shows three pathologies that lead to distrust of the media (and tremendous anger) by conservatives: journalistic fraud, journalistic bias, and journalistic ignorance all on the same subject matter. As such, it could be dissected. At a minimum, we could discuss the issue of journalistic ignorance at some point (maybe a different thread) because I think that is itself a strong negative.
On the other hand, if Jay doesn't want to descend to a more common, less specialist level, that's his choice and would evince disappointment but no criticism from me.
You present several characteristics of journalists. How can news people by generally cynical, and yet passionate. Those characteristics are not normally found together - in fact, quite the opposite. Likewise, cynics are rarely curious.
News is an aberration. True. But there is no reason to believe that the aberration should be more counterculture than not. Was the press conference by the Swift Boat sailors who attacked Kerry counterculture? If not, is that why it wasn't news? Or is it just the antiBush (and hence naturally proKerry) bias of the media?
In the national media, the assertion that news people deal with a "mostly down side of our culture" would seem to be less true - especially on the political beat. They are generally dealing with other people who are well education. Is it possible you are referring more to local news, where they are covering crime and interviewing those associated with it? Or is it that on national stories, because of the "gotcha" nature of modern news, it is the worst of the Washington (in particular) world that they keep encountering, engendering cynicism. I would comment that the police deal even more with a down side of our culture, and frequently develop a deep cynicism, but they end up with a significantly different world view than the journalists.
I also would argue that many problems and issues are viewed at a distance by most people.
Having worked with the homeless during the time that the media "discovered" the homeless problem and promoted it as a result of Reagan policies, it is clear to me that the news people - at least those creating the stories - were either viewing the situation from a distance, or were lying. Which was it?
My daughter was in high school at a time when multiculturalism was rising towards a zenith. How many of your reporters have been upbraided for being white (my daughter is very white and blond), and then observed the suddenly respectful behavior of the very offensive "multiculturalism trainers" when she merely asserted that she was a Native American (she has an Algonquin ancestor)? I haven't seen a lot of stories in the MSM about some of the incredibly silly characteristics of multiculturalism.
How many of the people reporting on the assault rifle controversy actually went to a gun shop/range and learned the difference between the so-called assault rifles (now banned), a real assault rifle (banned since 1937), and the legal replacements for the so-called assault rifles (which have no functional differences of significance from the pre-ban weapons, and then reported on it fairly?
In a similar manner, news coverage of the military is very often done by people who clearly know less about it than many conservatives. Even embeds, according to reports I have received from soldiers in the field, often stayed away from the soldiers, and showed a significant dislike and disapproval of them. How many modern reporters served in the military, as opposed to protesting against it Could it be that FOX News' use of two Marines as embeds might have been important? Even Geraldo, who I would guess knew liittle about the military, hung out with the troops (that being his nature - manically gregarious).
How many here understand that conservatives do a lot of charity and community assistance work? My wife just stepped down from running an all volunteer charity (2000 people) which had the function of providing scholarships to Catholic schools for people in need (Catholic or not). See serves in soup kitchens with the homeless. I provided disaster relief for two weeks in Mexico City after the earthquake. When an Orange Alert is issued, I get a phone call and go on alternative 24 hour alert. When a service person comes to my house, I get to know the human being doing the work. Do you? Do reporters?
It is part of the arrogance of liberals and the press that they think they are closer to "real people" or "real problems" than conservatives. One of the more interesting characteristics of Roger Simon's blog is the mix of well educated and eloquent people who range from liberal against Kerry (the most common view, I think), to libertarian conservative to social conservative. That mix, and the generally (not always) high level of discussion, and of course Roger himself make it a very interesting place. This blog is interesting to me because, in a loose sense, I can chat with representatives of press think (good name for the blog, Jay), the people who are involved in or at least think like those who have frustrated and angered me for so long, and are currently blocking (with liberal bias) information I want the public to see.
I would suggest that journalists start out with blinders on, produced by the motives that led to them becoming journalists, the indoctrination received in school, and the group-think of the newsroom or in the national news world, the group-think of the profession. In many areas, they run into undeniable reality, but the narrative is still theirs. Now a conservative who believed that free markets work to solve all problems, who if by some magic managed to maintain that view through school, would indeed be in for some serious shocks. If a conservative believes in smaller government, I suspect contact with the lower strata would not change that view, although it might induce some compassionate feelings not previously there.
So I would argue that both sides see some things from a distance, and some journalists have hyperopia when viewing things up close.
You say "Is there a liberal bias in the news? Absolutely, and the right has used that to their advantage.
I'm glad you admit (or perhaps proclaim with glee) that bias.
However, to say the right has used it to their advantage is like saying an amputee has used a wheelchair to his advantage! He's still an amputee.
The right, and I would argue, the nation, have been badly served by the liberal bias. The right tries to compensate, but it is exceedingly difficult.
This year, as you know, I am involved as a Vietnam Veteran as an anti-Kerry activist (amateur). If it would be possible for you to first imagine yourself as a Kerry spokesperson, and then imagine yourself as one of us, you would understand that we feel we are dealing with a monolithic national media which simply is not interested in information damaging to Kerry, but will pursue the slightest tidbit on Bush to the ends of the earth. During the Bush TANG controversy, one person I was in contact with received 60 phone calls in a day. Kerry's loyal following of Swift Boat veterans (all 10 or 15 of them) were covered many times, and continue to campaign with him. Over 200 other Swift Boat veterans, including all of his commanding officers, came out against him and received all sorts of different coverage, none of it (other than in the blatantly right wing World News Daily) as significant as any slight negative Bush rumor received during the TANG issue.
By the way, has any news person looked at Pentagon data for relative risks in the military in Vietnam and as a jet pilot in the Air National Guard? I have. Why is there no monument to the many killed in that occupation, including my childhood best friend, just as dead in a New Mexico ANG F-100 as he could have been in Vietnam, or the father of two who first took me up in a P-3, dead in Lemoore, California P-3 crash? It was Terry McCauliffe's charge that the National Guard was the Easy Way Out (meaning Bush's service, not the normal 6 month active duty) that really pushed me to enough anger to start raising hell, because my dead friend "took the easy way out" accoding to McCauliffe. My only satisfaction is that I believe much of the TANG controversy was a trap set by the Bush Campaign to get Kerry and other Democrats to denigrate the service of millions. Don't expect any Guardists or former Guardists to vote for Kerry if they heard that statement. By the way, that's a story I never saw explored. So much for the vaunted curiosity of the press.
I dare readers here to analyze our assertion that it is significant that John Kerry's picture, as of June 2, was hanging in a room in the Saigon War Remnants Museum dedicated to foreigners who helped the North win the war, and explain why it is not worth a word of national publicity. I can be contacted through my blog, and you can find an article here along with organizational contacts.
Finally, I agree with Terry Keaton that the existence of a middle ground is not worth seeking. I think it exists, but is so ephemeral as to be impossible to track.
But, I also plead for diversity. It seems to me that many in the press are in favor of ethnic diversity in student bodies (Affirmative Action) because it would broaden the experience of students. While I think it likely to be folly to apply that to the press, the current press cannot be only the voice of the left forever and expect to survive. Furthermore, for an entire profession to take one side in the great national divide is no credit to that profession. What it says about that profession's view of the other side is not pleasant. If all of the press believe that the right is wrong almost all of the time, then political dialogue, compromises, upon which our political system is based, become difficult.
Point taken. It's a matter of where you consider the event to end and the narrative to start. Certainly the idea that there is an objective reality, regardless of the narrative or narratives, is the only rational viewpoint and I am glad to see it in your correction of my labeling. That the reality may be affected by the event of observing it is true in some cases - not your car accident, but certainly some political demonstrations, old fashioned terrorism, and many other areas.
I sassert that much of the distrust of all journalistic content and practice is a result of the sad state of the profession, and how often bias shows through. Now perhaps it is overly critical to expect facts to be reported accurately (especially unambiguous facts), but I think not.The Internet can certainly increase this distrust, and do so in ways that are either helpful to the society or not. Not being a journalist, I don't give a fig if it helps the current participants in journalism, I care about its impact on our society.
On the other side, It allows those holding every tiny viewpoint, no matter how nutty, on no matter what subject, to get together, reinforce each other, and potentially become even more nutty. At the extreme this can lead to the formation of cults and dangerous organizations.
When I was co-host on a syndicated radio show, our show was advertiser supported, and anyone could pick it off the satellite without telling us, and legally run it as long as they followed our program clock. A shortwave station picked us up. That same station was used by the right wing militias, the anti-income tax idiots (the ones who have a doctrine that the tax is illegal and hence they didn't pay it), the survivalists, and presumably the racist/anti-S-emitic and whatever groups. But in any case, I got some rather odd mail as a result of someone out there putting me on some of these mailing lists (this will be fun to explain if I ever again need a security clearance). I suspect it was because I made a few anti-gun-control comments. This was before internet use was widespread outside of the government, universities and the computing industry, but showed that even then, the tiny splinter groups were using technology to organize. The internet, of course, increases that ability by many orders of magnitude.
Today, we see a similar phenomenon with the various strange groups that participate in International ANSWER demonstrations. I attended one of these - the Phoenix pre-war rally, talked to and photographed the participants, and reported on it (and mocked it) in my blog. It wasn't so much the fact of the demonstration, but the existence of the large number of odd splinter groups which showed the power of the internet. Any time there is an antiglobalization demonstration, the same effect shows.
The same forces which create these organizations (left, right, tin foil hat, whatever) reduce confidence in the media. Reducing that confidence is a good in my opinion, but purely good. Confidence is not appropriate with the current state of journalism, and the reduction in comfidence is a symptom. But I would rather have better journalism. Rather than reading this as a total rejection of the media, there are specific areas where I think the main stream media is biased and its reporting is literally a danger to our country; there are areas where the incompetence is either technical our outright fraud - I think mostly the latter - and offer the debate about the 'assault weapon ban' as a good indicator of that. In fact, would that make a suitable example for discussion, so we can define specific events, narratives, meta-narratives, etc?
In any case, substituting wacko sites (check out Rense.com) is the modern equivalent of getting your news from the Art Bell show, but more dangerous. Purism of all forms becomes possible, because there are enough people out there that any tiny viewpoint can attract a following. I have often had debates with fellow conservatives who are terribly upset that George Bush didn't do what they wanted (he is not very conservative in some ways - "compassionate conservatism" is too much for many conservatives). In those debates, I have tried to explain that in a two party system, the odds that anyone will perfectly match your viewpoint is zero. The system requires compromise within parties, and if people don't like policies, they should work to convince the populace, not complain at their leaders. So just as the left is well known for acrid doctrinal debates and almost fractal splintering, the right does the same thing - to a lesser degree for reasons I'd be happy to discuss outside of this forum. In any case, the internet allows members of these factions to join together in self-reinforcing groups, and as any engineer will tell you, positive feedback is dangerous.
I am not sure what you are saying in your comment about meta-narratives. Is the meta-narrative in the mind of the news customer or the news provider? Is the news distrusted because the customer carries a meta-narrative which generates distrust of stories which don't fit, or are the individual narratives within journalism structured by a new meta-narrative, or both?
I don't believe that post-modernismism has infected very many of the populace. I certainly almost never encounter the language of post modernism except in a few places on the internet. I certainly find many who are baffled or angy at the results of some post modernist thinking, which doesn't strike me as paranoia, but the application of common sense to an area which escapes into flights of fantasy viewed as correct in light of certain meta-narratives.
I am angry. I am reading this blog and hearing the sophisticated analyses that journalists use, and their justifications. But the media this year has been lying to me and lying to America, over and over and over. The media is so blatantly biased against Bush and the Iraq War that it should be terribly ashamed of itself, unless it literally views itself as a producer of propaganda.
Side Note - Quantum Physics and Humanities
Using Heisenberg in this sort of discussion is dangerous, because Heisenberg's uncertainty principle doesn't say what most people think, and most ironic given the context, in quantum physics, an "event" is the measurement - until the measurement, there is no event. More accurately, without measurement, reality for a quantum level object is nothing but a wave function of probabilities. The event "collapses" that wave function to a single one of the possibilities. Quantum theory produces some ideas close to relativism and has been incorrectly used (See the Hermenuetics fraud) as physical backing for relativistic views of the world. In general, the best way to consider quantum physics is to recognize that our language and our intuitions are very, very poor at dealing with it. Quantum Theory is the most accurately predictive theory in all of science, but can only be accurately represented in advanced algebras designed for it, and it isn't clear if anyone "understands" it.
Well. Sorry to abandon this discussion for so long. I had just about gotten to the point I had wanted to make.
We had a dialog that revealed multiple facets of news stories are not reported. As a result the reader is left to get meaningful aspects of the story for him or her self.
The meaningful aspects are not meant to imply relativism, simply the thesis is supported with evidence and contrary evidence dealt with.
The example was drawn from today's news (Veteran support for Kerry.)
The subject itself immediately created polarized views from the readers / audience.
While it could be supposed that a reporter would a) Narrow the claim to "Some veterans have come out in support of Kerry" or something more qualified; b) Support the claim with sufficient evidence like poll results; or c) if anecdotal evidence is used, admit there is counter anecdotal evidence.
This is an example that is either sloppy reporting or advocacy.
I suppose some amount of sloppy reporting can be mistaken for bias.
It is hard to misidentify advocacy as anything other than bias.
Is advocacy or bias wrong? I suppose most readers have a problem with it only if it purported to be news, but apparently intentionally leaves out meaningful facts in order to create and support its advocacy position.
Now, to come to the meat of the question I was trying to get set up:
Is liberal journalism necessarily reporting with a liberal bias? (Remember? This is the original question of this blog)
A basic tenet in liberal education is advocacy. We are all exhorted, and are expected to exhort against something, for something -- just advocate! It is almost a “publish or perish” kind of thing if you want to maintain your liberal credentials.
Non-liberals may not have the same understanding of the centralism of advocacy. To some, the macho "if you want something done, don't talk about it, just do it" mentality is more central. Advocacy to them is vaguely distasteful, in a pleading sort of way.
So, while there may in fact be articles written or produced that unintentionally omit salient facts, cogent to the thesis the reporter is trying to develop: that is just sloppy reporting - not necessarily bias. There may be articles written or produced that intentionally omit cogent salient facts, cogent to the thesis - this is advocacy, and probably bias. Or there may be articles, well written, with all salient facts, and a well developed thesis - this is journalism in its correct form, but perhaps, still doing advocacy, and still exposing bias. In the final case, then the question becomes: Is there too much liberal reporting?
Having liberally educated journalists is going to create a higher incidence of advocacy reporting.
Having liberal reporters is going to have whatever advocacy is going on, tend to be liberal positions on liberal issues.
From the consumers perspective: sloppy reporting is awful and leads to high unbelievability scores; intentional omission of facts to create a biased report leads to high unbelievability and allegations of bias - in the angry form of allegation; well written, factually faithful advocacy even with bias, is believable and acceptable - a good read.
Liberals in the newsroom bring not only their points-of-view; but also their tendency to advocate.
Conservatives have forceful advocates as well, although I bet they got their education from a liberal school.
We are starting to see the shape of the ideological divide. One important issue is that conservatives do not assign to liberals many of the attributes you assign, so we have a definitional problem from the start.
On to specifics:
well written, factually faithful advocacy even with bias, is believable and acceptable - a good read.
There is an important question with this: is factually faithful advocacy that which includes balance - specifically presentation of facts which are counter to the advocated position? In other words, does it give "the whole story" and still commit advocacy?
It is certainly possible to do so. One could present a story on an excess of potholes, advocating that they be corrected, and also present the fact that doing so would reduce the number of new stoplights to be built, allowing more accidents to happen than otherwise. Is that an example of what you have in mind? I would have no objection to such a story.
But it leads to another issue: the journalist owns the megaphone. What if someone comes along and wants to advocate building playgrounds? A journalist can create a story (if enough interesting facts can be found to make "a good read") but the advocate may not be able to do so.
Hence advocacy journalism is a weapon available only to those who are journalists. And since we now have a consensus that they are liberal, than it is a weapon for liberals.
Is this a good state of affairs?
Do liberals think they should have a virtual monopoly on the fourth estate?
You state:Conservatives have forceful advocates as well, although I bet they got their education from a liberal school.
Well, they probably got their humanities education from liberal humanities professor, as it is very hard to find any who are not.
But what is your point? That advocacy is a naturally liberal characteristic? That change is driven only by liberals? The advocacy must be taught? That the tricks of advocacy are better known among liberals?
Also I would restate your example:The example was drawn from today's news (Veteran support for Kerry.)
You have stated the core of a dominant master narrative, not the specific story of the example.
The story in my example could be stated as "a group of veterans central to Kerry's war experience, many times larger than his campaign's "band of brothers," came out strongly against him."
Invoking fairness, one could then baldly toss in O'Neil's ties to Nixon (talk about guilt by association!) and the PR firm's ties to the White House. However, without evidence that these weak ties are behind the whole operation, and that the other members were somehow duped, the result is a blatant cases of fairness bias and sloppy reporting - which is exactly what I found in my survey.
Not all of the salient facts were presented in most coverage. Using Rhetorica's model, the sin of "master narrative" bias appears to be operating, along with "fairness bias." The master narrative was "Veterans support Kerry" when the current situation (as revealed by polls, ignoring the Swift Boat critics) seems to be that "Veterans Strongly Oppose Kerry" or more precisely "Many more veterans oppose Kerry than support him, according to polls."
But by clinging to the out-of-date master narrative, one carefully constructed by the Kerry spin meisters themselves, the press, encountering a story in opposition to that narrative, relegated the story of the Swift Boat opposition to a low value (a bias I didn't see in Rhetorica's list), and willingly passed along ad hominem attacks from the Kerry campaign against two of the 200 members of the group.
Non-liberals may not have the same understanding of the centralism of advocacy. To some, the macho "if you want something done, don't talk about it, just do it" mentality is more central. Advocacy to them is vaguely distasteful, in a pleading sort of way.
More accurately, non-liberals dislike their news presenters engaging in accuracy, especially as they pretend that they are not doing so. They especially dislike it when the advocacy is counter to their viewpoint.
Otherwise, non-liberals are being painted with an overly large brush - macho? pleading? Huh?
A Comment on Rhetorica
Anti-bias crusading as an elitist practice
That is almost a fair comment. Indeed, I don't fear that my vote will be changed by media advocacy (in the presidential debate). I do fear that others who are less political and less well informed (not dumber or anything like that, just not focused on the issues) will cast votes for the wrong man as a result of journalist bias.
I would say, however, that "elitist" is pejorative (and conservatives, of course, use it that way all the time). A more accurate term is that activists on the right fight media bias because it makes it harder to attain our goal. Activist on the left don't have that problem. Many others on the right, who are not activists, are simply angered by it. How that makes them elitist is beyond me.
I have met so many people in the last 6 months who are terribly angry at the press for its bias - not people pumped up by some magical conservative anger machine (how would it get its message out?), but mostly veterans watching war coverage, the Bush TANG coverage and Kerry coverage and reaching their own conclusion that the media was lying.
In the example, we have facts and a narrative we want to get to the American people, but the liberals control the major means of dissemination. Hence, we criticize those who create and disseminate news because they are biased - they treat us unfairly - and they hold a monopoly. My criticism in this forum is not something I expect to get any positive results for in terms of my advocaty. It is my personal opinion.
The narrative of groups I am involved with is simple - roughly stated: "We believe that John Kerry's actions during his anti-war years were wrong, untruthful, harmful to us and to the nation, and that we, as Vietnam Veterans, are disgusted at the damage he did to our reputation and that of the nation, and consider anyone who would do sucha a thing unfit to be CIC."
There are variances, depending on which group. The Swifties, who knew him first hand, want to include comments on his activities during the war added to the narrative. There are other branches in this tree, but the main narrative about his anti-war behavior.
Few few Americans know much, if anything, of his anti-war radicalism. The fact that he was in the Naval Reserves while doing so was covered up by his campaign and not investigated by the press, as was the fact that during that time he met once with enemy officials, probably twice, and his group coordinated actions with them.
Let's go back to "Clinton Experiment" mode for a moment. Put yourself in the position of someone with this information and a desire to get it to the public, without the resources of a George Soros.
Of course, the first questions should be to verify the facts. For the sake of discussion, please assume they are true. It would be a diversion to argue them here, and anyone who wants to do so is welcome to go to my blog, find my email, and contract me.
Does the public deserve to hear this information?
Is it relevant to the John Kerry's qualifications or is it made relevant by his own use of the war, and criticism of Bush's military effort, by his campaign?
Does the public have a right to know?
If not, why not?
If so, how should they be informed?
Are we members of the elite just because we have this information and others do not? If so, why? In any case, does it matter?
If similar information existed about Bush, would the story been given the lack of prominence and lack of fact checking or relevance checking of the added "fairnes" material given to the Swift Boat Veterans?
No comment on your last 2.
I gag on the idea of associating objectivity with the NYT in particular. But of course there is an elimination of noise by the process. There is also an elimination of signal. The MSM and especially the NYT are like radio receivers with narrow filters which are tuned slightly off frequency. The filters cut the noise, but the mistuning throws away useful information.
However, at times the NYT adds noise is the sense of attempting to create controversy where this was none. Their attempt to do so with a men's only golf club was advocacy journalism at its worst. But then, the NYT commands little respect among Conservatives - as I said earlier, it offers depth, but beyond that its main use is to signal the current priorities of the leftist media.
The effects of the internet are hard to forecast. Who would have guessed the appearance of blogging as a major activity.
I think the internet will allow people to reinforce their own biases, whether they are journalists or not. It allows collections of facts, purported facts, and related narratives packaged in all possible combinations.
On the other hand, I think it will allow people who continue to have curiosity to alter their biases (or put another way, to acquire information that will alter their world view).
An example is the Iraqi bloggers, especially Salam Pax, Zeyad, and the three brothers. They put a human face on the Iraq situation in a way that news cannot do, providing information and context filtered only by individuals close to the situation rather than journalists who parachuted in and will soone boogie out to the next breaking event. They are interactive - you can sometimes (especially early on) get questions to them or debate them. Salam Pax was unusual in that he was blogging before the war, risking his life to do so. He is also gay and a communist, hardly stereotypical of someone in a totalitarian Arab regime. He is a good writer and has a wry sense of humor. He changed some of my impressions of Iraq. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoyed his commentary, he is now a columnist for The Guardian, which is much less interesting.
Zeyad had a cousin who was abused by a US patrol. Those of us who are hawks had to deal with the charge, by someone with established credibility whom we empathized with, that a US Patrol destroyed this guy's car and threw him and his friend into a canal, where reportedly Zeyad's cousin drowned (the last I heard, all facts but the last had been verified by Army CID).
There are other subcultures on the internet which may themselves tie into this discussion. Chatting, originally IRC, creates communities, as does its relative Instant Messaging. They also change the speed at which information flows.
Email often results in items of interest being rapidly broadcast to a community (I'm sure most here have found themselves on the mailing list of a friend or acquaintance who feels compelled to distribute several jokes or news articles every day).
The internet is unlikely to reinforce the biases [not quoted on purpose] in the MSM. At least at the level of national news, it is hard to imagine those biases getting stronger than they already are, and the media itself reinforces bias because it has the megaphone.
John: Various points in reply...
"Wingers" is not my term, and I do not use it. I was pointing to the palance of some.
Nixon was Nixon; his personal psychology had a great deal to do with his success and downfall as a politician. I bring him up because he illustrates vividly the dangers when those in power think of themselves as victims.
"You act as if the majority cannot simultaneously be a victim. Do you believe that?" Here is what I believe: There is no objective state called "being a victim," except perhaps when we are in the realm of crimes committed. As far as I know, you are not charging the media with any crimes under the penal code.
However, I believe it is dangerous for the fortunes of that majority, and for its political judgment, to think that way-- "we're the victims of the media." It helps create what you called "hopeless ideologues." Thus, I don't recommend it. It leads to fantasies of persecution, and away from the hard work of real politics.
If your meta-narrative is that conservatives and supporters of Bush's efforts in Iraq face a political opponent in the press, that's one thing. If your meta-narrative is that the right is being victimized by the press, that is a very different thing. So this is what I am warning about. You would be far better off with the first analysis, though it is not my analysis.
Victim politics very nearly destroyed the left, and it almost sank the Democratic party from the 1970s on. It had some of its biggest effects within universities, where I saw its operation firsthand. The notion of "political correctness" (PC) was seen by many on the left as just a right wing myth or something cooked up by Time magazine. It wasn't. It was (and is still) very real. Here again, it led away from real politics.
As an aside, it amazes and fascinates me that supporters of Bush aren't more alarmed by the victim discourse being heard on the right. Blaming the news media for political setbacks used to be considered the sign of a rank amateur, a desperate politician, or a White House spiraling downward. That attitude reflected the wisdom of political pros. The repeal of that wisdom on Bush's team is a striking development that has gone largely unnoticed. Were I a Republican strategist I would be quite alarmed by it.
You write: "My assertion is that the media bias discourse is important to the right because the media is biased against us, and the media is very powerful." Exactly the same views prevail on the left, of course. That does not prove anything about the relative validity of the two perspectives, but it does suggest that there is an appeal to the thesis of media power permanently set against one's side in a political struggle. My suggestion to you is to mistrust that appeal. You are free to ignore my counsel.
I largely agree with you on the success of right wing talk radio. Its customers find their experience with the mainstream media "to be unsatisfying and disturbing. They either recognize bias, or the just don't feel right with what they are hearing." True. If you check what I have written about Fox at PressThink (see the blue "highlights" column on the right side) I assert there that Fox found a woefully under-served market for news, the existence of which had been proven by talk radio.
The feeling of being excluded from the national conversation is not the same for mainstream Democrats. However it is the same for those further to the Left.
I also think there is no question that self-declared conservatives are in the minority in the nation's newsrooms. So are socialists. So are intellectuals, by the way. That's part of the reason I started PressThink. Thus, it wouldn't be wise to take anything I say as representative of what journalists believe.
Finally, I don't write in academic jargon, John. There isn't anything I work harder at than that, so if you find some jargon bring it to my attention and I will gladly de-mystify.
Some thoughts on surveys and on getting to answers (and questions) that might be meaningful:
These points are not stated in any particular order.
1) Survey respondents tend to be generous and well-intentioned - if they are responding. Those who don't care, or are contemptuous, have already given up on the subject and are less likely to respond. By losing these "outliers," the poll can be significantly skewed. That there is such a high "unbelievability" score is quite alarming when put in this context.
2) Looking for self-identified ideologues might miss the point. If instead the survey looked for a reporter's (or editor's) beliefs that it is acceptable to write/publish/produce pieces that have certain characteristics it might get to data that is more meaningful. The questions will have to be well-worded, and some attention paid to the order of the questions to avoid the respondent catching on to the nature of the questions. Some sort of (pseudo-) random order might help. The characteristics might be around advocacy, belief in inclusion of relevant facts - even if counter to the position, use of dismissive language when articulating others' positions, use of under-qualified assertions (broader than the evidence supports,) and so on. The tabulators of the survey results can then use these questions to help identify ideologues even if they don't self-identify. Including self-identification might be useful anyway to verify the data by correlating the ideological behaviors with those who self-identify.
3) Evaluating an actual stream of articles, looking for those that were overly broad in their claims relative to the evidence or overly one-sided in the evidence presented would be a challenge, but would help provide a correlation between the make-up of a newsroom and the incidence of apparently one-note articles.
4) Determining the causes of one-note reporting would be useful as well. The correlation between newsroom make-up and one-sided articles is going to be challenged. There will be other causes cited for the nature of the articles. And, I believe that there are actually several causes, not just demographics and ideologue. Other causes might be: insufficient time to get more facts; lack of awareness of countervailing information; insufficient depth in the subject area; and other causes that I can't come up with off the top of my head.
Tim Patterson (KSG-Harvard) (reference above posting on “Soft News”) had a useful means of evaluating large numbers of articles/releases by scanning for certain words to help him pre-identify that nature of the articles. I'm not sure his methodology would apply here, but the idea has some merit.
My hopes are that this provides some insight.
If people come to believe they are not getting "the full story," and they are right, they may well term inaccurate the entire corpus of news from, say, MSNBC-- when someone rings them up and asks about it.
And again, from a certain point of view, which happens to be theirs, fully claimed, they're right: it isn't the full story, not only in the banal sense, "the press can't cover everything," but in a more disturbing sense: the press isn't interested in everything. There are some things it cannot see.
And as we have learned the press makes big mistakes that take big corrections, not just the little ones that fit in a correction "box." Since journalists, on the whole, aren't that interested in making the really big corrections, but only those of a certain size, the demand is taken up elsewhere.
The New York Times recent correction was big: it was done to a "theme" in its coverage, a pattern. I think people have missed the significance of confessing to any pattern at all, and of bundling coverage of an issue together in a "case." It's kinda sorta saying: yeah, there are meta-narratives here...
For if the press has patterns that fail to tell the truth because they are flawed, and this is said to be so by public communique from the editors; if it builds cases in the news pages, and then actively corrects them (after much criticism), then the press is one step closer to the shared view of many critics: that the front pages make arguments, not just information, available, and some of those arguments are woven into the presentation of news.
So this is closer to what most (not all) people are saying, when they tell a pollster: no, I don't believe CNN, or I don't buy the truth of the New York Times. The most reasonable thing I can hear them saying is: "I know I'm not getting the whole story."
It's the same point I made about Iraq coverage. There, I suggested a compromise concept in the bias wars, a statement all might temporarily settle for (despite its inadequacies) in hopes that it might actually improve things, change the picture a little. The news is not too negative, it's too narrow. Specifically, it has emphasized the security and jockeying for power stories, and left out the re-building story.
This phrasing is not intended to capture the whole picture, only a sliver of it where three or more camps (war supporter, skeptic, journalist) could recognize the same reality. I take no credit for the fact that 18 days later, on the front page of the New York Times, there was a lengthy analysis of the power grid and its restoration. It's only one story, but it corrects the narrative.
This is my "position," if you will, in the bias wars. I'm looking for places to interrupt its automatisms. At the same time, I try to deal with what is, whether it aids my position or not. Isn't that what we mean by objectivity? Thus, there can be no objectivity unless one has a position.
Positionless objectivity will be mistrusted automatically by people who have a life and know that it must be lived somewhere. And I think mainstream journalism is mistrusted, in part, for that. This is what it means to live in a post-modern awareness. It's immaterial whether one speaks an academic language. I believe Terry Heaton's point is that.
Thanks for your response. Do you know, for those who do use the term “Wingers,” how they label the left?
Let me clarify something: for this discussion, it is better to think of me as an “anybody but Kerry” person than a Bush supporter. Although they both intend the same result at the moment, the actions and motivations of an “anybody but Kerry” supporter are different. Most dramatically, if Kerry were out of the race, I would probably not be an activist any more. My activism has been triggered as a result of being a Vietnam Veteran and learning about Kerry, and by the shrill attacks on Bush, including one which defamed the memory of my best friend who died doing the same job as Bush.
I’d still be a conservative and gripe about unfair coverage etc, but my focus would be much broader and my energy lower. This is significant, because I am currently facing what I perceive to be an Iron Curtain of press obstruction to putting out any anti-Kerry message about his Vietnam War era behaviors.
Another meta-comment: I prefer to use examples in order to further understanding. I do it when I teach, and here, I’m a student (the tuition is a great deal, though!).
I have another example – a raw fact. I am curious if anyone would care to comment on whether this fact should result in a national news story.. The article is here (Vietnam News Agency). The specific paragraph of interest is the one with John Kerry’s name in it. If anyone wants to show me how this does or doesn’t fit into the presidential campaign meganarrative, I would be interested. I could obviously construct a narrative, but I’d rather see the pros and their teachers comments before (and hopefully without) doing so. That, of course, depends on the context available to anyone who might want to try. Go for it, folks!
Jay, your comments on victim politics are interesting. I have had others warn me about it. It is easy to end up with a view that if nothing we do will be covered, then why do it. I suppose that is the primary danger. You perceive another danger that I don’t worry about personally.
If I am reading you correctly, you are saying that because the right attacked PC’ism, it made it difficult for the left to perceive that PC existed or was a problem. That’s quite interesting. It’s illogical on their part (the following equivalent narrative is: my enemies say I am doing X, so therefore I am not doing X). This is assuming I understand your reasoning.
I have not seen that effect in the right wing publications I read, nor the discussions I have been in. It may be a kind of illogic somehow more natural to the left. Of course, I tend to read the more serious publications, so it may be out there somewhere.
My meta-narrative (or to use a simple word, opinion) regarding the press is that we face an obstacle in the press. Certainly many have experience anger about the perceived unfairness, and that anger can be useful in mobilizing people, but that would be a secondary, less preferred approach.
You are surprised that supporters of Bush are blaming the news media – that this is somehow amateurish. It may be an amateurish tactic (if it doesn’t gain anything, or leads to inaccurate analyses by those who believe it), but it appears to us to be an accurate explanation for certain phenomenon. Also, is this coming from political pros or people like me?
If, in fact, the press are causing political setbacks because of bias, would you have us ignore that? Would we not be better off combating, whether by tactics to convince others that we are being treated unfairly, or tactics to change the reportage of the press? In other words, we have had on here a proud proclamation that the press has a liberal bias (the meaning of the word liberal need some exploring also), so it seems pretty obvious just from that fact that the press is treating the conservative side worse than the liberal side.
That in the past political pros considered reacting to this as amateurish is fine, if we were talking about the past. And certainly blaming the press for everything would be pretty silly. A political pro presumably examines what is happening, tries to assign causes, and figures out which inputs can be made to align things in a more favorable direction. If one cause is media bias, the pro will have to choose between the difficult job of exposing (and hence reducing the power of) the bias, switching subjects, or changing the message to attempt to get by the bias. None of those are particularly satisfying choices, especially if your opponent is not faced with the same problems.
As one who has watched conservative politicians for years, I have had many frustrated conservatives come to me and say “Why doesn’t he say xxxx…” to which my answer too many times has been: “Because the press would take it and emit yyyy, which would hurt him.” This is not paranoid fantasy, but projections based on past examples.
You write “but it does suggest that there is an appeal to the thesis of media power permanently set against one's side in a political struggle. My suggestion to you is to mistrust that appeal. You are free to ignore my counsel.”
I reject that the so-called appeal is a reason for my assertions of bias. In the areas of this discourse, I have observed media power permanently (at least for the last 35 years) set against one’s side. There is no appeal to this – I really, really don’t want to believe this, because I don’t want it to be true. So to essentially discredit the observation because the thesis has appeal is not good logic. I will never ignore your counsel, but I might not follow it.
We have newsroom surveys, and hopefully the new surveys will make it some of this more clear. There are a number of ideas that are obviously viewed the same way by almost all of the editorial decision makers in the MSM. Left and right/ conservative and liberal are too rough a way to deal with it – especially given the definitions I have seen assigned to liberal in this blog. Now you may not, and probably don’t agree with my conclusion about the existence of this bias, and that’s fine, but are you suggesting I ignore it even if it is there and is a major obstacle?
If such bias exists, how do I get my story out? Again, giving up is one appeal to such a story ( “The media will ignore it due to their bias, so why bother”) – it’s great if you are lazy. But other than that, what do I do with information that is significant to a narrative that the media itself considered significant just weeks ago, that it now may be prepared to totally ignore?
By the way, I’m curious what specific bias the left is complaining about, and whether it is related to issues that I see right wing bias about, or if it is different issues. Is it as far to the left as I am to the right? My guess would be significantly farther left.
It is nice to see that that we agree on Fox and talk radio. Fox has some other innovations that may help also – such as using lawyers for many of their anchors, veterans for military embeds, Geraldo, who is quit enjoyable as long as you can try not to be embarrassed for him, occasional Victoria Secret stories, etc. So they managed to get a lot of stuff right (I just wish they didn’t go into reruns of earlier shows by about 6PM my time).
I do find in blog-spacepeople farther left than the core of the democratic party). In fact, I have often felt that conservatives are being balanced in the heads of some here against socialists or others left of Democratic center. I think that is a poor model, because there are a very large number of conservatives compared to those to the left of democratic center (or libertarians, or of course, intellectuals).
Jay, I have taken your comments, but more those of your commenters, as insight into how journalists are trained and think. In the comments threads, there is a lot less from you and a lot more from them. However, I have found these discussions helpful in understanding something about how journalists are trained and think. How characteristic is another matter. Perhaps this blog faces a self selection process which brings only journalists who think as you do – I wouldn’t know. I would like to know what conclusions I can draw about journalists, especially those on the national political beat,
Regarding Jargon, I have encountered terms that I was unfamiliar with the correct usage of in context. Hence I called them jargon. One that was novel to me in this context is “narrative”, although its common meaning is not far from the meaning here. In the past, I’d occasionally run across it in quite silly emissions from the modern humanities departments. Here, it seems to have a very useful purpose. I’ll keep an eye out for other jargon. I remember some comment, not by you I believe, that left me baffled due to use of language.
Your reference to the Rhetorica proved quite helpful, by the way.
I just took a look at the Samuelson link. Here’s an odd take on it: Some people here appear to be proud that the journalism profession is liberal, but only 18 percent of Americans are liberal. Is it any surprise that they think they distrust the media? Unless you believe (and Jay, I believe you have asserted quite the opposite) that journalists to not bring their political affiliations to their reportage, then the media is only in agreement with 18 percent of the people. We might as well be getting our news from France!
As far as the concern of people shopping for news like shoes – only that which fit is purchased – many have expressed that concern. I wish I knew how bad a problem that is. A nation, especially one not based on ethnicity, depends on a common narrative for its identity (which, by the way, is one reason I am absolutely opposed to multiculturalism as translated into domestic policy), But we have only had a short time during which we had “objective” news reporting. History has plenty of newspapers with up front ideological biases. As I mentioned before, Mexico has a lot of these (but we don’t want to end up as screwed up as Mexico). Britain used to have a lot of diversity – I don’t know if it’s still true.
This subject will keep coming up.
In the end, it is a symptom of an underserved market for much more balanced reporting.
You present a series of questions apparently because you think I must be some sort of reactionary bigot. I’ve been reactionary before, and have even emitted bigoted opinions in anger or out of lack of precision, but this list is offensive. Nonetheless…
How did they "create" the controversy? By reporting on the golf club? Did the NYT break that story or was it first covered eslewhere?
. The problem is that there was no event. No news. Nothing had changed. By definitions I have seen in this discussion, this was not news. It was all narrative and no news. It was “broken” by the NYT several times.
Do you think that coverage of conservative bias is bias against conservatives?
I don’t know what you mean by conservative bias. When I talk about liberal bias, I am talking about a phenomenon in the media. Since conservatives have very little of the media, there’s not a lot of conservative bias to go around.But if there was also timely liberal bias and it was not covered, then that coverage would be biased.
Would coverage of a "white-only" golf club be an attempt to create controversy?
If there was nothing new, and nobody complained, then yes, it would be, because there would be no news,. It would be like the NYT example. There may be a reason that the word “news” has “new” in it, don’t you think?
Do you think gender inequality is less important than race inequality?
In some cases, absolutely. In others, no. we are talking wrestling, gender inequality is appropriate. In certain professions requiring strength, gender inequality (at least as measured by numbers of individuals of each gender) is appropriate. If you are talking about sperm donors, it is definitely appropriate. By the way, how do you define race inequality?
Do you think it's not about equality but about tradition and freedom to associate?
Define the it’s. In general, I hold freedom to associate to be an important freedom. However, bias based on irrelevant characteristics is offensive and may in fact lead to unequal opportunity. Hence there is a troubling balance, that in general must end up tilting to the side of non-discrimination. However, this is more true for race than gender, for a number of reasons.
Do you think that covering the tension between liberal notions of equality and conservative tradition is a form of bias?
Not if it is accurate.
Do you think that "equality" is the domain of liberals only? Are there conservatives that support notions of equality that conflict with tradition?
Of course it is not the domain of liberals only. In fact, modern liberals tend to prefer equality of results to equality of opportunity, and always impossible task which leads to an endless series of satisfying controversies, and liberals use silly artificial measures of the results.
Liberals are not for equality of any sort. My daughter was discriminated against (not treated equally) in college admissions because of liberal ideas of “equality.” A Korean friend of hers had a last name of Hernandez, picked by the family for it’s affirmative action value, and she got the slot for Arizona at Cal Tech that my daughter had applied to – as a Hispanic affirmative action admit.
My very white, blond daughter was harassed at a “multiculturalism day” by Hispanic and black counselors. In the liberal world of multiculturalism, as it is actually practiced, whites (including Jews) are bad, Asians are bad, everyone else is good. So these high school kids were yelled at with obscenities and generally harassed – as a group and then one at a time. When they came to my daughter and started berating her, she said “How dare you attack me. I’m a Native American.” And they apologized and went on to attack the next kid in line. It happens to be true that she has some Indian blood, but only a tiny amount.
When she applied to Stanford, just for the heck of it, she put down Native American. She received a bunch of papers to fill out, to prove that she had the adequate blood fraction to qualify as an Indian. She didn’t. It now turns out, as a result of a ruling, that she could, if she wanted, sue the for racial discrimination because Affirmative Action now means that if you have any amount of Indian blood at all, you are entitled to preferential treatment (unless some more recent ruling changed it).
Liberals want progressive taxes. They want to treat people unequally based on their income, each year. A middle class person who sells his home and business to retire gets to pay the tax rates of the rich.
Liberals only imagine that they are for equality because it makes them feel superior to conservatives, who have a much better understanding of what the equality really is.
The issue of conflict with tradition is not one that I have seen tied to equality. You had freedom of association before. These are different issues. Some traditions have been terribly wrong. Those included racism, anti-Semitism, and to a significant extent, sexism. I would assert that the difference between a conservative (not including so-called neocons) and a liberal is that a conservative has respect for tradition, and hence the burden of proof, so to speak, is on he who wants to change or destroy the tradition. Liberals appear to view tradition as just wrong, defense of it to be reactionary, etc. This of course is being overly general, but then your question set seems designed for a reactionary bigot, so I’m not feeling real kind about it, especially since the reactionaries and bigots for the last 15 years have been on more on the left than the right.
Can you show that in the coverage of the golf story that the Times news coverage favored equality, and, if so, that that is essentially a liberal position?
I haven’t a clue. The point is that the Times went to great trouble to create a controversy where none existed. The Times became the news, especially when other outlets started commenting on this nonsense.
Note: neocons is a dangerous word. It is not well defined. It also is used by some as a substitute for “those Jews” – i.e. as an anti-Semitic pejorative. I do not use it that way. But I don’t know the views about tradition that neocons hold, and wouldn’t be surprised to find a fair amount of variance. Hence I am excluding neocons from the discussion.
I think my objection to point/counterpoint is the same.
I don't think every discussion of a story beyond the horizon needs to include an aside to flat-earth theory either.
That's not to say that MSM pressthink hasn't become argumentum ad populum.
I also don't want to turn every news item into an op/ed piece.
On the editorial pages, there is a trend to provide point/counterpoint. It is not normally an exposition of good argument, but a rhetorical competition of fallacious argument(s). I especially enjoy when a fallacious argument is used to expose the other pundit's fallacy. It's easy to do. Some people are making good money at it. I'm not.
I guess this is done because readers don't want opinion/editorial writers to provide their fallacious arguments without challenge. I mean, produce a good argument without refutation.
A good argument could be measure of news reporting, but the constraints of commercial communication might be a formidable temptation not to. It is also different than the objective role of witness or advocacy role of watchdog.
I often argue a reporter has made a fallacious argument, perhaps based on a bias, without feeling the need to invalidate the reporter's conclusion (assuming there is one, or I "feel" one is implied).
Besides, a good argument today does not guarantee the conclusion will stand up against reality or truth given new information tomorrow. Omniscience is not just knowing all the minutia of the present, but the currents of change into the future.
Reality is an unreliable and unforgiving pundit. The truth is a first casualty in not just war. Truth is patient and fleeting. Reality, like experience, tends to be a harsh critic. It also tends to contain more minutia than can be communicated surpassing the desires of the reader.
If I understand correctly, you prefer to defend against argumentum ad populum pressthink by reducing incoherence among journalists. Once we have good argument for news, let reality judge.
I say, turn up the noise!
I do not know how to address a story that appears newsworthy in such a way to get it covered.
I have watched professionals, with established places inside of the industry, try and fail to get traction for their stories. The U.N. story on the oil-for-food program has been a long time in trying to get coverage. It is getting there, but it is slow and not getting anywhere near the outrage if it were another organization.
I am not sure how well your ideologue detector is working. I am not sure how accurate mine is either, but I will take a crack at guessing some of the belief systems of others on this blog.
Note: this is for amusement only, not as any indictment on any of the people or postings.
You, yourself, are fairly self-proclaimed - a conservative, an outsider from the press and the political machinery of the parties, and an activist.
panopticon has proclaimed himself to be a socialist. His postings seem somewhat consistent with that, however, several discordant notes have arisen where he expresses likelihood that ideology may have failings - not normal for a socialist.
Mark is still learning, and has some way to go on the relative strengths of other modes of thought. He professes to be a liberal, but does not demonstrate the tolerance that comes from a liberal education.
Tim, I don't have a read on. His opinions are those with liberal social views, but appears to have more conservative political views.
Jay, our host? Well, he seems to have a tightly controlled anger, and an analytical approach. His stated views are against conservatives, but not clearly for liberals.
Others I have not seen enough to form an opinion.
Myself? I have tried to keep my views away from my analysis, although I admit, sometimes it was difficult. I have both a science background where advocacy is deemed undesirable; and a liberal education. However, I am a senior business manager and politically conservative.
I say this in part to make a point. Analysis and facts can be presented cleanly, without triggering auto-bias-rejection responses with a clean and clear use of the language and avoidance of triggering key words and phrases.
I am sure a clean factual presentation of the Kerry / Veteran support story could be created that does not have any phrases that trigger the auto-rejection response.
Tracey, a lot of the criticism expressed on this site points a finger at the practioners of journalism as responsible for its current legitmacy crisis.
But I wonder how much that crisis is due not to the actions of journalists, but to the structural faults introduced by the rise of computerized communication networks that have fostered communicational transparency to such an extent that the old "opaque" methods of sharing knowledge as practiced in the profession are under attack.
And I'm not saying that the new communication technolgies have served to "unmask" bias, but to some extent have created the bias problem.
That is, communicational transparency has created a paranoia regarding all non-transparent knowledge sources, and this is not limited to journalism, but to all institutions which rely on "representative" actors in order to function - e.g., government, unions, schools, etc.
The internet has fostered the illusion that there is unmediated or immediate access to knowledge and that has discredited all mediated forms.
And this condition arose within a longer standing tendency of the growth of "Gnostic" influence within the culture (the vast proliferation of "new age" thinking in all its forms) that emphasizes the very same appeal to immediate access to the divine spark within.
All communication between people is opaquely sourced - i.e., you have to assume that the other person is accurately sharing his views in good faith because you do not have a window into their mind.
So I wonder to what extent technology has the potential to further problematize communication merely between people, as well as in media.
But I think too much, or too little, maybe.
Well... I'm back from getting some fresh air.
And I'll confess to only scanning the above. What I scanned seems to micro-model the media at large. The discussion hasn't brought us to synthesis, understanding, and a useful map to assist our decision-making.
--> First of all, the comment structure doesn't allow us to change levels. Managing staff problems in business, I frequently am obliged to interrupt and remind the team, "There is the problem and the problem of solving the problem. I'm willing to discuss them both, but we can discuss only one of them at a time. Which one do you care to deal with first?"
--> Second? Battling dueling premises at dawn doesn't work. Remember the Comedians Club joke where everyone knew all the jokes so, to save time, members simply assigned numbers to them. One speaker says, "23." "Ha, ha, ha!" The next speaker says, "42." Silence. One comedian says to another, "He never could tell a joke."
The last fifty feet of comments have been premises with the mind-numbing familiarity of all the numbered jokes. If "factchecker.com" weren't already taken, it would be a great domain name for those Convinced of their Correctness to work out amongst themselves a degree of satisfaction for their premises. Only premises verified to the nth degree would be authorized to return, and then, only by number.
--> Third, it is sometimes useful to break an issue into explicits.
Returning to journalistic bias... Bias might appear as procedural bias, subject bias, substantiation bias, logic bias, conclusion bias. ... and, hell, the true distinctions may be more and different ... but let me use some of them as examples.
Subject bias: Focusing on a subject like Scott Peterson, Kobi Bryant, or Abu Graib turns it into a Soap Opera, not news. It elbows so much other more useful news from the front page or the newscast that it demonstrates measurable bias.
Scope bias: To decry Disney's objection to distributing Moore's Fahrenheit 911 without mentioning that Moore edited Bush's video to misrepresent the timeline of events demonstrates measurable bias. So does calling it a documentary.
Procedural bias: To wrap up a story with a one-sentence zinger that is dramatic, but unrelated demonstrates measurable bias.
Presumed expectation bias: News anchor-as-Monday-morning-quarterback, and popularity polls as news demonstrates measurable bias.
One-note samba bias: Of which Lou Dobbs on off-shoring is the master. You'd think he could spend one piece explaining Adam Smith's point of view.
Conclusion bias: To obfuscate other communications between Iraq and al Quaeda isolating on the zinger that the 911 Commission working report found no operational connection between Iraq and the World Trade Center terrorist act demonstrates measurable bias.
Accusing media of general "bias" is a level of abstraction away from the specific identification of a problem. Generalities have no traction. The only way to address the problem... the only way to tone down the pointless left/right ranting... is to nail each media fault in words on paper for what it is.
There isn't a major media news show that shouldn't be embarrassed for its ham-fisted, sophomoric reporting. Newshound blogs should be gently, positively, nurturingly, helping them grow... and slowly, very slowly, a sensible public, will turn away from the ones that don't.
And Jay... Thanks for engaging this comment group so clearly and constructively in what you said above. I like the way you identified it, put it in words, and nailed it to "paper."
Re: Internet effect on the bias dialogue, plus more
There existed charges of liberal bias for a long time before the internet was a widespread phenomenon. The internet opens a possibility of those who make the charges having a dialogue with those who are charged. In other words, to a small extent, what this comment thread has done.
I have a problem with this discussion. It makes bias too abstract, and converting arguments into comfortable abstractions is one way to avoid responsibility or emotional ties to the consequences. To those affected, bias is not abstract at all - it is a phenomenon that smacks them in the face like a smelly herring.
I know that most of the Swift Boat sailors had much higher expectations for the results of their press conference than what they got. They had it for a reason that hasn't been discussed here - a fairness expectation that they held. When they ran into what they called (in retrospect) the "Iron Curtain" of the media, it wasn't this or that form of bias - it was a "you're screwed, silly naive people" message. "Not only are we just barely going to report what you said, we will bury it deep, and smear you with ad-hominem facts - guilt by association."
I think the only effect of the internet on this issue was that it helped them organize in the first place, and now they have a place to go and read an analysis of what happened to them, and it provides us a place to discuss it afterwards.
To those here who approve of a biased media, I hope you understand the kind of bitterness and anger your biased media has inflicted on people who fought for your freedom. You have blocked them from a fair hearing.
We can get abstract, talk about metanarratives, talk about Rhetorica's list of biases, but it doesn't change the very down to earth fact that these men were 'screwed.'
So let me add one more kind of bias: cover-up bias. This is where the media ignores or downplays stories which are significantly damaging to a dialogue that the media approves of.
In this case, the approved dialog is: John Kerry is a war hero, accompanied by the his "band of brothers" veteransm. Vietnam veterans support John Kerry."
The Swift Boat people tried to put forth another narrative, and they were a good group to do it in a fair and rational world. Theirs was: "John Kerry has committed acts that indicate character flaws so extreme as to render him unfit to be Commander in Chief." In addition, they had a counter-narrative for the "band of brothers" Kerry campaign narrative: "Most of the veterans who knew John Kerry, including his entire command chain and 200 others, agree with the "unfit...." characterization.
Their narratives are germane to the current political season, especially as Kerry has run on the "war hero/band of brothers" narrative for some time.
So we have elements of an important story: the fact that an appropriate group is attacking John Kerry's very fitness to be CIC; the fact that the actions by his former commanders are unprecedented in US history, making this event a historic event. The conflict with Kerry's "band of brothers" narrative.
We have a political season with a lot of focus on the race.
But the stories that come out are minor, weak, and in some cases have a serious balance bias problem.
To those who wonder about why the media is distrusted, ask this group. You'll be lucky if they don't smack you. It would probably not feel very abstract.
Now consider how many other groups have been hit the same way. And how many people they tell their stories to.
Of course many feel the media is biased to the left (which it is, according to this board). Of course people flocked to Fox News when it appeared. Of course the journalism profession is losing respect, now that it apparently doesn't even try to be fair - a liberal bias, in this description, has been described as a good thing - but it is that bias that hit the Swift Boat sailors in the face with a smelly fish.
Perhaps the journalism profession would do the people of the world a favor and destroy the fairness expectation. Just come out and say "we have our biases. On some subject, we feel it fair to ignore your story or treat it poorly, because it disagrees with our political viewpoint."
I was once the subject of honest media coverage, but of course it was on a non-controversial topic. The local alternative paper (Phoenix New Times), ran a story on Arizona State's storm chase project. The project was a 1 credit hour course in Geography, one in which I participated annually - once for credit just for the heck of it. The reporter attended our training sessions (along with his photog). He became a member of one of our teams. He was an embed in our project. When it was over, he wrote a very accurate (and long) story that captured the whole thing beautifully. It was done so well that the Professor who ran the project didn't like it - it captured some of our language and comments.
But it was fair. It was accurate. And it was a hell of a read. And nobody complained about any bias.
I think you are now getting to what makes so many frustrated. It is hard to believe, today, that this is just unconscious bias. Rather, the number of instances where the news stories directly contradict previous stories or transcripts is increasing. Furthermore, I have never seen one where this "error" favored Bush.
Let's face it. Some significant parts of the MSM have decided that they are willing to lie in order to prevent the re-election of Bush. This blog has been full of all kinds of theories and models of journalism, but intentional lying has not been one of them.
It should be. It is one thing when bias is unconscious. It is another when it is intentional. Furthermore, based on some writers here, there are rationalizations that bias is good, that "liberal bias" (whatever that means) is good, and that journalism is a noble profession.
It is easy to see, from that sort of reasoning, how outright lying is justified. It’s one more small step out on the thin limb of justification for unstated bias and advocacy journalism.
To the extent that lying or unstated bias is considered acceptable, journalism is a despicable profession - somewhere between used car sales and confidence games.
Not surprisingly, the American public, not burdened with the abstract systems which transform simple ethical judgments into theories and categorizations and other abstractions, simply sees through all of the BS and knows the media is not to be trusted.
I have spent days here involved in complex discussions in abstract systems, with, in spite of my please, a pretty strong avoidance of examples. As Jay says, he is not typical and maybe others here are not.
But what I have seen is consistent with the theory that some leftist journalists have convinced themselves that unstated bias is okay, that unstated advocacy journalism is okay, and I think that if reporters are trained this way, lying is okay. It is an elegant (if relatively simplistic) way of constructing theoretical justifications for outright misdeeds. It reminds me of other projects of the left, where theories justified such minor actions as killing everyone with tainted ideas (Cambodia and China).
We could try to list the ones associated with this war, but it would take a while. So I'm going to just pick out a few outright lies by the MSM that resulted in large numbers of stories, most of them showing that the supposed administration statement was wrong.
1) Bush told Americans that Iraq was an immediate danger.
2) The existence of massive stocks of WMDs was the reason the US went to war.
3) Bush said that Iraq was trying to buy Uranium from Niger.
4) Bush said that Saddam had direct ties to 9-11.
As specific lies lose their effect, new ones seem to be created.
Another that resulted in less or no controversy:
5) Kerry was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1970.
Let me make this clear: I am charging many members of the MSM to be liars or accomplices in lies, on issues of great significance to the nation. I am saying that these 5 statements are lies that have been propagated by the media and led to large controversies (except #5).
The profession has been given special protection in the constitution, and has arrogated additional positions such as hiding sources, even when they release highly classified information, the release of which is damaging to the country. The most recent case of this is the release of Abu Ghraib photographs. This is also despicable, but not surprising since he profession has a code of ethics with not one word about any duty to the nation.
Thus the journalism profession, at least as practiced at the national level, allows lies, allows the release of classified information damaging to the nation, and has nothing in its code of ethics about responsibility to the nation.
This is an honorable profession? Goebbels would have agreed. I think that measured this way, members of the profession who believe in, commit, or encourage these deeds are somewhere between used care salesman and con-men. Honorable, my oversized, standard issue Navy butt!
Today, the MSM at the national level is effectively functioning as an arm of the Kerry Campaign and the Democratic party, and as anti-war propagandists. They are lying, repeatedly without shame, apparently believing that the citizens cannot find other information or perform their own analyses of source material (for example, on the Niger allegation). In addition to lying by commission, they are lying by omission, actively suppressing news stories that would damage Kerry. Even articles that appear to be balanced commit an advocacy form of balance bias – citing the most mild of criticisms available.
They are protecting an individual who slandered, under oath his country and every Vietnam Veteran including myself, and they have not reported this.
They are protecting a man whose statements about our country were so vile that they are still being used in his name against the United States - most recently on June 11 of this year, and they have not reported this.
They are protecting a man so honored by the enemy during the Vietnam War that his picture hangs in a place of honor in a war museum honoring foreigners who helped defeat the United States. They have failed to report this.
They are protecting a man, most of whose own fellow "comrades in arms" have denounced him as unfit to serve. The coverage of their press conference mostly treated it as a minor event, and treated the group as Republican stooges.
They are protecting a man who attempted to hide the fact that he was an officer in the regular Naval Reserve while meeting with enemy representatives and making the propaganda speeches slandering his country. This has not been reported.
They are helping a man who has been essentially characterized as a traitor by a former Senator and POW from the Hanoi Hilton - a fact which they have not reported. They have not reported that another POW has asked Americans not to vote for this man they are protecting.
This leads one to wonder why they would protect such a flawed man. Do they think Bush is even worse? Or is this merely a matter of power – of getting the leftist into power, no matter how flawed he is?
There is an obvious danger in derivative products and if I have significantly violated context, I apologize.
Is there a woven thread here with a possible identifiable incident to use as an example/anecdote for analysis?
sbw: It fits my earlier posts suggesting that electronic media's shortening of the feedback cycle makes it critically important to rediscover the Trivium -- the first three of the seven liberal arts (grammar, logic, and rhetoric). To wit? - Newshound blogs should be gently, positively, nurturingly, helping them grow... and slowly, very slowly, a sensible public, will turn away from the ones that don't.
John Moore: John Lynch best describes the way “Big Lie” techniques work from the standpoint of the deceived....In answer to the general question of how to deal with this bias, perhaps one could find a way to break this strong positive feedback loop. How, I don’t know....In any case, the internet allows members of these factions to join together in self-reinforcing groups, and as any engineer will tell you, positive feedback is dangerous.
panopticon: The bias criticism is not about making journalism better or more truthful, it's about readjusting journalism's relation to the liberal-democratic global capitalist order and making it serve that order instead of criticizing it. Or it could be about functionally disabling journalistic practice by producing an excessive demand for objectivity....The internet is not causing a break or a turn, it is finishing off the corpse of the ideological press that long preceded it, so that the institution may be fully assimilated into the liberal-democratic global capitalist order, and all resistance to that order will now move to the internet, where there will be a proliferation of voices with no institutional authority, so that all views, no matter how disturbed or deranged are given equal time, and all are perceived as pure noise, in a context where everyone is looking for pure signal.
Is it possible to cull truth in the noise coming from partisans that complain about narrow and skewed MSM filters while attempting to bypass them with new technologies, from the objectivist defenders and from advocacy/truth finders?
Jay Rosen: Having said that, I believe something definitely went wrong in the three-cornered circus over the weekend that left us with a very confused picture. Actually it's a four cornered box: there's the commission, the press, the commission staff (which wrote the report), and the White House.
I think so too. I think there was a measurable ideological and structural bias on the part of the press that was not reflective of an intent or desire by the commission staff, panel or administration. I think there was a LOUDLY measurable feedback, from a number of traditional and "new" feedback systems.
I'd love to hear some graybeards discuss it more and how lessons learned could be applied to an E&P survey of newsrooms and academia.
It is certainly possible to claim bias without Panopticon's filter analogy (which is characterized backwards from how I think about filters). For me, a media filter is operates such that what I hear is what makes it through the filter, not what is left in the filter.
It is a very common metaophor in criticism of the press - whether used in the profession of press criticism or not. People quite correctly perceive the news as filtered - in the sense that what they get is only a subset of what was available. They talk of getting news through a filter.
Filtering is not necessary for accusations of bias, and the belief that filtering is taking place does not (and should not) necessarily lead to the accusation of bias. Filtering is part of the value-add of a centralized news source - you don't read everything that happened, you read the interesting stuff (definition up for sale).
However, because the news must filter, filtering may be the first place that a potential story encounters bias. It is a place where censorship can be applied to stop stories unwanted by the press, due to bias, from entering the system.
But in cases where the press is lying, filtering is only an issue if it is used to suppress factual counterarguments.
In today's environment, where a very large number of people believe, as I do, that the media is both intentionally and unconsciously badly distorting the news in an anti-Bush direction, filtering is certainly one of the techniques of news distortion. There are others, some of which fit in Rhetorica's list of biases, although I don't recall seeing lying in the list.
Perhaps I am being too blunt. Perhaps instead of lying I should say "factually unsupported narrative."
Reflecting on all this for a moment is a bit surreal. I am in a dialog with journalists and theoreticians in the field. I am in possession of facts which contradict one of Kerry's primary campaign themes, and worse, show him to be a person who aided the enemy in time of war, including lying under oath while providing the enemy's propaganda line and recommending unconditional surrender on the enemy's terms. I have documented a cover-up by his campaign.
And nobody in the press cares.
Which, of course, leads me to wonder why. A number of the stories have solid factual backup, and some others have significant but not perfect backup. One of the stories, a quite significant one, was picked up but butchered, and I have yet to find anyone who remembers it.
Meanwhile we had weeks of questioning by the press of whether Bush "was AWOL" and who cleaned his teeth. We had the retired commanding general of the Arkansas unit misquoted, to the point he became so upset that he revealed a personal secret he would rather not have had to do: that he was in the early stages of Alzheimers and hardly remembered anybody from that time.
The people of the press, in their persistent "gotcha" hunt against Bush, caused this honorable man much grief.
Adding to the irony (and disgust) is that this issue was raised to a much higher level of importance in 2004 than in 2000, although no new evidence had been brought forth. Watching the White House press conferences were fascinating, by the way, as one "gotcha" question after another was asked, all indicating that the questioners had no clue how the National Guard dealt with issues like leave, transfer, absences, etc.
There isn't the slightest hint of balance or fairness here.
The conclusion I draw from the way the press went after Bush (in the process causing me personal grief) compared to the way they continue to ignore damaging information about Kerry when handed to them on a platter, is that the press wants to stop Bush, and that in 2000, when Al Gore had a less than distinguished military record, they chose not to put as much focuse on the issue.
Woow... I must be a conspiracy theorist nut!
I would ask for an alternative theory.
I agree with you that Media should not be viewed only as a fiter. It has other functions - for example, synthesis of a narrative from what comes through the filter. But as you say, that is not your mainn interests.
Before I go on, Mark, you are getting ad hominem again. You have no idea where I get my ideas and information, who I know, and in what positions they are in.
Panopticon... well, you are interested in things from a different angle than from which I view the world - radically different.
how mistrust of the mainstream news actually reinforces the hegemony of the liberal-democratic global capitalist order
This is a bizarre concept. Success in general seems to be the main factor that reinforces "the hegemony" (which I read to mean - normality) of that order. I see no reason that mistrust of the media would reinforce that, because in economic terms, that distrust adds friction to the system.
how Fox's ironic adoption of impartiality may force it to live up to that standard as its popularity grows, sort of like Good Soldier Schwenk
According to the latest analysis, Fox in fact is the most centrist, even though it doesn't have a believable claim of impartiality. Fox says it's "fair and balanced" - I take the "d" off of the word balanced - it *is* a balance. That being said, on many subjects and programs, Fox seems to be quite fair. It is unabashedly pro-American, which may annoy people who are anti-American or transnational, but that seems to be its main bias. O'Relly, of course, should never be used to characterize Fox - because O'Reilly is a character in is on play, not a person of ideology. He is not fair, his bias is to whatever idea stuck in his head on a subject, and in general he shouldn't be taken seriously, other than the fact that too many people like watching him.
The only significant bias I have detected watching Fox (other than pro-Americanism) was when they suppressed coverage of the Hong Kong freedom demonstrations. I don't find them conservative as much as I find them not offensive to conservatives, and there really is a difference.
how "Objectivity" is a threat to real political practice and democracy.
I think the problem with "objectivity" is its unreality. It is an ideal that is hard to meet. Hence it leads to people believing they are being objective when they are not.
However, I like it as a goal for journalism much better than advocacy journalism, which in most cases I consider oxymoronic. A goal of objectivity coupled with anopenness about the personal political ideas of the people striving for that goal would be interesting and perhaps worthwhile.
I think your problem may be related to the fact that your political philosophy (I understand it is Socialist), in the United States, hs very few adherents. Hence the MSM is likely to exclude your views entirely, no matter what sort of journalism is practiced. As a conservative, a much larger group, that isn't an issue, but anti-conservative bias (as opposed to anti-splinter-group bias) is.
how the internet may fail to give rise to a new partisan press.
The internet has already given rise to a new partisan press. There are a large number of internet sites that are "news sites" for specific political viewpoints. I can only imagine that this tend will continue. Furthermore, tools such as content aggregators may make these quite usable.
While today, 45% of people get their news from what is ideologicaclly a monopoly - the evening news on TV - future generations will be different. The college students of today are wired (well, or wi-fi'd). The internet is a much deeper part of their informtion flow in all areas than it is for older people (although it is amazing how many older people use it - my wife, a total computerphobe, wrote her first novel on a TRS-80 at my insistence, and by the time she published her third, it was seeming absurd to have to print a manuscript - and this was 1985). When the "electronic book" reaches a higher level of functionality, people are likely to have an interactive, full video and sound news machine wherever they are at, and capable of tapping into all sorts of sources.
The success of the anti-Globalization forces has already shown the power of the internet in spreading information among like minded people and narrow splinter groups and even in welding the two together.
So the future is here already.
The diverse press is happening.
The question is whether a society demand for some level of homogeneity will cause the primary money for finding and reporting news still going to a single ideologicy in a few companies.
It is possible that the current mega-press will be disintermediated by the internet, leaving nothing but various different aggregations from narrow specialty information providers.
I normally ignore Marxian analysis (and don't know much about it other than enough to know it is absurd). When I use friction, it is in the modern sense of impeding economic activity - reducing the efficiency of free market economic actions.
Gee.... as long as we are getting far out (art, etc)... we could view news production as converting the data into an n-dimensional forurier transform, slicing out most of it, and transforming it back.
The media did show a bias towards Bill Clinton, especially in 2000, when a bunch of republican charges were ignored - charges which predicted his various bimbo problems and his S&L problem. Likewise, the fact that there was a war hero (more decorated than John Kerry) running against a draft dodger was pretty much ignored (is there anyone reading this who knows that GHW Bush is more highly decorated than Kerry?).
However, that was ancient history. The most severe media bias of that era was applied to the Bork and Thomas hearings, where character destruction became a new art, to the point that "borking" is now a dictionary word.
One cannot do away with charges of media bias as long as it is favoring one side over the other. I would say that there is a form of bias that cannot be gotten rid of at all - that mentioned by Panopticon - which is bias against splinter movements (such as Socialism). But between the two major parties, bias is clearly discernable right now. Likewise, after Tet '68, bias in the media made it impossible to know the situation in Vietnam. In that instance, the media got the story backwards - playing Tet as a sign that we didn't have Vietnam as well under control as was claimed, when it fact it was such a disaster for the VC that North Vietnam considered suing for peace until it was the US press reports and acatin. That particular bit of press lying, which lasted through the rest of the war, cost about 20,000 American lives and the freedom of the people of South Vietnam.
I do think the majority of press people are trying their best to put out good product, within their shuttered ideological view. However, it would appear that this year there are leading journalists who are creating false facts with associatied narratives (usually the marative is: so Bush lied).
The internet may very well lead to what you say, although I haven't a clue how geography and ideology will interact.
I do want to caution against a perception that allows the Big Lie technique to work: if you are exposed to consistently biased news as your only source, even if you know well what the bias is you will end up undercompensating.
I saw this with Soviet citizens, high ranking scientists, who knew they were being lied to and yet believed a number of them. A group of them came to visit my father one time at his University, and he offered to give them a tour. As they drove around, it was clear that some were convinced that they were in a Potemkin Village, so they asked where the black people were, etc, etc. My father simply told them they could direct where he went - an no matter how hard they tried, the couldn't find the non-existent boundaries of the non-existent Potemkin Village. The cognitive dissonance must have been hard to bear.
The idea that Bush brought up the war issue is so absurd it is truly amazing.
The Democrats, ably assisted by the press, made a huge deal out of the "Kerry the war hero" theme and the "Bush the coward" theme.
Bush did not bring up the issue. Kerry did. In the process, they managed to slander not only Bush, but every person who ever served in the National Guard.
Kerry, of course, slandered every person who served in Vietnam.
Hence the Democratic party managed to slander my brother (National Guard) and me (Vietnam Veteran) in their attempt to find something, anything wrong with Bush's service record. They also managed to slander the memory of my best friend, who died doing the same cowardly job as Bush - flying an Air Guard fighter.
Now I'm trying to return the favor, by letting the world know about the not-so-nice activities of John Kerry. These are activities I learned about by research of my own, not the right wing media. Do I have a bias? Damned straight. I don't want to see John Kerry anywhere close to the White House. If he was willing to betray his country in 1971, out of pure ambition, he can't be trusted at all.
You won't take on the Bork issue. Fine. I don't want Bork as a Supreme Court Justice because his 2nd Amendment views worry me. But the Bork Issue, like the Thomas issue, were examples of the media, abetted by the press, engaging in activities that Joe McCaerthy would have envied. They were disgusting examples of the politics of personal destruction. That the Democrats then accuse the Republicans of using that technique is beyond Ironic.
By the way, perhaps you should read some of Justice Thomas's opinions. They are often the most direct and most clear from the whole court.
I am not surprised you don't like Fox. They don't spend all their time going after Bush. They show embarassing about Democrats. Naturally, you aren't going to watch them.
Of course, they are hardly my only source for news. In the case of John Kerry, they provide me almost no information of interest, because I am focusing on John Kerry's anti-American behavior, the charges he made that means I'm a "baby killer" and a "monster" and psychologically disturbed by "what I had to do in the war." The same charges that the Vietnam News Servicce used a few days ago as part of their propaganda attack against America - using a direct and attributed quote from Kerry.
I'm sure you enjoy supporting someone who, even thirty years after he gave his lies, is still being used by a totalitarian regime to prove that America is an evil country that routinely engages in atrocities.
Hans Blitz reported to the U.N. several times prior to March 2003 that he had found no evidence of wmds.
Actually, evidence of WMD was found (starting on page 21). I think the phrasing at the time was "no smoking gun". In other words, all the new, undeclared items UNMOVIC found that violated sanctions and the cease fire (ordance, munitions, aluminum tubes, precursors, ...) did not constitute a significant breach - deemed, IIRC, to be newly manufactured munitions, stocks or weaponized agents.
Now my question is: If he was so clever and had the weapons, why didn't he bring them out of hiding and use them on our troops? He also had enough time to put them in the U.S. and create the terror he was suspected of.
Sooo ... we knew before March 19, 2003, that he didn't have WMD because he didn't use them after March 19, 2003?
The point of both these remarks is to question the charges of Liberal Bias. It seems to me that the current Administration is using Newspeak to obscure what it is doing, like a magician using one hand to distract your attention while secreting the rabbit in his hat with the other.
I think Newspeak has been used by the past two administrations concerning WMD in Iraq, the current continuing the previous "lie."
I think a narrative bias took over in the mid-90s that not only included WMD in Iraq, but also:
- WMD collaboration between Iraq and bin Laden at al Shifa,
- terrorists might get WMD from Iraq,
Think how many can be killed by just a tiny bit of anthrax, and think about how it's not just that Saddam Hussein might put it on a Scud missile, an anthrax head, and send it on to some city he wants to destroy. Think about all the other terrorists and other bad actors who could just parade through Baghdad and pick up their stores if we don't take action.
- - that Iraq might have assisted bin Laden in the embassy bombings and had a non-aggression pact based on the 1998 federal indictment
The new indictment, which supersedes the June action, accused bin Laden of leading a vast terrorist conspiracy from 1989 to the present, in which he was said to be working in concert with governments, including those of Sudan, Iraq and Iran, and terrorist groups, to build weapons and attack American military installations.
- that Iraq offered safe harbor to bin Laden when he "disappeared" from Afghanistan in 1999,
- that Iraq might have assisted bin Laden in the USS Cole bombing
I think that narrative bias, and structural bias in general, is more influential on the news than an ideological apartheid in the newsrooms based on demographics. I am also concerned that ideological demographics play a role.
I also think that Newspeak is the opposition term for the political rhetoric (propaganda) both parties use.
And John, I'm sorry, but saying intemperate language is not a dead giveaway to a poor argument or a false claim may not be the kind of logic you find usable, but you need to read the Lookout or some of the literature from the white churches or someone like the Freemen.
First, I did not use intemperate language, I used emotional language. There is a big difference. Second, your argument by anecdote is logically flawed. The following statement is precise: emotional language does not mean that the facts presented are false. I don't need to read racist or other polemical nonsense to know that emotional language can be used when the facts are wrong, but it is equally true that non-emotional language can be just as wrong. Your logic is simply flawed on this issue.
You say And his war record is not the issue. The military thought enough of it that he received medals. Dubya, whether he was actually AWOL or not, was never in danger.
There are two false statements in that, one missing fact, and one arguable statement.
1) His war record is at issue, because the award of his first purple heart is a mystery. The people who would have been the ones to issue his first purple heart have said that they refused to do so - both the doctor and his CO said that they did not believe that the wound was a result of enemy action - that there was no combat at all - and the wound was accidentally self inflicted. Furthermore, Kerry has refused to allow his records to be opened to the public - records which should clarify that question.There is also the question of why he bailed out after only 4 months when most commanders, regardless of decorations, chose to stay with their units.
2) Dubya was in danger, and those who deny that cause me sadness, because my best friend was doing the same job as Bush - flying a national guard fighter in the southweswtern US - when he was killed. As a former military aviator who lost friends in training accidents, and who was almost killed several times in those accidents and on actual missions, I can tell you categorically that the danger was significant. The mortality rate of National Guard jet pilots was 1%. The mortality rate of Vietnam soldiers was 2%, but the risk was highly concentrated in the infantry and aviation. There is a reason I received hazardous duty pay when I started flying, and the century series fighters flown by the ANG were far more dangerous than P-3s. Even so, my squadron lost 2 P-3s to accidents in 2 years, in one case killing a good friend.
It was the ignorant assertions by Democrats and the press that Bush wasn't in danger that lit my emotional candle and turned me into an activist - because of the demeaning of the memory of John Robert Kelley of Albuquerque, New Mexico (ANG TACOs). I called him the day of his death, and knew (somehow) before the phone was answered that he had just died. His name appears on no monuments, but he is just as dead as anyone from Vietnam. I still have his 1st LT bars. You have once against demeaned him in an attack of Bush. Did you really believe that century series jet pilots were not in danger? If Bush had merely wanted to avoid service, he could have had much less risk by enlisting in a non-pilot specialty. He would have had only 6 months of active duty and virtually no danger. He didn't take that option.
The missing fact is that Kerry's post-service activities, which took place while he was a Naval Reserve officer were appalling. Two POWs (so far) and all of his former commanders and chain of command up through CINCPAC have signed a letter recently, and presented it at a press conference, saying that he is unfit to be CIC. About 200 Swift Boat veterans also signed that letter. That this is not widely known is a question that can be taken up with the journalism world. A new little tidbit is an article in the the Globe where the Vietnamese say that they prefer Kerry as president over Bush. They haven't forgotten what he did for them. Quite an endorsement, eh?
Jay has asked us not to make too many large postings - and we are rapidly drifting off subject. I would love to engage you on the WMD issue, which is easy to do, but I don't think Jay would appreciate it. I will provide links, though: here, and here. and the facts that 2 WMDs have been used against our troops, that about a dozen nerve agent shells have been found, any one of which could be used to kill thousands in the right hands, and that both the former head of NIMA and now UNMOVIC have said that WMDs were present at the start of the push to war, and were transported out of the country before and durng the war, with UNMOVIC claiming export after the war.