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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

News in Brief

I'll try to contribute to this at greater length, which I cannot now do. I think, Scott, the answer to your question: "How honest is this media watch organization?" is: so honest that it actually tells you where it stands, that it actually takes a side.

I mean, I don't know about you, but the problem I've had with LA Times and other national news sources is not that they seem to be biased, but that they aren't open about their views - the thought culture at LA Times has become invisible to those who live in it.

Since we're having a link-fest, here are a couple of media organizations. Media Research Center is an openly conservative meta-media organization that occasionally has some useful comments and/or observations. The resource that is almost indispensible these days is The Middle East Media Research Institute, which offers translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew publications.

Posted by Doug Brown

4.08.2004

HonestReporting.com

Thanks for the link to HonestReporting.com.

But just how honest is this media watch organization? It comes into question when the purpose of HonestReporting.com is listed at the website as the following--"If you understand how critical it is to keep the media honest, so that public opinion stays stronger for Israel, please make a generous tax-deductible gift now. We depend on the good will and generosity of concerned individuals like yourself, who help us to combat anti-Israel media bias worldwide. The battle for public opinion is key for Israel, and one in which HonestReporting, working hand-in-hand with informed, committed people like you, is making a difference!"

Here is a site where its stated purpose is to support Israel and correct what it considers misrepresentation of Israel. While such an organization may strive to be impartial, I would argue it is far less likely to be so because of this stated goal. I would also argue that this conclusion is supported by the content of the site's articles.

A similar problem is found, in my opinion, with the group CAMERA, Committe for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, which states at its website--"In recent years misinformation about the Middle East has also surfaced in fashion magazines, architectural publications, encyclopedias, professional reference works, geography textbooks, travel guides, and even dictionaries. Frequently inaccurate and skewed characterizations of Israel and of events in the Middle East may fuel anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice."

Similar overt statements can be found for Palestinian and Arab groups, such as Arab Media Watch which states--"Arab Media Watch is dedicated to improving the objectivity and comprehensiveness of the British Media's reporting on Arab issues."

Like the others, there seems to be what might be termed as "bias" in that each site overtly claims its purpose stems from its support of a particular state or ethnicity. This is more obvious than "bias" in the United States media in so far as the purpose of media groups like the Los Angeles Times is not defined specifically to support the United States, any other goverment, or particular ethnicity or religious group.

-S. Schudy



The other site to check (which has links to additional media bias blogs) is:

HonestReporting.com
What is "Liberal Bias"?

The blog “Oh, That Liberal Media” brings up some good questions but unfortunately doesn’t attempt to answer the most fundamental question “How is liberal bias to be defined?” nor does it provide us with examples of unbiased journalism, only corrections of bad journalism, nor does it give examples of pieces that might be viewed as “conservative bias.”

Based on the posts, or at least the ones available today, we can attempt to draw some conclusions about what the critics mean by “liberal bias” in the LA Times: criticism of, or lack of support for certain Supreme Court Justices, abortion, gun rights, Israel, the criminal justice system, esp. harsh sentences, and Republican President George W. Bush. These constitute “liberal.” As to what constitutes “bias,” we can focus on the use of verbs, adjectives, and the placement early or late in the article of favorable or unfavorable quotes.

But since “liberal bias” goes undefined, even this list may consist of contradictions, or at least inconsistencies. For example, one post criticizes the Times’ bias against the FBI and would therefore list such criticism under the heading of “liberal.” Yet criticism of the FBI has just as often come from so-called conservative groups and individuals such as Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican whose congressional website describes him as a “common sense conservative.”

A similar problem regards support for Israel. To classify unbalanced journalism that appears to go against Israel under “liberal” is to dismiss reported views that the “conservative” Bush administration during its pre-Septemeber 11 months was more critical of Israel than the preceding, “liberal” Clinton administration.

Also consider the posting about the Times’ story on Spain’s new socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The article cited points to several quotations that, in the opinion of the bloggers, use positive adjectives, verbs and nouns for Zapatero, such as the sub-head “Next premier, a listener who cuts a humble figure, will replace the confrontational Aznar,” and negative ones for the aforementioned and outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. One might draw the conclusion that such language is never used for features on newly elected or even returning “conservative” politicians. This we will have to look at.

This is not to say that much of the criticism of particular articles is well-argued. I agree with much of it in regards to the language use and balance.

There are also some journalistic practices that are rightly criticized, namely the general use of “some” or “critics.” These may not be limited to stories viewed as either “liberal” or “conservative.” We will have to see in the weeks ahead.

But we are still left with more questions such as which reporter wrote the articles and whether the problem is more with an individual reporter than an institutional bias at the Times. Unfortunately, Stefan Sharansky or Patterico and a “Captain Ed,” with my apologies to any contributors I missed, don’t list the individual reporter or reporters. This may help us find out if the bias is with the individual reporter.

I don’t conclude here that the problem is with the reporters rather than the institution. But I think it should be discovered before conclusions about institutional bias are drawn.

Absent of any comprehensive or practical definitions of liberal or conservative, I think we need to review stories, ones considered good and bad, ones that might be considered liberal or conservative, and make observations and distinctions that may serve us with better observations than the ones we’ve come across in books, magazines or on the Internet.

In short, let’s present the evidence ourselves and draw our own conclusions.

-S. Schudy

4.07.2004

I'm slammed at work, but the bias in the L.A. Times has been nicely documented at...

Oh, That Liberal Media -- L.A. Times Archive

Hope to post more on this when the weeds thin out.
bb
So Much to Say

Scott-

I'm no media evaluation expert. Do we take on only the hard news or the editorial pieces as well? I'm ready to (baldy, after the infinitive-splitting manner of the original Enterpriseers) assert that the LA Times veers to the left. But if the scenario you outline, viz:

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?


is possible (especially the part about an LA Times reporter knowing about a Hayek other than Salma), I'll hand in my badge right now. Just saying.

Posted by Doug Brown (who adores Salma; just saying)

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

4.05.2004



The Los Angeles Times won five Pulitzers today. Five of them. The New York Times received one.

The LA Times seems to have been highly awarded mostly because of the public dressing-down the NY Times (no relation) has received in recent months. As you can see for yourself here, the LA Times would do well not to get puffed-up about its awards, staying as it has one factual error or politically-timed story away from the next shaming kerfluffle.

Posted by Doug Brown


I Will Repay

Googlism.com doesn't have much to say about The Irrationalist, but what it does have to say is either indifferent, as in

irrationalist is the man or woman sitting next to you in the tube train

or gibberish, as in

irrationalist is daarnaast bijzonder onaantrekkelijk omdat het psychologisch onverdraag

or negative, as in

irrationalist is usually a waste of time

Of course, my employer would probably agree with this last.

Posted by Doug Brown

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