Saturday, June 24, 2006

GENUINE BIAS pt 4 - THE REAL THING

Never attribute malice to something better explained by sloth or incompetence.

In the past weeks, we have examined various aspects of what can appear to be bias in news reporting, but are not. With the mistake, a news story can be simply an error which looks deliberate but is not. Sloth can result in stories that are poorly written or incompletely researched. Incompetence is when a reporter or editor doesn’t know enough about a subject to cover it adequately or appropriately, and credulity leads the writer to presume things are true or accurate because they want them to be or are ready to believe certain things.

All of these previous essays were an attempt to show what can seem to be bias but is not, so that we can understand the real thing by contrast. Too often something is presumed to be bias when it is simply a poor job by the reporter or an error. That’s why every installment of this essay starts with the same quote.

THE REAL THING
Genuine bias in the news media is when a reporter tells a story with an ideological tilt, changing the emphasis, point, or conclusion of a news event to fit that ideology. There are a host of reasons and ways this can be accomplished, and the examples are many and easy to find. Bias can be in which picture is selected for a story, who is interviewed, the balance of quotes used, the way an interview is edited, how quotes are grouped, and even the questions asked. What a reporter is interested, notices, and considers worthy to write about are all effected by and evidence of bias.

There are several kinds of bias that we must examine to understand this problem, know how to spot bias, how to consider it, and how to address it.
  • Acceptible Bias
  • Unintended Bias
  • Deliberate Bias
ACCEPTIBLE BIAS
"Bias and prejudice are attitudes to be kept in hand, not attitudes to be avoided."
-Charles Curtis

cute kitty!Not all bias is unreasonable or unacceptable. Bias in and of its self is not a bad thing. For example, I am heavily biased against rapists and murderers, while my bias toward firemen and kittens is quite favorable. This is a kind of bias that we ought to have – positive toward what is good and negative toward what is evil.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man that we ought to have proper reactions to things we are confronted by, and we need those reactions to be taught and informed as children so we respond appropriately. A sublime object should be met with a response of appreciation of beauty and aesthetic value. An atrocity or outrage should be met with opposition and a will to fight it.
“Until quite modern times all teachers and all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it – that objects did not merely receive, but merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt.”
Properly responding to an object or an idea is a virtue, and having bias against atrocity is right. The response of the world to the terrorist strikes on 9/11 was shock and horror, as it well ought to have been. The media responded appropriately by showing tributes to courage, outrage at the murder, and nobility of the response by the firefighters, the president, and the people around the world.

Another kind of acceptable bias is if, on a news show or in a report, someone is quoted or interviewed who has a specific opinion or bias and exhibits it. If you ask David Duke what he thinks of Mexicans, you'll get a pretty biased answer, and while what he has to say is reprehensible this is not an example of bias by the news source but rather of the person being interviewed. Too often, a news show is criticized for bias because someone they talked to demonstrates bias, but this is not the news show's problem unless they let something critical go unbalanced or unanswered, or give only one perspective of a controversial issue.

For example, on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, right-wing radio host Debbie Schlussel claimed that "there wasn't a peep" from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton when Suha Arafat, wife of former Palestinian National Authority president Yasir Arafat, stated that Israelis "poison Palestinian water and air and cause cancer for them." In fact, Clinton disavowed Arafat's remarks after receiving an official translation. In the midst of a broadcast, it's unreasonable to expect every single reporter or talking head to instantly know and correct every statement made by someone.

In short, sometimes bias is acceptable and a part of doing the business of reporting the news, and criticism of such bias would be unreasonable and improper.

UNINTENDED BIAS
"We may, with instruction and opportunity mend our manners, or else alter for the worse, -- as the flesh and fortune shall serve; but the character, the internal, original bias, remains always the same, true to itself to the very last."
-by William Hazlitt

GeometryMost bias falls into this category. Unintended bias is the kind that results from a worldview or basic philosophy of the reporter or editor. Worldviews are positions that we take on issues without thinking about them. They are the ideals and beliefs we have that are unquestioned, unexamined. In the mathematical science of geometry there are postulates, rules that are not defended or explained, they are simply assumed. Some postulates of geometry are:
  • A point is a zero-dimensional figure, an entity with no dimensions
  • A line is a group of points with one dimension (width)
  • A two-dimensional (width and height) group of points
  • Space is a three dimensional group of points
These are unquestioned, they are the basis of the theorems which follow, nothing precedes them in terms of definition and examination within Geometry.

A worldview is like the set of mental postulates, the ideals by which a person builds their thoughts, arguments, and assumptions. This worldview is where bias comes from, it’s why someone assumes that evil is evil and good is good without thinking about it. This is what C.S. Lewis said needed to be informed, because it is where unthinking reactions come from.

If your basic worldview is that Allah is sovereign and Islam will ultimately prevail while all other peoples are either to convert or die, then the bombing of Zarqawi will be met with dismay and sadness, and your coverage will tend to show him as a martyr and hero. If your worldview is that America is God’s country and that we have a responsibility to defeat and subjugate all other peoples under this regime, then your coverage will reflect that.

Unintended bias is sometimes impossible to avoid. A very valid point is often raised about biased news coverage – everyone has a bias about almost every topic and it cannot be avoided. Your worldview shapes how you ask questions, where you turn for answers, and how you write a story. To a certain extent it is not possible to eliminate all bias from reporting. Since few even consider let alone examine or question their worldview, they are as unaware of it as we are of the air around us except when something brings it to our attention like suffocation or a very strong wind.

For the average reporter, like most people, deeper philosophical questions of what their worldview is and why they hold it are things they haven’t time or inclination to consider. Their ideology will slip out unnoticed because this is simply how they see things, and it never or rarely occurs to them to see things differently. In the essay last week on incompetence we saw how that can take place and the results.

2004 Election ResultsIn Europe, as well as early in the United States, newspapers are very clear on their bias, some even having names that make this obvious. They will take an editorial stance and openly hold to it when reporting the news. In a way, this is superior to the pretence of balance and fairness, which is fundamentally impossible when human beings are in charge. But surely there is a point at which we can reach where the bias is kept as much at a minimum as possible, and editors work to clean up as much as can be realistically.

Certainly as reported last week the paucity of conservative voices in major news outlets is not helping any dissenting opinion be known. Without writers in areas like science and the military that have some expertise and contacts, how can they write well? How is bias not going to be noticed if everyone’s worldview agrees?

Ideally, news should be reported as specifically and factually as possible, without the need for tilt or bias slipping in. Although this kind of reporting can be dry, it avoids the mistake of misleading the public or letting personal opinion shape the story. The simple facts of who, what, where, when, why, and how all tell the story. Often the desire to sell a story or make it more entertaining, interesting, or exciting can lead to real error or a certain viewpoint being displayed. While one cannot entirely eliminate bias, a conscious effort and understanding of one's bias can reduce it's effects considerably.

DELIBERATE BIAS
"Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized."
-by Benjamin Haydon

In some cases, however, the bias is intentional. Rather than a genuine expression of worldview or the result of a lack of knowing any better, this kind of bias is the most offensive when it is inappropriate. For some reporters, bias seems to be a way of life, a deliberate, calculated effort to each story for a specific political or ideological end. Deliberate Bias is perfectly fine in an opinion piece, writing simply what the person believes and thinks about a topic. On the editorial page of a newspaper this is proper and expected.

Hannity and ColmesThis is an important distinction. Bias is often charged from news organizations and what is pointed to is an editorial in the newspaper, an opinion column in a magazine, or an analysis and opinion show. When Maureen Dowd writes a column for the New York Times, she is very biased, but she's not writing a news story, she's writing her opinion, and that's what she gets paid for. When Bill O'Reilly airs a segment in the O'Reilly Factor, he's not giving a news story, even if he summarizes or reports one, he's giving opinion. Too often bias is accused where it is perfectly acceptable and proper.

But when this slips into the main news such as the front page, for example, then the line has been crossed between opinion and journalism. It is one thing to write an editorial about how why you don't like President Clinton, it is another thing entirely to write a story about his inaugural ball in such a way that you say he's a rotten so-and-so. One is proper and in it's place, the other is violating journalistic principles to slip your personal opinion into the news.

Such reporting is unprofessional and reprehensible. It brings the value and esteem of the organization they work for down and results in a product that people learn to distrust or avoid. Intentionally injecting your personal opinion into news, especially in a way that is alien to a news story will frustrate, anger, and alienate readers, even sometimes those that agree with your viewpoint.

This kind of bias is the kind that people often presume when it is at least some times not bias at all or unintended. One way bias can make it on to a front page, deliberately, is with polls. It is not unknown in news media for a poll to make it to the front page that simply was an excuse to put opinion there. Got a beef or position but can't make a news story out of it? Take a poll, then put the results on the front page with analysis, you can get your position out that way. I'll tackle polls in a later essay and go into this with more depth.

Certain reporters can be seen through a consistency in their work over the years and various stories to demonstrate a specific bias, one which damages their credibility and that of the organization they work for. For example, the Associated Press wire reporter Jennifer Loven and CNN's Christiane Amanpour (formerly of NPR's All Things Considered):
“Yes. I think the press was muzzled and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of--of the kind of broadcast work we did. I mean, all of us should have...”
CNBC's Tina Brown asked her if she meant there was a particular story they she wasn’t allowed to do, and she responded:
“It's not a question of couldn't do it, it's a question of tone."
Ms Amanpour on Iraq (video file)
Ms Amanpour on how Hamas can't help the poor because Israel and the US refuse to fund them
Ms Amanpour downplaying a terrorist strike
Ms Amanpour's muslim background and distortions
Roger Simon examines Ms Amanpour claim that she was muzzled during Iraq War

EXAMPLES AND TYPES OF BIAS
There are many different sorts of bias that can show up, and here is a very limited list of types with examples of each.

Working For a Political Party
This kind of bias is when a news organization deliberately assists one political party or harms another, attempting to tilt audience opinion and shape election results or policy:

Election coverage harder on President Bush, study says
CBS News works with Kerry campaign to coordinate meeings in connection with Rathergate memo
CBS News runs scare story Reviving the Draft implying Bush wants to
Draft Story lacks advocacy information when it ran, was added to transcript later
CBS and New York Times collaborate on release of story timed to hurt Bush campaign
ABC News memo sent telling reporters not to hold Bush and Kerry campaigns "equally accountible"
Boi from Troy blog notes that Kerry win of debate was reported before debate took place on AP wire

Choice of Words
Another way of bias is to pick certain words, especially adjectives, to describe persons or events

Man asking questions of Theresa Heinz is described as heckler
BBC removes word "terrorist" from report on London bombing
CBC tries to explain why it refuses to label anyone a terrorist by policy
BBC and Reuters refuse to use the word terrorist
AP and Reuters reports try to paint palestinians in best possible light
Use of words conservative and liberal
Analysis of words used and how they reveal bias

Disproportionate Coverage
This is a bit more subtle, but bias none the less. Some reports tend to heavily emphasize some news and bury or de emphasize others.

Heavy focus on bad news from Iraq
Zarqawi is killed but coverage is on Haditha and recoverage of Hurricane Katrina
New York Times tries to tie President Bush to Abramoff scandal, ignores Democrats involved

Failure to Identify Party
One of the more sad and consistent examples of news media bias is a common tendency in news reports of scandal to identify the party affiliation of Republicans and avoid it with Democrats.

Representative William Jefferson (D. LA) not identified as Democrat
Niles Illinois Mayor is arrested, but Democrat party affiliation is not mentioned
Conservatives labeled but Liberals not
Senator John Ford resigns, but he's apparently not part of any political party

Buried or ignored stories
Newspapers cannot carry everything, and clearly some news has to be skipped, but when it fits a certain pattern and consistent theme, then you can see bias.

45 killed in fight with Insurgents ... but you don't find out that over half were other insurgents til further down
Iraq reporters tend to stay in a hotel
...and rely on informants who are hostile to coalition presence and Hussein's overthrow
Michael Yon on why Iraq's good news is ignored
10 top underreported stories of 2004
and 2005

False Reporting of Events
Unfortunately, some of the most egregious bias is when a reporter deliberately reports events in a false, misleading or invented way.

New York Times reports 30 headless bodies were found in Iraq... when they were not.
Various examples of palestinian details left out, like how they had guns in an attack
New York Times story on terrorist omits critical details and background
Dozens killed in Afghanistan... but the fact that they are Taliban is omitted
Eason Jordan admits CNN was ordered not to cover some news in Iraq
Boos reported at Bush rally that did not occur

Reporter's Personal Politics
Reporters can sometimes inject their own politics into news stories. Here are examples of them admitting personal bias.

Jesse Jackson says media used to be in Democrats' hands
Mike Wallace says reporter should not warn US soldiers of ambush
*UPDATE: This video is available to watch online at Learner.Org. (You have to register). Search for Ethics in America. Click on Under Orders, Under Fire Part II. While the entire show is worth watching, you'll see the exchange starting at about minute 34.

Eason Jordan claims reporters "targeted" by coalition military in Iraq
Newsweek reporter admits bias in 2004 election
Background of Seymore Hersh
Simpatico with my liberal values
ABC White House Correspondent Terry Moran admits anti military bias in press corps
Not just in the US: BBC sends hecklers to conservative politician's meeting
Executive Producer of "Good Morning America" sickened by Bush
Global warming skeptics compared to holocaust deniers

And here are examples of them injecting this bias into a news story.

Scott Laidlaw can't resist slipping debunked and baseless Bush AWOL story into totally unrelated news
Can he?
Seattle Times report on West Wing cancellation claims "we loved" show
Collection of Dan Rather bias quotes
Words added to soldier's quote by reporter
Presumption that Global Warming's rise of 1 1/2 degrees over a century is noticed by people

Selective and edited Quotes
Unfortunately, something reporters are infamous for (fairly or not) is the selective use of quoting, picking parts of what someone says and presenting them out of context or in portions that mislead.

Halo designer quote left off key ending
Rumsfeld says no exit strategy?

OJ CoversMisleading Imagery
One of the choices that is available to an editor, publisher, or designer of a news program or source is what images are used. For example, when OJ Simpson was on trial, Newsweek ran the most sinister picture they could find of the man and doctored it to look even more shadowy.

A Guantanamo bay protest is held, but only 7 people show up... can you tell from the pictures?
Suskind holds up a map and claims it is what it is not
Reuters Wishful Thinking
Goofy pictures of people, and Cheney with Retire sign
Improving the Composition by making soldiers look bad
Digitally manipulated photos

Miscellaneous:
Story about Bush's arrival written before arrival occurs
Reporter doesn't bother checking with Mark Cuban before releasing boat story
Iran asked for guarantees, but not according to CNN's report
Dan Rather's history of bogus reports and shoddy research

One Final Bit
The Texas Air National Guard memo catastrophe for CBS was a sad event that started out as error and ended up as idiocy and bias, with lies and disinformation mixed in by the end.
Rathergate memo in quotes

CONCLUSION
Reporters are doing a job, and for the most part they do a fine job. Their work is time consuming, and like any job being a good reporter is hard work that takes real talent. The nightly news runs about an hour on network television, but it carries dozens of stories with careful editing, camera work, timing, and writing. This is an accomplishment that is truly phenomenal, which makes 24-hour news even more impressive, although often quite repetitive.

The intent of these essays is not to attack or vilify reporters, most of whom do a fine job and avoid bias whenever they can.

However, there is a reason that terms such as “Drive By Media” and “Legacy Media” are used to describe all too many news organizations. There is good reason that newspaper circulation is dropping, news branches are cutting back staff, and TV news viewing is fading rapidly. There is good reason that reporters are viewed with suspicion and distrust, and why the internet is rapidly becoming the most used source for news and information. Fox News Channel grew from a tiny cable network to often having better ratings and viewership than network news on important events.

At least part of the reason is that the older news stations are largely out of touch with what Americans think on issues and view to be true and accurate. When the news organizations such as New York Times and CNN personally state to have majority political positions and religious ideology opposite that of the majority of their customers, then if they aren’t careful about how they express their opinions or what they cover, customers will look elsewhere. The internet and cable news has changed the availability of news stories, breaking a lock on information that the news networks, magazines, and newspapers enjoyed for centuries. And people are looking elsewhere for their information.

At least part of the answer may be to stop pretending a lack of bias and be open about it. The New York Times’ former editor in chief Daniel Okrent openly admitted that the paper is biased to the left politically, but only after retiring. Maybe its time for CNN, Fox News, CBS, the LA Times and others to be open and honest about their political position, and let the viewers and readers choose.

As things are headed right now, the nightly news on network television is going to disappear within 10 years, probably replaced by short news segments every hour and internet sites. Big newspapers seem to be on the wane, with local newspapers giving local news and information rather than state or international. That might be for the best overall, with the news organizations now heavily into press moving to the internet instead.

In any case, I hope this has been at least a little informative and useful for understanding, recognizing, and avoiding bias in the news.

Part One: The Mistake
Part Two: Sloth
Part Three: Incompetence and Credulity

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9 comments:

Anna Venger said...

Well said. That was quite a collection of links.

The overall bias is palpable and has been for quite some time. You are right that much that happens is not bias, but many have become distrustful when there are so many evidences of actual bias out there. Changing quotes, photoshopping pictures are shocking because that's clearly intentional, but it does happen.

What is saddest to me is that many news agencies hold much of the population and their views in contempt. They really can't see the other point of view. That's fine for opinion pieces, but not for people who are supposed to be presenting fair information to the public.

Oh, the kitten is adorable...a real "awww" picture.

Christopher Taylor said...

www.kittenwars.com! That's where I found the kitty :)

Anna Venger said...

Thanks. My daughter will appreciate the site. We're kitty fans.

Willard Whyte said...

I did not respond to your blog the last time because I was visiting Anna’s and it was largely her supplements that frosted my windows. As does most of the attack on the “liberal” bias in the media. It comes from Bush apologists mainly, and features citation after citation alleging bias by the left. As if reporters from the “left” have a monopoly on inherent flaws in on-the-fly journalism you note. Or are somehow pure and unbiased, yourself included, for you come at all your analysis from an a priori set of “facts” about reporter mindset. Or your “worldview” about religion, belief in God and what activities must exist to demonstrate faith. I’m not a regular churchgoer, but I would match my depth of faith against yours any day. Anna would say I am a godless idiot too arrogant to properly background a science piece with thorough interviewing of a variety of scientists before writing a piece for print or broadcast.
You are hung by your own rope. One of the stories you cited as evidence of intentional bias was the one headlined as a CBS/NYT story timed to harm the Bush campaign. As I read the WP story you linked to, it clearly stated that the two senior editors ran with the story when they did because they feared all their hard work was being lost because the story was leaking out through the Internet. So the timing resulted from competitive pressures that are common, not some conspiracy hatched in a Georgetown bar by two leftists filled with bias. Some Republican politicians, and the Wall Street Journal – both Bush supporters – cast this in a partisan light because that’s how they view the world. Was the story fair and balanced? I don’t know because I never read it or saw it. Was it correct? I also don’t know the answer to that. It probably was timed to appear before the election because the War was a critical issue in the election for readers and viewers. So it would be a story with high consumer interest, whatever it said. And that would sell newspapers or draw viewers. That’s the prime motivator. Always has been and always will.
I watch Fox News and I don’t recall seeing a piece in the last few days on the GAO review of bonuses paid to defense contractors – even when their performance on contracts was horrid. As a taxpayer, I find this multi-billion dollar waste to be quite maddening, and another in a long, long string of examples of terrible management of that operation in this administration. The money flying out the back door of the Pentagon at home and abroad is reprehensible But Fox passes that story by because it views it as just another attack on Bush. Thus, no air time. That’s the intentional bias you speak of, and any voice suggesting that is a good thing for democracy is dead wrong. And I say this as a supporter of the War on Terror, the goals of the Iraq operation and most of the tactical methods employed.
You and Anna are both wrong – not about Dan Rather, perhaps or Ted Turner. Just as I am not wrong about Rupert Murdoch or Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh. Each time any one of them or their running dogs spins the news, edits with malice or bias a foresight, they undermine one of the vital legs this democracy and this nation stand on... You see to a degree, but through a glass darkly.
Most journalists are seekers of truth, principled people who work very hard – harder on most given days than the average bear. Most are not very well paid, and work ghastly hours following the news. A great many get their hands dirty and their clothes soiled covering the news, at times with blood, at times with sewage as they wade through New Orleans after a hurricane. And if they tire of watching bodies float by and stop to pointedly ask where the hell is FEMA, that’s emotion, not bias. And it is their job to ask that question when it is on the lips of 90 percent of the people on the ground they are interviewing.
Most reporters, editors and photographers and cameramen work for local papers, local stations and see themselves as apologists for no one, advocates for only the customers. With your broad brush you paint them all as slothful, indolent, unintelligent, thoughtless and shallow. And unprincipled, for what you accuse them of violates the very ethics of the trade. And each omission is perceived as evidence of bias, rather than an oversight or error or misjudgment. Judge not, lest ye be judged.
And deadline pressure will not ease, it will only worsen – for now the New York Times and CBS and Fox no longer can wait for the next run of the press or the next Nightly News because anything they have, no matter how thinly substantiated or verified, must go up on the Internet, lest someone, somewhere in the world post it first.
If indeed you do care about accuracy, context, balance and reasonable discussion based on sound science or evidence, you should be quite concerned. Because all of that is very quickly being sucked down the drain by the new Lords of “journalism:” Be first, be the loudest, be the fastest and loosest with your argument, and win baby, at any cost, even if it is truth. And My Side has no flaws, whether that is Red or Blue.
If bias is what you oppose, opppose any sign of it from any quarter, and you will be striking an important blow for democracy. For the independent watchdog -- imperfect as it will always be -- MUST be there if we are going to struggle for what is right, regardless of whether the chips falling are Red or Blue.
If I attributed the anti-business bias accusation to you wrongly, I apologize.

Christopher Taylor said...

You are hung by your own rope. One of the stories you cited as evidence of intentional bias was the one headlined as a CBS/NYT story timed to harm the Bush campaign. As I read the WP story you linked to, it clearly stated that the two senior editors ran with the story when they did because they feared all their hard work was being lost because the story was leaking out through the Internet.

Actually if you'll note they were going to release it soon but put it out sooner than they desired because of the problem you mention. Unless their plan was to release it after the November elections (less than a month away) - which was not the case, according to the story - the timing was being worked on between the two sources to release it to damage President Bush's campaign.

As for bias in myself, of course I have bias, I've never claimed otherwise and am not a professional journalist. Surely you can see the difference? I searched long and hard in vain for tangible examples of conservative bias I could put in the list - some made it into the "misleading images" section - but they are hard to find. I don't doubt they exist, but since the media its self admits they are heavily liberal and there just aren't many conservative outlets, there are fewer examples.

I slogged my way all over the internet and could not find more examples - at least, not credible ones. If anyone has some to offer, please do link them, that's every bit as bad as liberal bias.

Willard Whyte said...

No the discussion was a negotiation of partners on the story about how to move it up to meet the competition. And to release it before the election when it was most relevant and most marketable. Two news organizations jointly pursuing a story of this type is not unusual, nor is it evidence of a conspiracy motivated by bias or an intent to affect the voting -- in and of itself. Only if you view it from that starting point.
The story itself, by its nature, may have had the impact of revealing a flaw in the Bush record. Just as many, many watchdog stories did during the Clinton years, and in the run-up to the 1996 voting.
Are you saying they should have held this story until after the election to shield the Bush campaign from negative ramifications of it publication?

Anna Venger said...

How about the other examples? You're arguing over one. Do any of the others support his case?

" Anna would say I am a godless idiot too arrogant to properly background a science piece..."

Actually, without knowing you personally I wouldn't have said. I wouldn't comment on you specifically without knowing your situation specifically. Also, I rarely refer to anyone as an "idiot" or "godless". Those are your words, not mine. Please don't attempt to read my mind or imply that you know what I'll say before I say it.

Furthermore, I have cousins that work in media. I assure you that I am aware of their hard work and intelligence. They are both very gifted people.

General comments I made were in no way meant to be applied to all journalists, but to show that there are real problem areas out there worth addressing.

As far as your examples of individuals like Robertson and Limbaugh as biased reporters go, of course they are biased. Their point of view is identified from the get-go. Furthermore, they aren't reporters but partisans, specifically using news items as a base to discuss their opinions. Everyone knows that before they listen.

CT has identified some of the things that get people upset with the news, about which they cry bias. He has pointed out that most of the time there is no bias but human beings being human beings. He has also said that most journalists weren't intentionally biased.

I can't picture a journalist "going easy" on any of their subjects (except in cases of outright bias, but most of the time they want a good story), so why can't journalists take some heat themselves as someone examines their profession?

Willard Whyte said...

Anna, you miss the point on Rush and Pat and so many of the same ilk. You are quite informed and quite aware, and in most instances you can separate opinion from "straight news." These personalities move from one to the other in the blink on an eye in the course of a program -- they make broad statements and specific facutal representations with no attribution or substantiation, all part of the point of view that colors their programming. The viewer cannot separate; most take all of it as fact, assuming it would not be aired if it were not true.
Twenty years ago, before talk radio and 24-hour cable blurred this line, newspapers, magazines and TV news programs clearly stated when something was an opinion, or an analysis, which takes a look at a matter with a particular point of view. What Mr. Taylor quite rightly points out is that opinion and "slant" creeps ever more easily into the content that is supposed to be "straight" -- that is, dispensed with as much a degree of neutrality fairness and even-handed pressure on all sources or speakers as is possible. Rather certainly did this, and should have been fired decades ago for it. Cronkite did the same from a more conservative position before him.
Often, what passes for broadcast news now is a quick summary of what occurred and then an immediate cut to the "spin room," with a chance for Red to characterize the news and and then an equal chance for Blue. And very little energy expended helping the reader or viewer measure it all with some perspective on the distorted statistics, exception-to-the-rule examples or flat lies both sides use to defend their position or spin.
On the religion thing, I did extrapolate to godless. But what else do you mean when you cite a poll finding that a majority of journalists are not regular churchgoers, thus in their hearts cannot relate to those of faith, understand where they are coming from and approach that topic in an even-handed manner? I don't attend church each Sunday; ergo, I am not a man of God and simply cannot understand. Fill the newsroom with loyal churchgoers and "liberal" bias will disappear. Yes, maybe. But it will be replaced with a different bias, and one by its very nature imbued with far less self-doubt and open-mindedness than exists there now. For in that mindset -- or for some faiths -- a great deal is written in stone, not subject to evaluation and dissent. I don't see that as progress; I see that as, at best, the other side of the same coin.
And no, I didn't go through each of the items cited, because a scan of each of the headers he placed on them showed each to be an example of what he and others perceive as "liberal" bias. And in his response, he said he combed the Internet and searched until the cows came home and could find no examples of "conservative" bias. And that is absurd. Because you both agree that any number of "news" outlets, from the Wall Street Journal to The Washington Times to Fox News, openly state they "come at" the news from an anti-liberal position in order to provide a "balance" of offerings for the folks out there.
Mr. Taylor approaches this topic from a starting point that is this: There is "liberal" bias in the media. He then finds examples of such bias and says his case is proved. I allow that there is bias of all varieties in the media, and always has been. I suggest you read "The Powers That Be," an excellent book revealing bias in many media outlets over the years -- on the left and the right, from the Chandlers at the LA Times, to the McCormicks at the Chicago Tribune, Luce at Time and the founders of CBS.
I firmly agree with the premise that bias is a bad thing, because most people absorb this stuff with an inherent trust in its neutrality. Or at least they used to. As more and more media personalities feel freer and freer to openly cloak news with their bias -- or point of view -- it all rapidly approaches propaganda -- of the right or the left, or as I prefer from the Red or the Blue. Mr. Taylor finds no bias in conservative media because the chords struck in that reporting or broadcasting rarely strikes a dissonant chord with his worldview. It's not out of place; it's not an outrageous liberal spin or plot.
Most people out there are not strongly liberal or strongly conservative, if anyone can even come up with a clear definition of those terms. They are all over the map, depending on the issue, the way a question is phrased, the current events of the moment. They are often struggling to make sense of an incredibly complex world, and a range of issues they are far from expert on, and know in their guts there are no simple answers for.
They just want the who, what, where, when and how -- in one place, and then maybe the Why and the What it Means and the Is It Right or Good in another. That's all getting blurred and people sense that, along with the anger, the stridency and the outright manipulation. That's why they are turning it off -- and that goes for Internet blogs too, for the hit rates are dropping there too. They go to the media to find out what's happening -- and are greeted by the Red-Blue warfare, this crossfire of "facts" and a decibel level that makes them switch to American Idol as fast as they can.
And that's all a bad thing. The only thing worse, for me, is people -- inside the media and out -- who think the way to respond to declining ratings, circulation is to harden the point of view, ratchet up the volume and the acrimony and deepen the divide.
The answer is not philosophical advocacy journalism from any quarter.
Just tell the truth as best you can -- and come back tomorrow if you screwed it up or missed an important point. And for you and Mr. Taylor, if you think a reporter or broadcaster spun a story, ignored an important aspect or got taken to the cleaners by the spinmeisters, point it out to them. Trust me, journalists hate being wrong, looking stupid or getting chumped more than anything else. The rank and file that produce 90% of what you see and read. The columnists? Forget it.
And demand more, but not in attack mode, not in a way that denigrates the moral fibre of those doing the work. And approach the task fully aware of your own bias.
For you could be wrong -- as could I. If we don't approach every analysis with that as the base assumption, the effort is doomed.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that Mr White is doing what he accuses Mr Taylor of doing: having a foregone conclusion. Mr Taylor has heavily documented his positions, and Mr White refuses to read them. Why? Because he presumes them to be false or misleading and simply chooses not to even bother researching what is said.

And that's just sad. I can't find much on conservative bias in the media either, other than accusations of Fox News and complaints about ownership.