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Monday, October 27, 2008

More on media bias: Journalist embarassed to be journalist

Jonathan Adler over at the Volokh conspiracy points to this article by veteran journalist Michael Malone. Malone is embarrassed by his profession. He's not embarrassed because the business is in a remarkable decline (see this nifty cartoon), although that's true, as we've chronicled. He's embarrassed because the media is biased, and more abashedly so now than in 1979 (or thereabouts):

I watched with disbelief as the nation's leading newspapers, many of whom I'd written for in the past, slowly let opinion pieces creep into the news section, and from there onto the front page. Personal opinions and comments that, had they appeared in my stories in 1979, would have gotten my butt kicked by the nearest copy editor, were now standard operating procedure at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and soon after in almost every small town paper in the U.S.

But what really shattered my faith -- and I know the day and place where it happened -- was the war in Lebanon three summers ago. The hotel I was staying at in Windhoek, Namibia, only carried CNN, a network I'd already learned to approach with skepticism. But this was CNN International, which is even worse.

I sat there, first with my jaw hanging down, then actually shouting at the TV, as one field reporter after another reported the carnage of the Israeli attacks on Beirut, with almost no corresponding coverage of the Hezbollah missiles raining down on northern Israel. The reporting was so utterly and shamelessly biased that I sat there for hours watching, assuming that eventually CNNi would get around to telling the rest of the story & but it never happened.

But nothing, nothing I've seen has matched the media bias on display in the current presidential campaign.

Is Malone right to think this about the current presidential campaign? He's right if you trust the Russians, or the Pew Research Center's Excellence in Journalism report.

Adler thinks the decline in newspaper readership is linked to increased bias ("I think media bias hurts the bottom line of traditional media outlets," he writes). Maybe the two dovetail nicely--more obvious and pronounced media bias turns people off and has them heading for the door.

But I'm not so sure. Talk radio does just fine, thank you, and there's no attempt to do anything but cover the news with a bias. The same can be said of blogs and online media which is also doing just fine.

One difference that might make the difference is this. While both traditional media outlets as well as talk radio and blogs are biased, only the latter wears its bias on its sleeve. Rush Limbaugh and Daily Kos, Glenn Beck and Little Green Footballs; they don't conceal their bias. They don't try to play themselves off as "straight media." It's obvious to first-time readers or listeners that they're getting the news through a conservative, libertarian, or liberal filter. The same is not true of ABC, CBS, the New York Times or the LA Times. They're still pretending.

And maybe readers and watchers of the traditional news outlets don't like being insulted. Maybe they don't like the bait-and-switch. Pull us in with the promise of straight news, deliver skewed stories. Maybe it's a market revolt in favour of truth in advertising. No one minds--they probably like, in fact (notice the success of The O'Reilly Factor and Keith Olbermann's Countdown)--news delivered through some kind of ideological filter; but maybe they don't like--despise, even--ideologically filtered news that pretends to be filter-free. Maybe.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on October 27, 2008 in Media | Permalink


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Thanks for linking the toon!

Posted by: Chris Muir | 2008-10-27 8:58:57 PM

I for one like to read news from around the world.
I started doing that when I lost all sense of trust in western news. Now I'm sure there's an element of truth in everything that goes on TV or into print, but I don't appreciate the "spin" that's put on it. I also believe that when I read Pravda, just to see what they are saying its also "spun". One of my favorite foreign newspapers is the Asia Times, they carry a lot of western journalists who you won't see in western news papers. At least I do my best to get a global perspective and not rely on what's available locally.

Posted by: JC | 2008-10-27 10:29:32 PM

Could it be that in this election, the declining MSM is in such a desperate struggle to survive that any pretense of unbiased reporting has been cast aside to ensure an Obama victory in the hopes (promise) of a future clamp down on non-PC free speech, the Internet, and talk radio with a renewed fairness doctrine.

Or, perhaps most journalists are just left-lib assholes not unlike the professoriate that trained them.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2008-10-27 11:18:21 PM

John Chittick I think it is obvious that you are right. In addition, you should have a look at the average Alberta High School Social Studies text. To those with even a modest education in the humanities, the bias is enough to induce mental vomitting. Ted Byfield used to say that he would not hire the product of a journalism school. Of course his stories were seen through a strong political opinion base and I fear that may have caused the failure of the Alberta Report. I know that in the end I found it hard to read through the stridency of many of the stories presented.

Posted by: DML | 2008-10-27 11:56:53 PM

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