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4.06.2004

Defining Bias in the Los Angeles Times

Instead of falling under the democratic people's addiction--as diagnosed by Alexis de Tocqueville--of generic and abstract terms such as "liberal bias" and "conservative bias" in the media, we should take up the basic definition of these terms in relation to the media and then ask the question, "What makes a newspaper, magazine or news channel liberal or conservative?"

This is no easy question to answer especially since the general and protean uses of liberal or conservative in regards to the media may have less to do with traditional society and religion, as stated by Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk, or the economics of laissez-faire or the welfare state of Walter Bagehot and John Kenneth Galbraith, than they do with a particular position of a party or competing group within a party.

This question becomes even more difficult as the media information is broken down. Editorials of a newspaper or media outlet have to be considered separately from the news reporting. Add to this a further, necessary distinction of separating and identifying particular writing styles, reporting habits and the potential complex political opinions of individual reporters, all of which over one month of broadcast or publication are to be found in hundreds of stories. Then the issue of style has to be broken down to see if bias can be determined by the amount of space one opinion receives in an article and whether that opinion is placed at the top of the story, in the middle or near the bottom. But the kind of story must itself be taken into consideration such as a feature of a person or subject which may contain controversial issues in which opposing opinions are not presented. Then move onto the next step as to whether certain issues require two opposing opinions and should therefore be excluded from appearing in a certain style such as a feature article.

Then there is the issue of domestic versus international affairs; national, state and local politics; legal, economic and social issues.

To be more specific, if a reporter's article appears to be anti-death penalty one day, and another article appears to support anti-abortionists the next, followed by one that appears to favor pro-gay civil rights, with a Sunday feature highlighting the efforts of an Austiran-school economics professor, how then is this reporter, much less, the newspaper to be classified?

Therefore, instead of assuming a newspaper is one side or the other, I propose we prefer labor to obscurity and take the next four weeks to review and break down stories in the Los Angeles Times to see for ourselves what conclusions can be drawn about a 'liberal bias" or "conservative bias."

-S. Schudy

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