The Media

May 19, 2004 | 10 comments
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Recent comments elsewhere have discussed the question of the media: Whether it is reporting properly, whether it is politically impartial, and whether the answers to those questions are a problem. There is clearly a diversity of opinion among T & S readers on these topics. This thread is everyone’s chance to air their views about the media.

However, I really don’t want this to become a mudfight. And, it has been my observation that people are (more so than usual) willing to speak without support on this topic. So, for this thread alone, I’m asking for an added set of comment procedures to be followed. The usual set of comment policies applies. (No personal attacks and so forth, see here for details). In addition to the usual rules, I would like to keep out broad, unsupported stand-alone statements — “The New York Times always publishes anti-American articles” or “Rush Limbaugh always makes incorrect statements” or “The media always . . .”. So, if making comments here, please (1) make comments relating to particular articles, i.e., “This Washington Post article is biased because . . .” and (2) provide a link to the article in question. (Please link to original articles where possible. Not “read this 200-page-editorial elsewhere for news about the NYT” — link to the original NYT.) After all, if the media is really as good / bad / whatever as everyone seems to think, it can’t be that hard to find support for assertions, right?

With those ground rules in place, let’s open the discussion: Is the media biased? Accurate? Undecided? We’re interested in your (supported by a link) opinions.

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10 Responses to The Media

  1. Clark Goble on May 19, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    I think the media very biased, but unfortunately biased more towards sensationalism than any political point of view. During the first year of the gulf war they were very weak on conservatives. Now they are being very harsh on them. What I think tends to happen is that they all sort of decide on a point of view support it for a while and then, a few months later, trash it. It is all based upon fairly superficial inquiry and the desire to create controversy and news. Worst of all their biases is the bias towards the excitement and the repression of the big picture.

    I know lots will pick more political issues, and I do agree that in the “main press” (i.e. not commentators) there is a slight left lean. Among commentators there are enough conservatives now that overall I think there is more of a conservative bias. But it really depends upon what you are reading. Clearly the NYT has a strong left leaning editorial bias. The Washington Times a strong right leaning bias. But I honestly think those political biases far less damaging than simple lazy reporting and a bias towards being first rather than being right.

  2. Scott on May 19, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    Thought experiment:

    (1) What political-themed movies can you think of within the past decade?

    (2) What percentage of those films would be fairly characterized as more or less left-leaning?

    Scott

  3. Clark Goble on May 19, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    Just to note some bias, compare the reports the last couple of days on the sarin gas with this analysis from a military munitions expert:

    http://www.overpressure.com/archives/week_2004_05_16.html#000820

    Now whether you agree with the guy or not, that sort of analysis at least should have been provided beyond the “it’s an old shell from the Iran/Iraq war.” Going through the stories linked to on Google news, a surprising number of journalists confused the sarin shell this week with a mustard gas shell from last week. Significantly its received little coverage today in most of the media. Compare this with all the focus and analysis of the prison situation. I’m not saying the prison shouldn’t be focused on, but surely a chemical weapons shell that was never declared and which supposedly Iraq never had is pretty important. So why so little coverage? Why is there little discuss of it, the earlier mustard gas, and then the chemical weapon attempted attack on Jordan. That’s a lot of chemical weapons appearing the past few weeks with very little media scrutiny. Why?

    Well, it’s because we’re in the cycle of being critical to the administration. I’ll predict that in a few weeks the media will return to being nice to Bush and attacking Kerry. Perhaps then they will focus in on those sorts of things.

    The other bias in the media is simply horrible analysis of strategy and tactics of the military. The reports about Fallujah were simply incompentent. Going to sites like Belmont Club provided a much needed analysis of what the marines were doing. That doesn’t mean they were always succeeding. But the media seemed to report nothing but casualties with no analysis beyond a superficial political analysis. i.e. they reported on the war the way they do an election. I’m not sure that is a political bias. But it sure is a bias against trying to understand tactics.

  4. Kingsley on May 19, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    For starters, here’s a recent article by John O’Sullivan over at the National Review Online about the tendency of the media (worldwide) to “weep from the left eye only.” http://www.nationalreview.com/jos/jos200405181427.asp. Sorry I can’t put you straight to it–don’t have the technical know-how.

  5. John H on May 19, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    I’m not certain if the media is “liberal” or “conservative” – although individual groups have their leanings (Fox News, for example). But I agree with Clark, that they all go towards the sensational. If you pay attention to the local evening news in particular, I think we’d all be surprised at how much of it isn’t “news” – at least news in the sense that it affects us. A traffic accident, a house fire, etc. – these are tragic things, but they generally don’t affect my life. There is also a tremendous amount of playing on social fears when advertising the news. “A car catches fire at a local gas station. Could it happen to you? We’ll tell you how to protect yourself, tonight at 10.” That was the advertisement for a newstory in Salt Lake just recently.

    Crime over the past 30 or so years has generally stayed the same, or even gone down. Some individual crimes fluctuate more than others. But overall, there ins’t a lot more crime (as I understand it) today than there was 30 years ago. Yet media coverage of crime has gone up like 500% (no, that’s not an exaggeration) in the past 30 years. You often hear people say, “We didn’t have to lock our doors at night.” Yet the chances of someone breaking in is about the same – the only thing that has changed is their fear of break-ins.

  6. Ben S. on May 19, 2004 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t see it so much as a left/right debate as much as a difference in worldview between the people who report and the people who are being reported to. John Leo makes this argument well here.

  7. Randy on May 19, 2004 at 7:16 pm

    Not to nit pick, but the ground rules, as established by Kaimi, require citing to biased articles or newstories, not to articles or newstories that professes media bias elsewhere.

  8. Eric James Stone on May 19, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    Here’s a news article in the New York Times dealing with controversy over the court-ordered legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/19/national/19marry.html

    There are two references in the article to the unprecedented nature of what’s going on:

    ————-

    “This is an unprecedented request,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville…

    “We’re in uncertain territory right now,” she said. “The governor has said very clearly that town clerks are supposed to be doing something different than what they’ve been doing for 30 years. The town of Provincetown looked at the law and said they’re not going to change doing things….”
    ————-

    Well, I suppose it’s only natural that people would consider a major change to the very definition of an important traditional institution such as marriage to be something unprecedented.

    Whoops! Those comments about the unprecedented nature of things are not about same-sex marriage itself. They are about Governor Romney’s demand that towns follow a 1913 law that prohibits marrying out-of-state couples if their marriage would be void in their state of residence.

    But overturning thousands of years of tradition against same-sex marriage? No one mentions that as being unprecedented.

    Most media bias in news reports (as opposed to editorial and opinion pieces) is fairly subtle; often it is just the way that issues are framed.

  9. Times and Seasons » More on Media Bias on February 9, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    [...] ent posts. It was part of the discussion of my post on the elections in Iraq. Kaimi had an entire post devoted to the subject last summer. Now for some data: a London School of Economics Ph [...]

  10. Restoring Lost Comments on November 25, 2004 at 10:04 pm

    [Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :

    I second Clark’s endorsement of the Belmont Club, which provides some of the more interesting commentary on the Iraq war.
    Comment by: Nate Oman at May 19, 2004 07:17 PM

    *****

    If you’re the sort of person who mistrusts the National Review Online, my article counts as both!
    Comment by: Kingsley at May 19, 2004 07:20 PM

    *****

    Perhaps an obvious point, but one worth mentioning: Assuming that “the media” has some collective point of view on a political issue, whether that point of view is “left-leaning” or “right-leaning” depends on the vantage point of the speaker. So, when Bob Novak dismisses _the Economist_ as a liberal rag, or Noam Chomsky sees the American media as a propaganda tool for rightwing forces, I can remind myself that they aren’t necessarily living in two different realities. Instead, they are seeing the same reality, but from two very different points on the political spectrum.
    Aaron B
    Comment by: Aaron Brown at May 19, 2004 07:26 PM

    *****

    Eric – I’m not sure why you see this article as biased. You want the reporter to make some claim about the unprecedented nature of the imposition of same-sex marriage laws, but that isn’t what this article is about. It’s about the governor’s response to the same-sex marriages of out-of-state residents and about the responses of clerks and gay marriage advocates to the actions proposed and taken by Romney. Why would this article need to be qualified by the sort of statement you suggest?
    As far as the article goes, I think it fairly represents the positions of both parties. Romney doesn’t want to see Massachussetts turn into “the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage,” and so he has sought to nullify all marriages of out-of-state residents using a 1913 law. Same-sex marriage advocates are claiming that his restrictions find no precedent in the state’s interpretation of the law. Why is it biased of the NY Times to present both sides of the issue?
    Comment by: brayden at May 19, 2004 07:37 PM

    *****

    Here I go breaking the rules again, but in a recent CNBC discussion of The Passion, a participating journalist pointed out that the “media tends to have a more sophisticated outlook on this sort of thing.� I was struck by her comment because it came in response to a question about the apparent disconnect between the American media & the American movie-going public. Her point was that The Passion gets bad reviews from editorialists & good reviews from Joe Everyman because editorialists are refined enough not to take the New Testament so literally. If she’s correct, she’s pointing to conflicting worldviews so fundamental as to bypass completely the left/right debate. Ben S.’s article, linked above, makes this point (& provides examples of articles backing it up, too!).
    Comment by: Kingsley at May 19, 2004 07:53 PM

    *****

    Eric says: “But overturning thousands of years of tradition against same-sex marriage? No one mentions that as being unprecedented.”
    I’m not sure if this is intended to be a serious claim or not. In the days and weeks following Goodridge, there were literally hundreds of articles and newsreports that described the decision as unprecedented. To take two examples, see this article from the Washington Times, http://washingtontimes.com/national/20040427-105454-3249r.htm , and this article from the Southern Voice, http://www.southernvoice.com/2004/4-23/news/national/partyover.cfm . Some saw the change in precedent as good, some did not, but I think just about everyone would agree that it was unprecedented.
    Comment by: Randy at May 19, 2004 08:04 PM

    *****

    Thanks Clark for the link to the Belmont Club. Very interesting stuff. On today’s coverage of the sarin shell, you might want to check out this piece, from, of all places, the editorial page of the NYT. http://nytimes.com/2004/05/19/opinion/19SAFI.html?hp
    Comment by: Randy at May 19, 2004 08:32 PM

    *****

    I started listening to NPR in earnest when I was commuting in the Bay Area. I’ve stuck with NPR because I don’t want my kids seeing the hysterics and bleeding of television news. I have been struck recently by how weird my perceptions of some things are because I don’t *see* the news. When I do catch a photo or video, I realize how they can change my perceptions of certain things. (Hearing about prisoner abuse and seeing the photos are entirely different things.)
    My point here is that most people are having their perceptions formed by seeing more than hearing the news. Is this bad? Probably. I only mention this because in discussions of the media, the role of visuals (both in shaping perception and in the network’s selection of what stories to use and how to frame them) doesn’t often come up.
    Comment by: Julie in Austin at May 19, 2004 08:46 PM

    *****

    I am just wondering if some of the bias we are now seeing in the media is a result of the trying to cover the morality of what is happening. For instance with numerous significant social changes happening recently (SSM, pro-active war, disinformation, etc) it seems like what the media is trying to get at is whether or not the large changes in policies are a good idea. This would account for the flip flop or cycling that Clark talks about. It could basically amount to reporters and editors getting caught up in using facts to masquerade a discussion on ethics. If this happens, I can definitely see why significant bias would creep in. All that reporters do is pick apart decisions and look for potential consequences. This reminds me of the way my sociology classes trained me to present research. Just discuss some possible consequences. The likelihood of their occurring isn’t as important as fully exploring the issues. This lets individuals have enough options to decide for themselves what seems reasonable. Hence news stories that contradict the desired exposition are ignored. The facts themselves are meaningless. What matters is how events fit into an abstract model of what *should* be happening. In other words the bias arises because too many idealists are trying to show us how the world should be.
    Comment by: chris goble at May 19, 2004 10:58 PM

    *****

    >>
    [Aaron Brown writes:] So, when Bob Novak dismisses _the Economist_ as a liberal rag, or Noam Chomsky sees the American media as a propaganda tool for rightwing forces, I can remind myself that they aren’t necessarily living in two different realities. Instead, they are seeing the same reality, but from two very different points on the political spectrum.
    >>
    Two points. 1) There are obviously right-leaning media outlets as well as left-leaning media outlets. But most media outlets lean left. And survey research has established that a very large majority of journalists do as well.
    2) Because most media outlets are staffed by people who skew left of center, their idea of the center is also skewed. But they don’t want to believe this. So they reassure themselves by saying things like Aaron Brown’s comment: “Well, Noam Chomsky says we’re too right, and Bob Novak thinks we’re too left. We must be smack in the middle, which is where we want to be.” Bill O’Reilly makes similar comments periodically, and saying doesn’t make it so.
    There’s always people on either side of you, ideologically, so it’s not informative to say that people on both sides disagree with you. What’s informative is who those people are. Bob Novak is a pretty typical Republican. Noam Chomsky is a far-out radical Marxist. Bisect the line that runs between their respective opinions and you still come up with a point left of center. Sorry, media. You’re not in the middle.
    Comment by: John David Payne at May 19, 2004 11:59 PM

    *****

    brayden,
    Let’s look at who’s quoted in the article.
    Gov. Romney is quoted, as you pointed out.
    A spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, Shawn Feddeman, declines comment. (Not a direct quote.)
    Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville is quoted twice in opposition to the governor.
    David M. Moore, city solicitor in Worcester, is quoted in opposition to the governor.
    Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, is quoted in opposition to the governor.
    Chris Bianchi, 29, of Rochester, N.Y., is quoted twice in opposition.
    Gretchen Van Ness, a Boston lawyer, is quoted in opposition.
    There are additional indirect quotes, none of which support the governor’s position.
    The whole story is framed to portray Governor Romney’s position as the extreme position: He’s the one doing unprecedented things; everyone else disagrees with him.
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 12:17 AM

    *****

    Randy,
    You are right, there have been plenty of stories about the same-sex marriage debate which acknowledge that it is unprecedented.
    But you don’t find it the least bit ironic that in a story involving same-sex marriage, the only references to something being unprecedented are actions toward maintaining the status quo?
    Out-of-state same-sex couples could not get married in Massachusetts a week ago. Governor Romney wants to keep it that way? Unprecedented!
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 12:23 AM

    *****

    I have not seen the original reports, but the Media Research Center has a summary of many of the surveys to which John eludes. Those wishing for facts relevant to media bias would do well to peruse the surveys summarized there (though I don’t know how well done the surveys were, so maybe it is all bunk).
    The Media Research Center is definitely not a neutral party. My favorite— in the subsample of Washington based reporters, 89%(!) voted for Clinton, 7% for George Bush. I think Reporters may tend to favor the challenger, but that is a whopping margin.
    Note that these numbers are about the politics of the press, not how those polictics translate into bias in article choice, phrasing, or slant.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at May 20, 2004 12:24 AM

    *****

    Kaimi’s intent in additional ground rules is to push the discussion into more rigorous, data-driven territory, which I support. Here are some specific thoughts on the ground rules and then some more general thoughts on the media issue.
    1. Cherry-picked anecdotal evidence is easy to come by for any position one wishes to support. More valuable is evidence of widespread, systematic bias.
    2. Bias may manifest itself in which stories get more play or get mentioned, not in the tone of individual articles. Does Fox play up stories the other networks don’t quite get around to? Does the NYT write 50-60 articles on Augusta National(!)? Even if each report is, internally, reasonably accurate, choice of coverage is a big deal.
    3. I agree that the media has a strong bias towards sensationalism, and a certain herd mentality which is no more useful in journalists then it is in mutual fund managers. Both of these behaviors can be explained by pretty obvious incentives.
    4. Suppose the media is wildly biased in favor of Democrats. Is this just obnoxious or does it actually affect electoral outcomes? I doubt it would be easy to answer this question, but I think it gets at the real issue. If the media is hopelessly biased but irrelevant, then who cares? If media organs are opinion formers for the nation, then bias is a top-priority issue.
    5. Worse than bias is the fact that I have almost never seen an article on a subject about which I am an expert which was not at least mildly misleading. This dilutes my confidence in reporting on other events. I could handle more bias if I could have more competence. Note that this may be a function of the fact that the two areas I am very familiar with are economics and Mormons, neither of which is a real strength for journalists.
    6. Although there is an incredible amount of blather on the internet, the level of analysis available on a few sites is eons beyond what a print journal can pull off in a short column. Broadcast journalism is far worse.
    7. Speaking of NPR, what’s the deal with public funding of a left-wing radio station? I expect public media in totalitarian regimes, but it seems just plain bizarre in the United States.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at May 20, 2004 12:52 AM

    *****

    I think we should recognize that most media outlets, even those with explicit leanings, stray from their ostensible “party line” on occasion. There have been a handful of articles surprisingly critical of the Bush administration lately in the WSJ (such as this one, which I can’t link to directly because it’s subscription only and I read it on Lexis Nexis) and the Dean of conservative columnists, George Will, recently took Bush to task in rather sharp words. And recently on the normally left-leaning Slate, they roasted Kerry for a number of Bush-esque oratorical fumbles, offered a rather harsh critique of conservative dirt-digger turned liberal darling David Brock, and raised questions about Seymour Hirsh’s controversial New Yorker article about Abu Ghraib.
    I don’t mean to specifically endorse any of the publications above, but I wonder if perhaps one _possible_ indicator of a publication’s overall integrity might be the frequency or willingness with which it mixes it up a bit in this way. So, for example, I lean a little to the left politically, but on a number of topics I might well place more stock (from an information-integrity point of view) in something I read in WSJ than, say, the Village Voice.
    Comment by: Jeremy at May 20, 2004 12:58 AM

    *****

    John,
    I actually agree with most of what you say, and I did not intend my comment as a defense of “the Media” as somehow moderate or centrist. I’m well aware that Bob Novak is not to the Right what Noam Chomsky is to the left. (Novak and Chomsky just happened to be who popped into my head in the moment).
    All I’m saying is that the question whether the Media is “left-wing” or “right-wing” isn’t a very useful one since these terms don’t capture some objective set of “political positions” that everyone agrees on. It’s more useful to speak about specific political issues and stands, rather than some generic location on a political spectrum.
    If you want to identify some objectively “moderate” set of positions (calculated, presumably, by looking at where the average American falls on some issue), and then assert that the Media generally falls to the left of those positions, I’m sure I’d agree with you.
    Aaron B
    Comment by: Aaron Brown at May 20, 2004 01:01 AM

    *****

    Frank,
    I think your statement about NPR directly contradicts Kaimi’s groundrules. Can you give some specific examples.
    Regardless of whether or not NPR “leans” in its content, I think some people perceive the fact that it is not commercially driven as somehow fundamentally liberal. I listened to conservative radio host Michael Savage for a while the other day, and couldn’t help feel suspicious of what he had to say about Abu Ghraib when, without modulating his voice or breaking up the flow of the show in any way, moved seamlessly from his news commentary directly into a scripted advertisement. This makes me wonder if his political leaning (and perhaps that of other commentators like him) has as much to do with reaching a market as articulating a conviction. On the other hand, both yesterday and today, my local NPR affiliate sacrificed several hours of its biannual fund drive to broadcast, without interruption, the 9/11 hearings.
    Comment by: Jeremy at May 20, 2004 01:16 AM

    *****

    OK, here’s a fun little game.
    Go to the online archives of the New York Times, which allow you to search the full text of stories going back to 1996: http://query.nytimes.com/search/advanced?srchst=nyt
    Now, the political distribution in the U.S. is somewhat like a bell curve: large mass of moderates in the middle, smaller numbers of increasingly extreme people at both end.
    Now, most people tend to think of their own beliefs as being rational, and so they will tend to define only those further along in their direction as being extremists of the same political orientation. They will also perceive a larger portion of the spectrum at the other end as being extreme.
    So, here are the results of a few searches:
    “right wing”: 1944 (55%)
    “left wing”: 1573 (45%)
    Not too bad. But put some hyphens in there to see what happens when those terms are used as adjectives:
    “right-wing”: 3436 (69%)
    “left-wing”: 1538 (31%)
    What about ultras?
    “ultra-conservative”: 45 (82%)
    “ultra-liberal”: 10 (18%)
    Now let’s look at the extremes:
    “right-wing extremists”: 57 (93%)
    “left-wing extremists”: 4 (7%)
    “right-wing extremist”: 47 (87%)
    “left-wing extremist”: 7 (13%)
    “conservative extremists”: 3 (60%)
    “liberal extremists”: 2 (40%)
    “extreme conservative”: 24 (57%)
    “extreme liberal”: 18 (43%)
    “extreme conservatives”: 13 (81%)
    “extreme liberals”: 3 (19%)
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 01:20 AM

    *****

    Eric, very interesting. I can see why it is hard to get across the idea that liberals are often just as extreme as right wing conservatives.
    Comment by: chris goble at May 20, 2004 01:49 AM

    *****

    Aaron Brown,
    Thanks for your reply; I agree with everything you said. Let me apologize for the clumsy phrasing of my previous post. I did not intend to imply that you were defending the media as centrist. Your post just reminded me of something I’ve seen a lot on TV.
    Namely, that when two people appear on CNN to debate, say the Iraq war, one is a Republican and the other one is a Communist from International A.N.S.W.E.R. And I always get the feeling that the moderator (what a word!) thinks ‘the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.’
    I really got started thinking about this because of something I read on Imagination’s Fool:
    http://arwynevenstar.blogspot.com/2004/05/jonah-goldberg-part-ii.html
    I picked up the ball and ran with it in a post on my own blog, here:
    http://houseofpayne.blogspot.com/2004_05_01_houseofpayne_archive.html#108455440977034565
    Comment by: John David Payne at May 20, 2004 02:32 AM

    *****

    Jeremy,
    A. In points 1 and 2 I tried to make clear, in my vague sort of way, why I though those ground rules were problematic. Suppose I gave 5 examples of left-leaning work at NPR. This would hardly constitute an indictment of bias.
    B. I don’t actually need to say that NPR is biased left, I just need to say that it has political leanings fo rone to wonder why the government is involved. It could actually have political leanings both directions (depending on the journalist) and one would still wonder why it was federally funded.
    C. I rarely have actually encountered someone who thought NPR was without any political leaning. When I do its almost always a liberal. I rarely hear people claiming Fox news has no leanings. When I do its a conservative.
    Frankly this probably goes farther to reveal political leanings of those news organizations than 2 or 3 paltry examples.
    D. So the example/anecdote method doesn’t weigh heavily with me. Nevertheless, I am not in charge of this forum. So feel free to ignore #7 if you desire, because I certainly am not going to spend time hunting through NPR archives cherry-picking for what I consider examples of NPR bias. I doubt that would be very convincing for you or anyone else, nor should it be.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at May 20, 2004 02:36 AM

    *****

    Jeremy, if you have a hard time believing that NPR is “a left-wing radio station,” as Frank says, then I think we are going to be here a long time.
    Comment by: John David Payne at May 20, 2004 02:47 AM

    *****

    It is interesting that Kaimi just posted this, because I was just now preparing a lecture on politics and the media for my American politics class tomorrow. Don’t worry, I won’t reproduce it here, but I would like to make a few comments on what has gone before.
    1) There is consideratble confusion about the term bias. I take it to mean a tendency to arrive at certain perspectives and opinions over others, and to conduct coverage of events and presentation of news which favors toward these presepectives and opinions (i.e. framing, priming, agenda setting), *without justification*. Under this definition, one should not expect that the media to be neutral, or equally positive or negative about any particular issue. Some leaders and policies are indeed bad, some more manifestly than others. So unevenness or lack of balance on any particular issue may not mean anything.
    The question of bias also raises the issue of the purpose of the news media in a democracy. Is its purpose to feed every major political party with an equal amount of ammunition for its political aims? Should it lean toward existing American political opinions, in roughly the same proportion that these opinions are held in the public? This would seem to make the news media redundant, since the social forces which uphold these perspectives (parties, churches, governments, interest groups, businesses, unions) have their own (quite effective) resources and modes of socialization. Witness the fact that many conservatives “know” all the good things that are really going on in Iraq, despite the fact that the ‘liberal media’ is keeping it from them. And indeed research shows that people tend to recognize and resist media perspectives which are different from their own, including biased ones. So while I don’t conlude that the media should be expected to have a left-wing bias, it should be expected to have a tendency toward critique, first and foremost critique of the current government. I don’t call this bias because it is a justified tendency, justified by the purpose of the news media. So for example, if the media has little patience with the idea that we should trust the government to do what is right without oversight and with little public knowledge of its activities, this is not liberal bias, but a tendency which is true to the democratic purpose of the news media.
    2) I agree with much of the Leo piece–the media are considerably more culturally liberal than the general population, and this seems to priviledge some perspectives in the media over others [a great large analysis is in Lichter et al.'s _The Media Elite_, 1990]. The media are much more likely to be on the left of issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the role of religion in public life. However, this leftist bias does not extend to what we often call economic or fiscal issues. The journalists in the big media outlets are, in this area, very similar to other upper middle class people who work for big corporations. You have an entire cable news network, CNBC, complete with political commentators and a reality show reruns, devoted to covering Wall Street–can you imagine a parallel network which covered labor (e.g. “AFL-CIO/CNN”–the ridiculousness of it proves my point)? It’s possible (but not entirely clear to me) that Bob Novak is significantly to the right of most journalists on taxes or worker’s rights. It’s also true that Chomsky is far to the left on these issues. But this establishes nothing. There are countless other people who are on the left and right of the media. The question is, whether the media has a bias to the left of much of the country, e.g. the average worker. Or from a different perspective, does the media allow for proportional amounts ciritcism of or sympathy with labor *and* management/ownership? While it is true that the media report unemployment numbers, they spend many times more time and effort talking about the fortunes of companies and investors, and connecting the fortunes of these to the general welfare. The average media consumer is much more likely to know whether Microsoft beat earnings expectations last quarter than whether software designers saw an increase or decrease in real wages. There is a single counter example that I can think of: Lou Dobb’s Moneyline, which recently began to focus on worker’s issues rather than Wall Street.
    3) One last important finding of recent research is that the huge disparities in party affiliation among journalists seems to have become much more modest recently. This is a finding that is quite remarkable, when you put it up against the fact that radio and TV talk shows are dominated by the right, indeed the far right in the case of radio. If there was a liberal media in the early 1990s, there has been an enormous shift rightward since. It remains to be seen whether this shift is having any real political results, or whether the public is continuing to shrug off one-sided media as they have in the past.
    A collection of some of the most recent media research on party affliation can be found here:
    http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=28235

    p.s. an analysis of the terms liberal and conservative and how often they are coupled with negative terms like “extreme” is incomplete without an account of how negatively or positively the underlying terms are. While left wing and right wing seem roughly equal, liberal has a more negative connotation than conservative. John Kerry is trying desperately to escape the term liberal, which already is used to denote a kind of extremism, an out-of-the-mainstream view. Conservative, on the other hand, is not nearly so negative in connotation, and so it needs “extreme” to give it a negative bite. Also, conservatism, unlike liberality, has not lost its mainstream, positive uses in non-political contexts. E.g. a “conservative budget estimate” makes sense and sounds good, but a “liberal (meaning generous) philanthropist” would either be misunderstood or sound archaic.
    Comment by: Jeremiah J. at May 20, 2004 03:14 AM

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    Jeremiah J.,
    “…liberal has a more negative connotation than conservative.”
    This made me laugh.
    When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher gave us an assignment consisting of a list of words that we had to label as having either a positive or a negative connotation.
    One of the words was “liberal.”
    Since I was brought up reading National Review, I labled “liberal” as having a negative connotation.
    The teacher marked my answer as wrong because “liberal” is associated with good things such as freedom.
    I argued it with her and finally she agreed that maybe it had different connotations depending on one’s political point of view.
    [End of anecdote]
    Regarding your analysis of the words”liberal” and “conservative,” the dynamics you cite may be involved. However, since you acknowledge that “right-wing” and “left-wing” are about equal, the fact that “right-wing extremists” are mentioned about nine times more than “left-wing extremists” would tend to indicate that the effect I proposed is there.
    I’d be interested to see if anyone can use the search tool to come up with any comparison of terminology used in the NYT that indicates a conservative bias rather than a liberal bias.
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 03:33 AM

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    Jeremiah,
    On point 3: Thanks for the link, this looks like an interesting survey. Obviously, as a random sample of journalists, it is not coing to capture whether there are systematic differences across papers of varying influence. The NYT is more liberal than the Deseret News, but this survey could not incorporate the fact that the NYT is vastly more influential than DN.
    : I realize that the survey shows fewer journalists declare themselves as Democrats, but that doesn’t really indicate that they are moving right all that much, since Repubbican numbers are basically unchanged. It is hard to see a 2% increase in Republicans (well within the survey error) as a major shift rightward among journalists at large. It may be there, but it may not. That said, the whole right-wing radio commentary thing has been very interesting.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at May 20, 2004 03:38 AM

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    The only thing that presents a problem in the media as I see it is the proverbial double standard. The bias comes out when one side is given a free pass…not in what is reported. One can be liberal or conservative and as long as they apply the same standard to each news piece, they remain credible. This is what I see lacking and why there is such growing distrust. The most hilarious example I heard was on the Imus in the Morning program on MSNBC the morning of the 17th. Imus objected to the continual bad news when there obviously was good stuff going on in Iraq. I have yet to understand why such big players give him the time of day but oh, well. Andrea Mitchell declared that the reason they were not doing positive news stories on the war was that the reporters were afraid to go anywhere in anymore…it was just too dangerous. Imus did not follow up on this so I guess we are left to conclude that a reporter is only safe when investigating *bad* news in Iraq. Or something.
    Comment by: Juliann at May 20, 2004 04:03 AM

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    Eric: The story about the teacher is funny.
    Of course it’s true that the meaning of a term can have more negative or positive effects depending on one’s opinions, points of view, habits of word usage–indeed this is one reason why misunderstandings are possible and common. But this does not change the fact that there are dominant usages in a given cultural-linguistic context. We could get into reader-response research and other social science methods which triy to measure these connotations–we can’t do that in this forum, though. My main point was that you have to give an account of the underlying term, not just the frequency of its being coupled with “extreme” or some other negative term, precisely because some terms may already have a built in closeness to or distance from extremism or some other bad thing. For example, “extreme loyalty” is not all that bad sounding itself, and identifying a certain extreme instance of loyalty does not imply that loyalty is itself extreme and bad, indeed it may imply the opposite. And on the other hand, you will almost never hear someone called an extreme facist or an extreme Stalinist, for obvious reasons: these terms already have enough negative bite and enough connotation of extremism.
    Your findings on right-wing versus left wing are interesting since it seems to me that the difference in connotation (i.e. positive/negative) is roughly nil. And yet the disparity in frequency could mean a lot of things, depending on the positive or negative connotation and the intensity of connotations. For example, liberal/conservative is more mainstream, left-wing/right-wing is more common in intellectual circles–intellectual circles have certain habits of usage which are different from the rest of society. This is one factor among many which could conribute to the disparity without necessarily implying anything about the media’s positive or negative usage of these terms.
    Frank: I should clarify–when I say that the whole media has taken a sharp turn toward the right I don’t mean “journalists” (i.e. people who report the news and write editorials) They are less Democratic, but I won’t go beyond that, since they still tend to cultural liberalism. My point is that the radio and TV talk show media, which I would distinguish from journalism has moved to the right, far to the right in my opinion. But talk radio listeners are probably more self-selecting ideologically than, say readers of the Washington Post. Plenty of Republicans read the Post, but it would seem odd for a moderate or left-winger to tune into Rush. I know that there are left wingers who listen to Rush (which explains a lot), but they do it with antagonism. So the strong right-wing dominance *in these forms of media* may have little effect, i.e. may be redundant with the other socialization factors which contribute to conservatism.
    I think that charges of bias and manipulation sometimes do more harm than the bias itself. As I mentioned, political science seems to have shown that people are pretty good at filtering out views and biases contrary to their own. People are less sheep-like, at least in this area, than media observers seem to think. And yet charges of bias often seem to make it easier for people to discount arguments and factual claims based on their source. E.g. “That’s FOX for you” or “There goes the liberal media again”
    Comment by: Jeremiah J. at May 20, 2004 04:23 AM

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    Eric,
    I appreciate the data you’ve given. Now let me poke a few holes in it. :)
    I just ran the “right wing” search on NYT. On the first page, looking at titles alone (since the article text isn’t free), at least one of the articles found doesn’t deal with politics at all — it’s a hockey piece.
    Assuming that hockey gives equal numbers of false positives to both left and right, we still have a much bigger problem: The international articles.
    On the first page (20 hits) seven deal with Columbia or Isreal, and one with Europe.
    Is an article about Columbia’s right-wing paramilitaries a liberal biased article?
    To me, it just shows the problem with using these broad titles. In foreign countries, the communists are often happy to be titled communist or Maoist, so they don’t show up on the radar screen as “extreme liberals.”
    That is, in the U.S. the divide is often right-wing / left-wing or conservative / liberal. Outside of the U.S., it is sometimes a conservative / communist divide, and so counting the number of times conservative is used versus liberal is not an accurate barometer.
    Of course, the right wing in the U.S. doesn’t exactly want to be associated with third-world dictators, and an argument can be made that the press should use another term. That is a separate potential complaint. It may have some merit, but at the moment right-wing seems to be understood to mean at least two different things, one for home and one for abroad.
    Comment by: Kaimi at May 20, 2004 09:38 AM

    *****

    I also quickly ran the search on “extreme right-wing.” Based on the titles, it appeared that around half of the articles on the first page were about European politics, particularly French politics.
    France has a communist party. It also has a hard-line conservative party, which gets called “extreme right-wing” in the news. Is there a better description? Possibly, I don’t know.
    Comment by: Kaimi at May 20, 2004 09:42 AM

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    Frank, John:
    Toss tomoatos at me if you want, but I don’t think NPR counts as “left-wing.” I think there’s a difference between left-leaning, liberal, and “left-wing,” each suggesting an increased influence of editorial influence on content selection and presentation. “-wing” usually connotes a position on the suspicious fringe, which I just don’t think describes NPR.
    Comment by: Jeremy at May 20, 2004 09:51 AM

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    This will come as no surprise, but I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy. NPR surely does, in certain ways, lean left. But NPR is not “left-wing.” Michael Moore is left-wing.
    Comment by: Randy at May 20, 2004 10:04 AM

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    Eric,
    I too ran a search using the NYTimes search engine – this time for the word “liberal” (137 hits in the last 30 days) Not only did I see the same results as Kaimi, I also noticed that several of the links on the first page were editorials. If anything, should the editorial section be excluded from any analysis, since they are unmistakenly labeled as opinion, while the NYTimes (and several other papers) are often careful in labeling a “News Analysis” on pages other than the editorial section?
    Also, to follow up on Jeremiah’s point, why should we expect the media to be neutral? The press, as we know it, were evolutions of the partisan presses of the Ninteenth century. Partisan papers from (appx. 1828 – 1890s) often had the name of their partisan afiliation in their title (i.e. Marion Daily Republican, Albany Democrat-Herald, and the Roseville Independent), and during this period of American newspapers, would print the candidates which they supported on their masthead everyday in the weeks, if not months leading up to the election. If was not until the turn of the cerntury when the owners of the newspapers sought increaded profits and maginalized political news in favor of celebrety gossip, sports, and other “soft” news.
    The media has changed since the turn of the century, and there is a call for increased neutrality by journalists. However, how can we define “neutrality?” Were Bob Woodward and Carl Bernste doing their job when they investigated the Watergate scandal, or were they partisans bent on destroying President Nixon?
    One definitiion of conservative is to cling to the status quo and be hesitant of change. On that score, the press is “liberal” when it challenges the established norms (or government), and conservative, when it does not.
    My problem with the media today is that there are too few organizations that actually report the news. Most stories in the smaller newspapers are reprints of AP, Reuters, NYTimes, or other papers. The television media watch eachother to make sure they are not missing anything. This leads to fewer voices being heard, and many other stories not being covered (often sensationalism [and pictures] being favored over “real news” [if I can use that term] and stories without images}.
    Comment by: Chris R at May 20, 2004 10:30 AM

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    Kaimi,
    If anything, it looks like the inclusion of hockey stories tends to reduce rather than increase the appearance of bias. The unhyphenated versions of “left wing” and right wing” are the terms that are closest in their percentages. (I assume that terms such as “left-wing extremist” are rarely used in a hockey context.)
    As for your geographic points, I get your point. But it’s certainly possible the press bias extends beyond our shores, tending to see more evil in right-wing foreign organizations and people that left-wing ones.
    For example:
    +Castro +Cuba: 1436
    +Castro +Cuba +dictator: 104
    +Pinochet +Chile: 255
    +Pinochet +Chile +dictator: 546
    So the word “dictator” is used in 7% of stories containing the words Castro and Cuba, while it is used in 47% of the stories containing Pinochet and Chile.
    And here’s a little bonus on extremists, one that should have few hockey entanglements, one that doesn’t depend on connotations of the words liberal or conservative (and, since there are so few total hits, I eliminated references to Ireland and multiple hits on the same article):
    “extreme Democrats”: 0 (0%)
    “extreme Republicans”: 3 (100%)
    “extreme Democrat”: 0 (0%)
    “extreme Republican”: 6 (100%)
    If you shake the dice once and they come up seven, it could be random probability. If the dice come up seven nine times in a row, you might be justified in thinking that the dice are biased.
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 10:55 AM

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    Chris R,
    If the media were open about their biases, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. It’s the fact that much of the media seem in denial about it that is really irritating. (And yes, I think it’s stupid of Fox News to insist that they are unbiased.)
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 11:04 AM

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    I always find the valorization of NPR’s objectivity for for not accepting advertising extremely odd.
    First, it is not true that NPR does not accept corporate money. It does. It simply accepts it in the form of corporate grants and donations, which means that its supply of corporate money is ENTIRELY dependent on corporate perceptions of its content. In contrast, advertising money may often be indifferent to content so long as the the content guarantees a certain audience size.
    Second, NPR is largely dependent on grants from foundations. Most of these foundations again make selections on the basis of content and some of them make selections on the basis of ideology.
    Third, NPR is also dependent on donnor money. The willingness of these donors to cough up cash is going to largely be a function of whether or not they LIKE NPR. Furthermore, we know that the NPR donor lists are largely left leaning. (For example, both NPR and PBS have sold and/or traded donor lists with the DNC). Thus, it would seem that NPR is LESS able than a commercial station to publish material that offends its audience.
    Fourth, NPR is dependent in part on government funding. This is less sinister than it sounds, but don’t think that it doesn’t matter. On two seperate occasions, I have been at foras where NPR reporters have discussed this issue. In one forum, the reporter mentioned the anxiety he felt about publishing a story critical of state government when he realized that his pay check came from the state treasury. (He was a reporter for a station affiliated with a state university.) In the other forum, a producer at NPR talked about scrambling to find “conservative commentators” in the wake of the Republican take over of the House in 1994.
    That said, I tend to enjoy NPR, but it has very little to do with my perception that their funding structure makes them more reliable or more virtuous. Rather, it comes from the fact that their stories are longer than most in broadcast journalism. That is their virtue, and to the extent that their funding structure facilitates this kudos to them. I find the claim that the funding structure renders them more independent, however, extremely dubious.
    Comment by: Nate Oman at May 20, 2004 11:23 AM

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    Let’s up the stakes.
    Earlier in the comments, I analyzed a New York Times story that I felt was biased. It had direct quotes from six people, one of whom took the politically conservative position (against same-sex marriage) and five of whom took the liberal position (in favor of same-sex marriage.)
    If anyone can find a story that fits the following criteria, I’ll not only admit that I might be mistaken about the degree of political bias at the New York Times, I’ll pay the first person to do so $50 via PayPal. Here are the rules:
    1. It must have appeared in the New York Times in the past thirty days.
    2. It must be a news story about a U.S. political issue (i.e., not an opinion piece or editorial, and not a “news analysis” or profile of a political figure.)
    3. It must contain direct quotes from at least six people.
    4. The context of the quotes must be respectful toward the person being quoted. (i.e., no stories about dumb things people have said.)
    5. The people quoted in favor of the conservative political position must outnumber the people quoted in favor of the liberal position by at least five to one.
    Note that except for reversing the political ratio, the story I cited fit those criteria. Also note that I didn’t go hunting for a story with a high liberal/conservative quote ratio; I didn’t actually notice that until after I’d already mentioned the story in the comments here. It was the first story I read after I went looking for bias at the NYT. I picked the story because I thought a story on same-sex marriage would be likely to show liberal bias. So my “cherry picking” was limited to browsing through headlines on the NYT site.
    So, anyone want that $50?
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 12:40 PM

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    Eric James Stone: Being a student, I sorely desire fifty of your dollars. Can’t you make the contest a little more realistic? First to submit a genuine photograph of Big Foot, maybe?
    Comment by: Kingsley at May 20, 2004 12:47 PM

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    I agree that often the bias isn’t in what is reported but how it is reported. But to assert that because certain words are used by one typicaly viewed as left wing newspaper, seems a bit much. Compare that to the New York Post of late. What about the Wall Street Journal?
    The bigger issues to me aren’t so much political bias – which typically occurs in sources we already *know* the bias of. The bigger problem is superficiality. For instance how much coverage is given to events not focused on Americans? There’s a lot going on in the world right now. How many front page stories about the genocide in Sudan have their been? And that is a *horrible* event. Reading foreign press, regardless of bias, the American press simply rarely covers anything in which there aren’t lots of pictures of Americans. Even when a story is covered, the differing world opinions are rarely portrayed. Americans get a very, very narrow view of events.
    To stay within the guidelines of this thread – look at most US news and find where these stories are:
    Taiwan Leader backs down on formal independence
    Report appears on 2002 cargo plane and Russian charter collision killing 71 people
    Spanish Royal Wedding
    Two bombs diffused in Rome McDonalds
    If you really want to be depressed, look at how the mainstream media covers scientific news.
    Comment by: clarkgoble at May 20, 2004 12:53 PM

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    Jeremy,
    You present your guide to increasing lefitshness as:
    Left-leaning (least)
    Liberal
    Left-wing (most)
    and therefore dispute my assigning the left-wing title to NPR. I had no such hierarchy in mind. If you say NPR is “left-leaning” or “liberal” but not “left-wing” then that’s fine with me. I still want to know why the government is funding any media with political leanings.
    Furthermore, doesn’t the nature of the discussants pretty much reveal what we want to know? Eric says the NYT is biased against the right. Does anyone care to guess how Eric’s politics go? Kaimi says he is unconvinced, it may just be statistical illusion. Anyone care to put money down on Kaimi’s political leanings? Randy and Jeremy defend NPR as not being too liberal; John, Nate and I point out problems with NPR. If we should hazard guesses about the political outlook of these people, we might not be too far off.
    Even if this group isn’t representative, the larger truth holds. Conservatives find mainstream news press to be liberal, except for Fox News. More liberal types see Fox as way out there and the conservative complaint as largely a myth. (ignore the fringe liberals and conservatives for now).
    This seems a pretty clear indicator of where the press stand. If they were really in the middle, I should hear equal whining from the left and the right about press bias. But the whining is far louder on the right. Most on the left claim that this isn’t a big deal. That may be true, but by seeing who is on each side, I think the basic question of press political leaning is pretty apparent.
    I’ll be happy to entertain counter-theories about why we would observe liberals arguing for zero or trivial bias and conservatives arguing important bias, even though the news press is completely politically neutral.
    Mostly I hear liberals complaining about _commentators_ on the right. This may be a real issue, but is very seperate from bias in _news_ reporting.
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at May 20, 2004 01:12 PM

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    Frank, re: “I still want to know why the government is funding any media with political leanings.”
    The answer I’ve always been given is that NPR is simply “responding” to the listening desires of the “public;” i.e. since the general “public” is “left-leaning” (per Jeremy), then…so is NPR.
    Sounds like Hollywood’s mantra about imitating reality, doesn’t it? Perhaps the NPR claim is:
    1. farce-leaning?
    2. farce
    3. farce-wing?
    :)
    Comment by: lyle at May 20, 2004 01:28 PM

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    I agree with Nate that NPR leans left. I also tend to think that they cover more original stories, and do so in more depth, particularly international stories and news about American culture. Can you think of another broadcast news outlet that has anything as dorky and informative as TOTN’s “science friday”?. I’ll concede for the sake of argument the idea that they might be as far to the left as Fox is to the right, but Fox is dominated by talk shows, which often bring together bizarre, occasionally incompetent collections of commentators. This is more important than what some have called bias, since “bias”, or having institutional (funding) connections with ideological consequences seems unavoidable, especially in the case of individual news outlets.
    The reason I have argued that “bias” is poorly used is because it is a negative term which is often applied to conditions which are unavoidable and not worthy of condemnation. For example, if the *whole* news media tends to offer empirical justification and the best arguments for certain positions significantly more than for other reasonable alternatives, we might reasonable apply the term bias, and while we should not malign journalists’ professionalism for this reason, we at least have cause for suspicion. But it seems an entirely different matter to say that the Washington Post has a liberal bias simply because their editorial board tends to write liberal opinions. The editorial page is not the same as the news sections–indeed they are often run by people with different views and approaches. Moreover, there are plenty of other news outlets besides the Post. While it is a matter of interest and perhaps concern if the whole media shows a net bias, it seems impossible for the media to perform its democratic function unless a variety of principled media voices take stands at various points on a given issue.
    Comment by: Jeremiah J. at May 20, 2004 02:15 PM

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    I’d agree with Jerimiah. While I’d say NPR is moderate left, it more than makes up for it by doing more in depth stories and having talk shows that spend much longer times on issues.
    What is interesting is why people are upset at the bias. To me the worst kind of bias is the emotional ones – the pony of the main television news. They get “man on the street” interviews who supposedly represent who is getting hurt (or occasionally helped) by some policy. Yet in these they obviously select what they feel represents issue. Yet since these are by their very nature emotional and anecdotal they always bias the factual parts of the news. I’m not saying ABC, NBC, or CBS have this huge bias in these regards. And, as I’ve said, I think it is typically more a bias for sensationalism and American-centric news. But there is a bias. However I almost always think this bias is overstated – whether by the right or the left. The bias is instead a bias towards emotion rather than rationality.
    Comment by: Clark Goble at May 20, 2004 02:29 PM

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    Eric,
    Can we further define what is the “conservative” or “liberal” position is (Clause 5 in your challenge)? Is a conservative issue a position supported by the White House or the Republican party? Is a conservative position one that strives to keep the status quo?
    The media, along with us (defining “us” as an educated or informed public). likes to throw around words like liberal or conservative without defining them. It is, perhaps, part of our nature to seek classification of the world we live in. From my very limited study of human philosophy, I believe that humans have a tendency to only grasp new concepts and new ideas within a category that we are already familiar with.
    The media’s usage of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” place political ideas within a certain framework, whether warrented or not. These terms, however, are not synonomous with Democrat or Republican, and even within that broad spectrum of political parties, there are many different views of what it means to be a member of either party (see today’s Washinton Post article about Speaker Hastert critizing Senator McCain, or Senator Miller’s campaign for President Bush).
    There are some political parties which stress that the conventional method of defining the political spectrum as left-right. As seen a month or so ago, by many readers of this blog, Libertarians are not easily classified by a left-right spectrum.
    So what does this mean? To me, it means that we must be careful when labeling a newspaper as “liberal” or “left-leaning.” Perhaps we should realize that as an earlier poster mentioned, the national papers may be liberal on social issues, but conservative on economic issues. I agree with Clark Goble, and other comentators, the political bias is overstated, and the focus usually (even from FOX News) is on the sensational or emotional.
    Comment by: Chris R at May 20, 2004 03:42 PM

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    Eric,
    Can we further define what is the “conservative” or “liberal” position is (Clause 5 in your challenge)? Is a conservative issue a position supported by the White House or the Republican party? Is a conservative position one that strives to keep the status quo?
    The media, along with us (defining “us” as an educated or informed public). likes to throw around words like liberal or conservative without defining them. It is, perhaps, part of our nature to seek classification of the world we live in. From my very limited study of human philosophy, I believe that humans have a tendency to only grasp new concepts and new ideas within a category that we are already familiar with.
    The media’s usage of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” place political ideas within a certain framework, whether warrented or not. These terms, however, are not synonomous with Democrat or Republican, and even within that broad spectrum of political parties, there are many different views of what it means to be a member of either party (see today’s Washinton Post article about Speaker Hastert critizing Senator McCain, or Senator Miller’s campaign for President Bush).
    There are some political parties which stress that the conventional method of defining the political spectrum as left-right. As seen a month or so ago, by many readers of this blog, Libertarians are not easily classified by a left-right spectrum.
    So what does this mean? To me, it means that we must be careful when labeling a newspaper as “liberal” or “left-leaning.” Perhaps we should realize that as an earlier poster mentioned, the national papers may be liberal on social issues, but conservative on economic issues. I agree with Clark Goble, and other comentators, the political bias is overstated, and the focus usually (even from FOX News) is on the sensational or emotional.
    Comment by: Chris R at May 20, 2004 03:44 PM

    *****

    Good point Chris, yet…odd how no one, whether on a “conservative” social or economic or “X” issue has been able to take up Eric’s challenge. Hm…
    Comment by: lyle at May 20, 2004 03:55 PM

    *****

    As Chris said there are problems with the very terms. Look at conservatives. We have Pat Buchanan conservatives. We have “Contract with America” conservatives. We have social conservatives. We have economic conservatives. We have neoConservatives. We have so-called Realists of the Kissinger vein. We have Bushites. One could go on. If anything the left is even more complicated. Further with respect to any particular narrow issue, it is rare that one can define it via conservative or liberal.
    Look at immigration reform. Is that a conservative issue or a liberal issue? Interesting since one of the people pushing for Bush’s reform is noted conservative Christ Cannon who is being attacked within the primaries over this issue. What about birth control and public policy? It seems some Evangelicals see that as a big issue, but many conservatives are critical of how the Bush administration has dealt with this. The economic issues are so obvious I’ll not go there. But even in the war in Iraq things don’t break down into easy taxonomies.
    Comment by: Clark Goble at May 20, 2004 04:02 PM

    *****

    Clark: Fine. Yet, just because there are differences, distinctions, etc. doesn’t defeat the utility of “liberal” and “conservative” as simplifying heuristics that make political discourse possible & useful.
    Just like a good theory, these are terms that are trying to simultaneously maximize descriptiveness, prediction & conciseness. I think everyone recognizes they are in the form of Weberian ideal types & not perfect (nor would we want them to be unless there are going to be 50 different types of each).
    However, let’s not destroy the good by seeking the (impossible) perfect or stop the conversation to quibble over the (impossible) perfect.
    Comment by: lyle at May 20, 2004 04:10 PM

    *****

    Clark: Your comments provide one reason for not looking at party affiliation and voting behavior of journalists and then to start looking for biases in favor of a party. That kind of investigation seems to theorize that, for reasons unknown, journalists disproportionately and evenly support the party platform of the Democrats, simply because they are Democrats.
    I think much more fruitful theories about bias look at the cultural or institutional character of the profession of journalism, as well as the sociological background of journalists. That investigation can’t establish or define bias, but could explain it, and help us understand why journalists tend toward some aspects and kinds of leftism or rightism.
    As for candidates, I find the evidence of a *partisan* bias wanting, and inadequate at any rate since most of the research in this area goes only back to Reagan. The media has more of a tendency to be charmed by a candidate, regardless of party (John Edwards, John McCain) or to label a cadidate as a dweeb (Gore, Dean) simply on personality. Tom Brokaw may have liked Tom Ridge as Bush’s 2000 VP because of his abortion-rights position, but the news media easily ignored McCain’s pro-life views because they liked his personality.
    Comment by: Jeremiah J. at May 20, 2004 04:24 PM

    *****

    To see that the vast majority of news outlets lean right, just think of almost any newspaper (even the supposedly liberal NYT). It probably has a “business” section. How many newspapers have a “labor” section? Almost all newspapers list stock prices. How many list the starting salaries these companies offer low-level employees and compare these wages to reliable cost of living estimates? To see the bias, don’t look for what is there, look for what is missing.
    On another level, though, I’m not sure what it would mean for a news outlet to be completely “unbiased.” Surely we want them “biased” toward truth, justice, democracy, and so forth. News simply can’t just “report the facts” — there is no static set of facts waiting to be reported. And news shouldn’t give “both sides” of a disagreement when there is a truth, should it? If it does, the news reduces down to the “Democrats say Bush lied, Republicans disagree” type reporting that is so cowardly and lazy. In short, I don’t think news can be unbiased, and even if it could, I’m not sure that it woud be a good thing. I just wish it were more biased toward my direction.
    In short, I don’t think we should want the media to be unbiased, we should want to the media to tell the truth. But since truth is often defined in terms of values, values should be the focus media critique. All the talk about bias is probably misguided.
    Comment by: Bryan Warnick at May 20, 2004 05:09 PM

    *****

    Bryan: i like my news as “factual” and cold, cowardly & lazy as possible. I prefer to think for myself rather than have some report interpose themselves as the new “ministers” between me and God (the ‘truth’).
    re: business sections. Hilarious. Nice joke, but I know you are serious. So…while I would prefer to patronize businesses that pay their employees a good wage: this has almost zero significance to the economy. People read news so that they can know how the economy is going (i.e. their investments, likely job prospects). Not to see if their neighbor is getting ripped off with a cheap wage.
    Comment by: lyle at May 20, 2004 05:14 PM

    *****

    Bryan: Does the accusation of misplaced discussion of bias apply to accusations that the business section is evidence of right wing bias? ;->
    BTW, I am not sure that the there-is-a-business-page-but-no-labor-page argument tells us much of anything. Newspapers could simply be responding to market demand. The fact that there is a greater market demand (ie desire backed by cash) for business news than for labor news in no way establishes the presence or absence of ideological bias in the presentation of that news. Furthermore, the why-isn’t-there-more-AFL-CIO stuff in the paper saw is a bit anachronistic. Most employees simply don’t identify with organized labor and frankly there are good reasons to suppose that organized labor does not represent the interests of many employees. Most business sections contain rather lengthy and frequent articles about the employment practices of various companies. These employee articles are generally tilted toward white collar jobs (although not entirely) but I suspec that much of this flows less from pro-business bias (let alone right wing bias) than from the fact that most newspaper readers are educated, white collar workers.
    Bryan, do you actually ever read the business section?
    Comment by: Nate Oman at May 20, 2004 05:26 PM

    *****

    > Can we further define what is
    > the “conservative” or “liberal” position is
    > (Clause 5 in your challenge)? Is a conservative
    > issue a position supported by the White House
    > or the Republican party? Is a conservative
    > position one that strives to keep the status
    > quo?
    Taking your last question first: Not necessarily. Take the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq, for example. There were some liberals who supported it and there were some conservatives who opposed it, but for the most part the liberal position was opposition (maintaining the status quo) and the conservatives favored it (changing the status quo.)
    But you’re right — there are some issues where things do get confusing. For example, two publications generally considered conservative disagree sharply on immigration: the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page favors high levels of immigration, National Review favors low levels. (Me? I favor high levels of immigration as long as the immigrants are law-abiding, willing to work, willing to learn English, and want to become Americans.)
    So, how should we define the conservative vs. liberal positions for purposes of my challenge?
    One easy way would be the following: The liberal position is the one the New York Times editorial board has most recently endorsed; the conservative position is the opposite of that.
    Now, before you say that’s not a fair definition, remember that the editorial page is allowed to have a bias, but if the news reporting is unbiased then it should not matter what the editorial page’s position is. Right?
    If you think that it will be too difficult to find a NYT news story that quotes people five to one against the editorial board… well, that kind of concedes the point that the news stories are biased, doesn’t it?
    But I’m also willing to accept any of the following as the conservative position:
    1. Any position that I concede to be the generally conservative opinion. Here’s a list of a few pre-approved ones to get you started: Opposing same-sex marriage, opposing income tax increases and/or favoring income tax cuts, supporting the war in Iraq, favoring school choice, opposing broadly accessible legal abortion and/or public funding of abortion, opposing ratification of the Kyoto treaty, opposing the use of racial preferences for school admissions or job hiring.
    2. A position on a national political issue held by the most prominent Republican holding federal or statewide office quoted in the story, with a majority of the quotes in opposition coming from Democrats.
    3. In case of any dispute, the position that at least six of the permanent contributors to Times and Season will agree is the conservative position.
    Comment by: Eric James Stone at May 20, 2004 05:53 PM

    *****

    A rather interesting example of bias from Reuters was quoted in the WSJ today.
    “Rushing to stem eroding support at home and abroad for his Iraq policies, [President] Bush discussed with his Cabinet and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi plans for what he called a “full transfer of sovereignty” to an Iraqi interim government on June 30 backed by a new U.N. Security Council resolution.” (Reuters)
    Of course this was a plan announced quite a few months ago and discussed fairly regularly since. So the sentence with “rushing to stem eroding support” by discussing the plan just seems a weird construction. Not that I disagree with the notion that the meeting with Republican leaders was for this reason. But the meeting with his cabinet? It’s hard to stomach. I think these sorts of phrasings are what really get people’s goat.
    As I’ve said before, I’m not convinced this is a political bias. More just incompetent writers. (Which isn’t to say I think there is no bias at Rueters – but poor composition skills isn’t bias)
    Comment by: Clark Goble at May 20, 2004 05:56 PM

    *****

    A rather interesting example of bias from Reuters was quoted in the WSJ today.
    “Rushing to stem eroding support at home and abroad for his Iraq policies, [President] Bush discussed with his Cabinet and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi plans for what he called a “full transfer of sovereignty” to an Iraqi interim government on June 30

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