Tuesday, December 13, 2005

That was liberal media bias, right?

Last night I read an article on CNN.com about Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco's e-mail. In order to show that her government asked for federal help in the wake of hurricane Katrina her office released 100,000 pages of documents. CNN's first story with regard to the contents of the documents focused on how Blanco —— or her staffers —— were concerned about appearance, both the appearance of racism and her physical appearance on TV. The story, the first story on the release and probably the one most people will remember, concentrated on 13 pages of e-mails. Granted, pouring through this massive pile of documents will take time. Still, the first story —— a negative story against a Democrat —— focused on 0.013% of the documents released.

This item, and several others including that mentioned in my last post, got me thinking about so-called liberal media bias.

You can't argue in this country about existenc of liberal media bias. It is ingrained in popular culture. It's certainly ingrained in the people I work with. It was most noticeable during last year's presidential election. There was lots of "water cooler" talk about liberal bias (thank you, Dan Rather) but they were completely oblivious to any conservative media bias. It was terribly frustrating, but also quite amusing at times.

Everyone believes it exists, but does it?

Forget that "liberal media bias" being a negative assumes that liberal and conservative view points are equally valid. That certainly hasn't been true historically. There was a big push to ban the atomic bomb in the 60s by liberals, in spite of the fact that the Soviet Union was never going to just do away with the bomb on their own. Southern conservatives (though mostly Democrats due to the hatred of the Republicans among white Southerners) were vocal in their opposition of desegregation at the same time. Not every liberal or conservative opinion should have equal weight, but I won't get into that in this post.

Every cable news outlet says they try to be balanced. Most of them consider it balanced if they give both sides of every issue regardless of the opinion's merit. Or, to put it more succinctly —— and to quote my friend Michael Skeet —— they think that "balanced reporting is two idiots spinning in opposite directions".

The one notable exception in this is Fox News. They don't even try to be balanced. Fox takes the "liberal media bias" assumption to heart. Their news is heavily biased in favour of conservatives, with the assumption that by showing a conservative balance they correct the liberal bias. This isn't any better than the other outlets with their oppositely spinning idiots. In fact it's worse because far too many people only watch Fox News. I know of a number of people at work that watch nothing but Fox. It's the reason for Fox's business success. It's good for their bottom line, but it's not good for informing the American populace.

There have been some interesting trends in network news recently that shows a biased media, but it's not exactly what everyone believes.
  • Several media outlets have made much of Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman's December 6 speech against Democrats who speak out about the war. It's been heavily covered by CNN. On the other hand, virtually no one covered Republican Senator Chuck Hagel's speech blasting the Bush administration for attacking those who disagree with them. The New York Times even ignored it. (Link)
  • On December 8, a CBS-New York Times poll showed President Bush's approval rating had climbed 5% from 35% to 40%. CNN and NBC both announced that Bush had made a strong bounce back in opinion. They failed to mention that the 5% increase was within the margin of error in the poll. The "strong bounce" could be a statistical anomaly. (Link)
  • The media has been incredibly quiet about on polls asking Americans, "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment." Back in June 42% of Americans said they would be in favour of it. In a comment on the Washington Post's web site in early November, another poll showed Americans were 52% in favour of an impeachment proceding. Some conservatives called the question "bias against the president". Apparently asking that question is "biased", but asking"If Clinton lied by testifying under oath that he did not have an affair with the woman, and he did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?" is not. ( Link)
  • The Associated Press and USA Today published Bushes claims of success in Mosul and Najaf in Iraq without any critical analysis of those claims. (Link)
Those are just some of the more recent examples. Anyone who has followed the Bush presidency since 9/11 will note the fairly light treatment he's had, in spite of waging a war in Iraq on claims that were unfounded, despite racking up a huge deficit (after Clinton created a budget surplus), despite the gap between rich and poor expanding, despite the huge increase in gas prices, and despite the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large. It really wasn't until hurricane Katrina, where what the press was told and reality collided head on, that Bush hit any real, solid, consistent criticism.

While conservatives cry "media liberal bias", some of the most popular conservative pundits continue to distort the facts for their own ends. There are too many to go into, but check out the Media Matters web site at http://mediamatters.org/index for more information. Not surprising, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and David Horowitz are prominant in the list.

Okay, so maybe Media Matters is biased. Hey, they probably are! On the other hand, perhaps they just see themselves as balancing out Fox News. That would make them "fair and balanced", wouldn't it?

The fact is that all media is biased to some extent. The very fact that a news outlet has to accept money from someone means there will be some bias. Citizens are only served by news outlets if they try hard to get to the truth and clearly, and openly, state their biases. The idea is to bring people the news. Distortions should be punished. No one gains when journalists (or, in Bill O'Reilly's case, "journalists") distort the truth, or show two opposite, distorted views and claim they are "balanced".

I fear that instead of bringing truth, news outlets will simply spin their idiots faster and faster.


Thrakazog said...

one thing to consider in the liberal media bias, though, is that the media is owned by men with a powerful concervative agenda. I think it must be an exquisite form of hell for the tycoons when they have a story that is so sensational that it will hurt the republican status quo money machine, but conversly will sell many newspapers. Decisions, decisions, decisions....

Allan Goodall said...

That's a good point. However, not all men with money are conservatives.

I worked for the Toronto Star, the largest newspaper in Canada and one of the largest in North America (about 1.4 million readers a week, when I was there in 2001). Although run by a very wealthy family, that family were also known as great philantrhopists. They were also very liberal.

Some media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, meddle with the editorial stance of their companies. Many do not, as they realize that it would affect the amount of papers or ad time they sell. It would be interesting to see how many outlets did have their editorial stance affected by the publisher for the publisher's personal readings. The late, great magazine Brill's Content used to point these instances out, but it's now sadly defunct (and just when it's badly needed).