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4.09.2004

Media Bias

First, Doug, thanks for The Middle East Media Research Institute link. At first glance, it looks to be an excellent link.

As for bias, we still don’t have a working definition of “liberal bias” nor can we accurately conclude if the LA Times is institutionally corrupted by it. For that matter, we still don’t know what “conservative bias” is or if a news organization like Fox News is corrupted by it.

However, in regards to the benefits of a news organization such as the Times rejecting its pretenses of impartiality in favor of its stated support for issues it defines as Liberal, it's probable that a reader or viewer might have an easier time seeing the bias of a news organization. The issue then wouldn't be whether a news organization failed to avoid bias, but whether they failed in producing stories that were unbiased because they reported reasonable, opposing opinions or analyses.

Working on the assumption that "unbiased" reporting is possible, even though we probably need a good example of it, one could still reasonably argue that the propensity of news organizations or media watch dog organizations that state their purpose as supporting a state, ethnicity, political party or political ideology is inevitably less likely to produce reporting that includes differing viewpoints as done by organizations like the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, or The Miami Herald.

To compare what may be bias or unbias, let's take an example from the first paragraphs in an article in today’s LA Times, “Pendleton’s Grief and Pride, The base's 17 Marines killed in Iraq since Sunday are saluted as heroes,” by Deborah Schoch, Jean-Paul Renaud and Monte Morin, Times Staff Writers, reads as follows--

"CAMP PENDLETON — Amid a valley of coastal green hills stands the austere cinderblock headquarters of one of this Marine base's most storied regiments, "The Magnificent Bastards."

"Normally on a Thursday evening, the sprawling barracks of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, or "2/4", would echo with the noise of Marines returning from the mess hall and lingering outside to chat or smoke or listen to music from the stereos by their bunks.

"On this Thursday, the loudest noises were the evening calls of birds and the distant sound of a helicopter over scrub-covered hills.

"As news spread of the 17 Camp Pendleton Marines killed since Sunday, the hardest hit were friends and relatives of 2nd Battalion Marines, to which a dozen of those men belonged. Since February, the battalion, which calls itself "Second to None," has been tasked with quelling one of the most restive towns in Iraq, a mission that has led to some of the heaviest combat since the war began."

If the stated purpose of the LA Times were “to support Liberal causes including the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq," the article might have reflected a more ominous and critical tone of those who died as in the opening paragraph from an article in The Nation this week--

"The first anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq has arrived. By now, we were told by the Bush Administration before the war, the flower-throwing celebrations of our troops' arrival would have long ended…. Instead, 549 American soldiers and uncounted thousands of Iraqis, military and civilian, have died; some $125 billion has been expended; no weapons of mass destruction have been found; the economy is a disaster; electricity and water are sometime things; America's former well-wishers, the Shiites, are impatient with the occupation; terrorist bombs are taking a heavy toll; and Iraq as a whole, far from being a model for anything, is a cautionary lesson in the folly of imperial rule in the twenty-first century. And yet all this is only part of the cost of the decision to invade and occupy Iraq."

Were the Times to strive for biased reporting in which the Iraqi war is criticized, one might conclude that the somber, respectful tone of the Times article above would be replaced in all its articles by the clear and unambiguous criticism found in The Nation, or in this case by noted writer Jonathan Schell.

While reasonable people may disagree as to the content of this Times article, the way in which the information was presented, the absence of additional information, few would state that the Times was unable to achieve a far more “unbiased” report than Mr. Schell in The Nation.

Here perhaps we must come to the difficult conclusion that few reporters are able to write a news article, especially if it’s a feature, which does not generate accusations of bias. A person who is against the war in Iraq would much rather have had the article begin—as so many do—with a description of a weeping, single mother who has lost her only son and is angry at President Bush for taking her only son away from her.

Perhaps we should make the distinction between “news articles” in which facts are reported such as how many soldiers fought, where they fought, what their goal was, with pieces that may attract bias, such as features, investigations and analysis pieces. Here is where we may be able to search for bias and see if the LA Times has a “liberal bias.”

But, as for the tone of the article about the Iraqi soldiers killed, could the Times article, especially when contrasted to The Nation article, be perceived as pro-war with a “conservative bias”?

-S. Schudy

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