Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 7, 2010
POLITICS: Media Resentments

Matt Welch has a really excellent piece delving into what the career arc of the now-deposed Helen Thomas signifies regarding media bias.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:08 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I completely disagree with article. Let's look at his argument piece by piece:

He begins:

"Straight reporters have been taught for six decades to submerge or even smother their political and philosophical views in the workplace. Like all varieties of censorship, this process creates resentment and distortion."

Censorship?? This is called professionalism. And to say it creates resentment and distortion is an exaggeration and an overgeneralization. It may be a professional challenge to strive to be objective, but it hardly necessarily results in resentment and distortion.

He continues: "[S]ome of the most politically opinionated people you'll ever meet are newspaper reporters a couple drinks in out yakking with their colleagues."

So what?? This is called "venting." I don't care what they say in their private life, just don't write it in the paper as an objective news reporter.

He continues: "For these and other reasons, when straight reporters transition to opinion journalism, one of the first things to go is the "journalism" part of it. Now they can say what they really feel, dammit, and what they really feel is that the Bad Guys are preventing us from Fixing Problems. "

Again, an overexaggeration, but even if it is so widespread, so what?? If they are writing an opinion piece, then they can say whatever they want, it's their opinion.

"All of which is why I wish even the straightest-edge news outlets would follow Reason's still-lonely example and show us (at minimum) who their staffers are voting for. Newspapers are more terrified that the public will realize how biased their reporters are than they are at continuing to publish work contaminated by suppressed political leanings and resentments."

This is a lousy argument. I reject the belief that reporters can't separate their politics from their straight reporting. The fact that some express strong opinions when they write as opinion writers is not evidence that they were influenced by their point-of-view when they were straight reporters.

Are there some reporters that are unprofessional? Of course, but you could say that about every profession. Analyze that on a case-by-case basis, but don't resort to that kind of nonsense. This is where the on-line media goes way too far in criticizing the mainstream press. And let's not forget that it is in the interest of every niche journalist to make that argument: read me, not them.

Posted by: MVH at June 7, 2010 3:54 PM

To say this is an old saw is an insult to old saws everywhere.

Yawn.

Posted by: jim at June 7, 2010 4:52 PM

About time the old wind bag retired!!!

Posted by: maddirishman at June 7, 2010 4:58 PM

MVH - What Welch is referring to is, essentially, self-censorship. Which, it's true, is part of professionalism in any discipline, but I think his point stands about the dynamic of writing about a subject (politics) all the time and being constrained against voicing your own opinion. Some people are cut out for that, but most are not.

I think there's plenty of evidence that mainstream journalism is in a bad way and has been for some time, and that the attempt by the mainstream media to paper over the political biases of reporters is one of the major contributors to that (though not the only one by a long shot; there are a lot of reasons why journalism is so often so bad that go way beyond politics and can be seen equally on display in sports, pop culture, legal, business and science journalism).

Posted by: Crank at June 7, 2010 6:19 PM

As you know, I'm not nearly as worried about mainstream journalism as most on the right. It has it's problems, no doubt, but nothing that warrants the amount of attention it receives from the right and the left.

What really bothers me about today's media is exactly the kind of reasoning that Welch is employing, that because people have certain personal opinions it must somehow translate into bias for their straight reporting. If you think their straight reporting is biased then make your case based on that, not on the fact they express their opinions elsewhere. I'm sorry, it's just a bad argument. This call for the political affiliations of certain reporters is totally unncessary.

These kind of articles feed into the idea that there is no such thing as "fact" in any objective sense, that you have to check someone's political affiliations before you can trust anything that they are saying. The left and the right, and this country, will be much better off questioning the facts of the reporting itself, rather than the political affiliations of the writer.

Posted by: MVH at June 8, 2010 10:06 AM

I reject the belief that reporters can't separate their politics from their straight reporting.

Then you haven't spent enough time studying journalism. True journalism is pretty much dead. Even the AP, which is supposed to just report the facts, is anything but objective.

Unfortunately, to the average person who does not have a background in Journalism or Communications, the bias is done in such a subtle way as to be almost unnoticeable. Yet, if you sit down and read an article carefully, studying the adjectives, adverbs, and descriptors used, you'll soon get a picture that was carefully crafted by the writer, not just the facts.

I'm not saying that this is just the problem of the left, as bias hits both sides of the political spectrum. However, since mainstream media is dominated by the liberal elite, its important to understand who you're getting the information from and the ideas that, without a doubt, create their chosen descriptors.

Posted by: AgentW at June 8, 2010 10:13 AM

The mainstream media is owned by corporations. If you want to make the argument that corporations are liberally biased, please do so. I can't wait to hear that reasoning.
OTOH, if you want to make the argument that reporters bias trumps ownership/ management bias, you should make that argument to Phil Donahue, Ashley Banfield, et al. ---But do so after you tell your boss that you'll do what you want, and management can go to hell if they don't like it.

Posted by: Berto at June 8, 2010 10:57 AM

maddirishman,
Thomas lost her job because she's too old to know how the game is played today. She should have just called some liberal "a goat-fucking child molester".

Posted by: Berto at June 8, 2010 11:04 AM

You don't need to be expert in either journalism or communications to recognize the presence or absence of bias. Given that I am a lawyer, I look for it as a matter of habit.

Professional journalists, at the very least, are trained to write in an unbiased way and are at least expected to adhere to a code of ethics. Moreover, in the traditional media, you will also have editorial review to a certain extent.

It goes without saying that this isn't a perfect system, and there have been egregious examples of its failures. You will never hear me say that bias doesn't exist. But I disagree that straight reporting in the mainstream media is so "rife" with bias (and further that such bias can be blamed on election wins and losses), and definitely not for the reasons given by Welch.

Posted by: MVH at June 8, 2010 1:02 PM

Well Berto, that would have been as bad. Often it is factual. Barney Frank comes to mind.

Posted by: maddirishman at June 8, 2010 1:28 PM

Keep tapping your foot in the airport men's room stall, maddrishman.

Posted by: Berto at June 8, 2010 8:53 PM

But I disagree that straight reporting in the mainstream media is so "rife" with bias (and further that such bias can be blamed on election wins and losses), and definitely not for the reasons given by Welch.

And the reason for the absolute refusal of the MSM to vet Obama before the election, while going on an absolute crusade against Palin? The refusal to highlight the Health Care bill until after it was passed and then saying, "Oh, by the way"? And I'm not even getting into the dirty underhanded tactics of Reuters in doctoring photos to push a particular narrative.

It's also not just about how you write your articles, but what you write about. I understand you're still holding onto that last little kernel of hope that you're not being duped but, at some point, you have to actually wake up and see the reality that is kicking you in the face.

Posted by: AgentW at June 9, 2010 9:36 AM

I'm not surprised that we disagree on the level or effect of the bias. As I mentioned before, Crank, before the election, had the most detailed opposition brief I've seen on Obama, and it still relied on a connect-the-dots analysis that was more appropriate for a partisan blog as opposed to a mainstream media article. As for health care, it was hard to do any reporting on the health care issue because it was unclear for the longest time what exactly was being proposed, but I saw plenty of articles on mainstream news media questioning the various versions.

Even if I'm wrong and you are right, fortunately, I don't have to worry about being duped because I'm not a liberal in the first place, and I also don't rely on any one media outlet for my information.

Posted by: MVH at June 9, 2010 10:29 AM
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