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May 16, 2006

Name That Spin

Yesterday's "Best of the Web Today" column by James Taranto (a daily must-read) has a rather long section (scroll down to "High Bias") on how the news organizations keep spinning the news, including:

  • A New York Time headline that says precisely the opposite of what the story says.
  • An AP headline that sounds more ominous than it really is.
  • Speculation and editorializing in an AP news report.
  • Headlining poll results with selectively aggregated information.
  • Poorly worded poll questions.

And guess which way--pro- or anti-Bush--all these stories are slanted? (Do I really have to ask?)

Posted by Doug at May 16, 2006 01:10 PM

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And so, if I were to provide a few examples of conservative media bias, would that prove you're wrong and I'm right?

Or, would it only prove that there are examples of media bias going both directions? That, in reality, the media is about ratings and making a profit and their bottom line is not left or right slant, but the bottom line?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at May 17, 2006 11:29 AM

To show examples of bias to the right doesn't necessarily show that therefore it all evens out, especially when it's pretty clear that journalists are 80+% liberal in their personal views.

And the top 3 headlining items on Media Matters are all Fox News, which I'll admit generally gives Republicans a little bit more air time than other news sources, but at the same time they more often give both sides of the story when bringing in guests.

The UCLA study last December really brings the point home. Media Matters has to strain at a gnat to find its examples (and without Fox it'd be out of a job), while those on the right can find them blaring at them from the front pages. The examples on MM generally deal with the straight reporting of facts (though the facts themseles are in dispute). The examples from the right demonstrate the misstatement of facts, especially the selective aggregating of poll numbers and headlines that say the opposite of the report they head.

As I've said before, I agree that Fox can often appear to be right-tilted. Howeer, part of that perception is they cover what the left-tilting media outlets ignore. If MM is so upset that Jim Angle repeated something Karl Rove said, where's their outrage when CBS/NBC/ABC parrot Democrats? I think that before they muster outrage over Fox or the Washington Times, they need to take an honest look at the rest of the media first.

I understand perfectly that profit is the main motive of the business. But then, if that's the only motive, wouldn't it be in the interest of profit to report the news fairly? Or is the vast majority of the MSM trying to a) appeal more to the folks who are still listening to them by presenting the facts as they think they'd like to hear them and b) trying to influence the masses so that their polls wind up saying what they want them to say, which they can then report as "news"? Maybe the profit motive is pushing them leftward, eh? Interesting concept.

One may level the same criticism of Fox, but again, as the UCLA study noted (and as most people believe), Fox's rightward distance from the center is far smaller than the other media's leftward distance is.

Posted by: Doug Payton at May 17, 2006 12:33 PM

I'm sure you've heard it before but you know the media is only as liberal as the conservatives that own it. Sure, 80% of journalists may be Democrat (which doesn't always translate to liberal) but the majority of ownership is in the conservative park.

One way of looking at the 80% "liberal" journalists is - keeping in mind that liberals have an over-endowed sense of fairness - that they're more likely to run "both" sides of a story even when there's not always two equally strong sides of a story.

For the most part, those on the Right complaining about a biased MSM just appear to be whiny and are doing their cause more harm than good. It seems to me.

Posted by: Dan Trabue at May 17, 2006 01:13 PM

The conservatives that own it don't cover the stories and don't make the editorial decisions. They hire editors and journalists; the CEO doesn't pound the beat.

When asked about their politics, journalists generally say they are independent. When asked about specific issues, they are overwhelmingly liberal.

And it seems to me that when Fox is charged with bias, it's mostly when they cover conservative angles of a story ignored by the rest. When they are at their most balanced is when they are accused of bias. And thus it seems to me that it's the "conservative" network that is fair and balanced. Seems to me.

Posted by: Doug Payton at May 17, 2006 02:33 PM