Bias on bias

One-two punch for an election-eve finish. A veteran journalist has decided it’s time for him to weigh in on media bias. It seemed the 2008 election had become enough of a concern that it was time for him to descend to the level of ordinary mortals with opinions. His mystery opponent was the candidate who has benefited from "the obviously one-sided reporting." His scapegoat? Newspaper editors who are bitter about their career trajectories. According to Michael Malone, these editors think a President Barack Obama might change things around for them. So they convince themselves to order up more pro-Obama coverage from their reporters.


Read Malone’s column here.


A Hot Pie on the Windowsill

By Christopher Lyle


This article had potential, but crashed and burned when the author revealed his own painfully obvious bias. First of all, the media’s bias is no secret. But second of all, it is NOT one sided. Two words: FOX NEWS. wait here’s two more: DRUDGE REPORT. Hmm… two of the largest news outlets in their respective markets, and completely and painfully head over heals for McCain and the Republican Party.

There are huge biases on both sides, and the reporting has been ravenous! The fault lies strictly and solely with this election. Its historical implications have brought out, it seems, an almost primitive, instinctual nature in everyone. Conservative extremists see the beginnings of the end of their very way of life. An American fundamental that has been dominant for decades: The Christian Nation. Liberals see the potential beginnings of a new era in mankind almost a finger touch away, even closer than when it was yearned for so badly in the 2000 election. Moderates on both sides place great importance on more centrist issues, such as the economy– their opinions greatly dependent on their class/creed.

This election comes as what could be the final showdown of the culture wars. Though not many have come out and said it, that is the reality. If Obama wins and does a good job, the religious conservatives’ ability to convince voters to go against their own interest based on moral commonground (i.e: "if Kerry wins, gays will get married"), will fail. And without that edge, the Republican party will fail. They know it. The chips are on the table, and the stakes are so much higher than most people realize. That is why even the media, who as we’ve just seen pride themselves on their ability to evaluate based on facts and not personal bias, are racing to either side.

"And then the opportunity presents itself — an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career… you tell yourself, it’s all for the good of the country… "

What does the above quote really suggest other than: "I’m voting for John McCain"? Seriously! Has the author lost his mind? For those of you who don’t fully understand the implications of the author, he’s suggesting that there is a conspiracy afoot by the mainstream media to elect Barrack Obama, because doing so will somehow save their careers. Well, he gives a rather short, paranoid explanation for his feelings on the matter (completely ridiculous and intellectually insulting), but that’s not the point. For anyone reporting on this election, taking a side is not only inevitable because of ideology or cultural orientation, it’s a hot pie cooling on the windowsill of ratings and recognition– and Michael S. Malone just couldn’t resist. No one can truly relate to someone with no opinion, that’s one reason its hard as an ambitious journalist to remain indifferent. But hard as it may be, it’s still your duty, sir. As it is the duty of all reporting media. You’ve sold your soul, Malone. Congratulations on becoming just another notch on the belt of bullshit.

But sorry, Michael, history will not remember the "scrutiny of the media," be it liberal or conservative. It will remember the movement. The refusal of the country to sit back and watch as we become even fatter, more superstitious, and more intolerant. And if you ask me, its a damned good thing, because on the current and tired trajectory of The United States of America, we drive ourselves closer and closer to oblivion.

When countries embrace debunked philosophies and corroded values, the rest of the world moves forward without them. The only way to then maintain support and unconditional acceptance of its sovereignty, is through fear, and the promise of exclusive rewards to club members.

Sound familiar?


A Rallying Cry

By Tatiana Prophet

Wow, what a missed opportunity. The writer of a column about media bias in this year’s presidential election manages to betray a bias himself, not by weighing in on the "bias" issue, but by getting inside the head of an imaginary washed-up newspaper editor and analyzing his thought process, discovering a scenario in which the editor sees a way to salvage his own career by assigning more favorable coverage to Barack Obama.

As one reader pointed out, look how popular this article is. Exactly. Anything with a link on the Drudge Report fills the e-mails and social networking sites of Republicans and "jacked" libertarians across the country, as they find columns, even "articles," that bolster their carefully constructed world view. On the Democratic side, the same is true for The Huffington Post, Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo, to name a few liberal blogs. And whenever one of these blog sites links to a story, the news outlet is flooded with comments — usually from, you guessed it, whichever party feels that it bolsters their case. (By the way, when did "blog" become synonymous with "opinion"? I thought bloggers broke stories too.)

I don’t think I bleed ink like Mr. Malone, but I did work as a reporter and editor for several newspapers over many years. And I can say that bias is certainly a problem. It is definitely frowned upon, but it still happens. The tricky part is when editors or reporters are unconscious of having a bias, by claiming for example that they’re killing a story for a different reason other than because it offends them. Mr. Malone is right that a good reporter fights his own bias at all times, striving for fair coverage to the opinion he does not happen to hold. We reporters truly seem to be more loyal to our craft than to political ideology. When the chips are down, a misbehaving politician is still a great story, no matter who’s side that leader is on. But there are so many areas in between, which cause us to decide whether to pursue a story at all, or just let that phone tip die on a curled Post-It. Sometimes it’s just sheer exhaustion or a packed schedule, that causes other stories to get neglected. Of course that extra energy seems to course through our arteries when the topic hits close to a pet issue.

Instead of feeding the intricate discussion of journalistic balance, Mr. Malone issued a rallying cry to everyone who still, somehow, drives an F150 to the office. Instead of discussing education and standards for separating fact from opinion, he invoked the Constitution to express the extreme degree to which election coverage has gone astray. It sounds like Mr. Malone has been around a long time, so I’m guessing he remembers several decades of journalism. I’m sure he knows that bias has always been a problem, and it is only becoming worse on all sides.

An impartial (ha ha) study has just come out regarding coverage of the candidates by the major networks, including FOX News and MSNBC.

Read a report on the study here

"In cable, the evidence firmly suggests there now really is an ideological divide between two of the three channels, at least in their coverage of the campaign," wrote the authors of the study, done by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"Things look much better for Barack Obama—and much worse for John McCain—on MSNBC than in most other news outlets. On the Fox News Channel, the coverage of the presidential candidates is something of a mirror image of that seen on MSNBC."

An L.A. Times article on the study noted that negative coverage usually had more to do with how the candidate was doing in the polls or the primaries rather than showing a bias. Even Obama enjoyed a deflation in positive coverage after the Republican National Convention.

The story says:
"Although the authors acknowledged some observers would use the findings to argue that the major media have a pro-Obama bias, they said their data did not provide conclusive answers. They noted that coverage of Republicans and Democrats in this and other recent presidential elections seemed to have more to do with their success than with their party affiliation.

"The group’s research in 2000, for example, found that Democrat Al Gore got a level of negative coverage almost identical to the level Republican McCain is now receiving. Coverage of then-Gov. George W. Bush that year was more positive than Gore’s, but more negative than Obama’s has been this time.

"The findings present ‘a strong suggestion that winning in politics begat winning coverage,’ the Washington-based group found. ‘Obama’s coverage was negative in tone when he was dropping in the polls, and became positive when he began to rise, and it was just so for McCain.’ "

Why don’t you actually talk about bias, Mr. Malone, instead of just being biased yourself? At least you could have killed two birds with one stone.

Comments (4 comments)

harry s. / November 4th, 2008, 6:42 pm / #1

I found your series of articles and comments on media bias both interesting and ironic. The Malone piece had me agreeing with his observation that bias does indeed exist in small and big ways, but as he reached his conclusion, he had me scratching my head. His summary thought is quoted below, in which he indicates a massive potential infulence on the Editors, by the presumed new conspiratorial Democratic government:

With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived fairness doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there”

That is some huge paranoia, and i imagine it is very far from the truth to think that the new government would or could affect such sweeping influence on the fondation of journalism and the careers of the editorial staffs.

Could you elaborate on what he means by a “revived fairness doctrne.” ?

My own personal observation of the election coverage, which indicates not bias but bewildering lack of probing on the part of print, television, radio, and all other media formats i have seen or heard, is this: why has nobody asked Obama to explain his central keynote which has so many people swooning: what exactly he means by “95% of all Americans will get a tax cut.” This one phrase perhaps more than any other will serve to win him the oval office. You know i already brought this point up, but recently i heard an interesting insight that though he may send a $250 check to some people and call that a cut, his other unspoken plans include raising the capital gains tax, the dividends tax, and other taxes on businesses which will essentially bring those costs to the very “middle class” people he has been claiming he will relieve, and will far outweifht that $250 check. Everyone who uses gas will pay higher obama taxes, anyone who uses heating oil for their homes, anyone who has mutual funds or 401k’s will have another 10% taxed…whether this is exactly correct or not, and it may well be, why has the media avoided an open and probative review of what each candidates’ taxes will really mean for the so-called “middle class”?

But the general point of your article is profound….that media bias exists on both sides to an alarming extent, and it appears that the election process has driven both sides to relinquish the traditional adamant attempt to retain objectivity.

Tatiana Prophet / November 6th, 2008, 6:33 pm / #2

Thanks, Harry. It’s great to see you on here.

Regarding taxes, I agree with you that the media have not examined either McCain’s or Obama’s tax plan in great detail. Something I noticed over and over was the lack of math skills in many journalists, with plain laziness preventing them from ever learning how to calculate a percentage. Obviously, business reporters are better at math, as are those who write about financial issues. Even at business papers, I noticed a dearth of curiosity for context — making the numbers relevant. And there are still many reporters who write about education, government and politics who have a hard time calculating the impact of a line item. I view the lack of math skills as a serious problem.

My personal opinion on taxes is that we’re in a lot more trouble than the issue of taxes for the wealthy. As far as I can tell, corporations are huge shelters for individuals to pay themselves and others before paying taxes on profits. Buying property is a popular way to avoid paying income taxes. But I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject. I know that Ireland revised its tax structure (to be friendlier to business) and attracted the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s. It is now one of the most dynamic economies in Europe. (I don’t think much of the pharmaceutical industry, however.) If the government got half the taxes it intended before any loopholes were applied, I could see how investment might suffer. However, loopholes are huge and there are a lot of them. Until we fix social security and clean up entitlements, we’re going to have to raise enough money through taxes to survive as a nation. I guess my next project is to read up on the entire issue…. But I think most anti-superstition, rational types (myself included) see energy and climate change as much more urgent issues than the tax issue.

It seems from your post that you believe in trickle-down economics, as you said the middle class will indeed suffer from Obama’s tax plan. That remains to be seen. Personally, I watched Reaganomics fail as our 40th president ran up the biggest budget deficit in history. Reaganomics depended heavily on trickle-down economics (the same thing as supply-side economics). I do agree that a friendly tax structure encourages investment. But that is not the whole story. Opportunity creates investment, and opportunity is what we have, as John Lennon said, if we want it: education, innovation, adaptation and solution.

Regarding “reviving the fairness doctrine,” this might be the thing that screams “I’m a wonk!” the loudest in Michael Malone’s column.

It’s a pet issue of the right, wherein the likes of Michelle Malkin are positively shrill in their predictions that a Democratic Congress and a President Obama will revive The Fairness Doctrine, which the Federal Communications Commission adopted in 1949.

Read the history here on a PBS link.

This is a threat to conservative talk show hosts, apparently.

Read another article from The Hill periodical.

I’m going to go polish up on the idea of “fairness.”

harry s. / November 6th, 2008, 7:14 pm / #3

I appreciate the analysis you bring, and the areas you choose to explore and illuminate which are often left untouched by other writers and commentators. The previous piece you offered on media bias brought to light a phenomenon that was painful to watch during the campaign, when so many reporters threw objectivity to the wind and took sides in an often unabashed way that i thought stretched much too far away from their appointed roles as harbingers of truth and facts and news. At least that is what i think reporters should be expected to provide. Of course there is a place for “commentators” and editors to voice their opinion, but we witnessed the mixing up of fact and opinion.

I think perhaps i did not clearly relate my thoughts, if you got from it that i believe in trickle down economics. What i meant to say was that if taxes are raised on small businesses, then it is really the middle class worker who gets the brunt of that…if costs go up for the owners, then they will hire fewer staff, or reduce wages or otherwise affect the wage earner. I was also trying to say that despite a moderate or meager “tax cut” for the middle class, other tax increases would tend to be greater than the tax cut, so overall some experts were indicating that we should not necessarily believe there will be a net decrease in taxes, but rather that various capital gains taxes, and dividend taxes, and heating oil taxes, and gasoline taxes all affect the bottom line of the wage earner. So I was just relating what some financial talking heads had explained about the summary tax hit to be expected, and that it was not as simple as just everyone can expect that there will be a tax cut for 95% of people..we will see what reality brings in time, but my point was that i wish the candidates and reporters and financial experts had elucidated more clearly what we can expect as net tax increases or decreases, instead of having to rely on platitudes and vague promises without hard cold facts to support them.

harry s. / November 6th, 2008, 7:42 pm / #4

i read the article you referenced on the history of the Fairness Doctrine. I realize that my prior statement that reporters should stick to truth, facts, and news appears naive in the sense that it brings up the obvious rhetorical question, ‘What is truth.” Obviously we see the world, as do reporters, through the lens of our experience and backgrounds and prejudices, so there is no one objective truth, especially when portraying the qualities and characteristics of public officials or candidates. This relativism can be argued in the field of politics as valid, whereas in the world of engineering and science, there is and can be a domain where truth is objective, being reproducible observations of natural phenomena which survive repeated tests as to their accuracy, and never fail. Clearly, reporters attempting to convey so called facts in the arena of a heated campaign are prone to editorialize instead of holding fast to only those observations which are devoid of variabilitry due to one’s personal viewpoint, ie, “facts” that are uncontestable. So i was interested to read the history of the Fairness Doctrine, where the government attempted to mandate that reporters relate “facts” or rather at least bring both sides of a controversal subject to the reader or listener. History has shown you cannot mandate fairness, especially in the context of the first amendment, so we are at the mercy of the media outlets and news agencies and reporters-at-large, and it requires this freedom to be moderated by our own probing consideration of what we take into your consciousness from outside sources.

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