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Media Bias
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, February 20, 2006

Peter Daou looks back on his challenge to the Right, in which he asked them to "back up your claims" of media bias. He's a bit upset that so few responded, writing...
I attempted to support my contention that media narratives favor the right with a long list of recent examples. [...] So while the crickets chirped, I waited for the inevitable tide of rightwing blog posts and emails proving me wrong and demonstrating, once and for all, that pervasive claims of liberal media bias are indeed true. No such luck. All I've gotten so far is a trickle of posts, which I attribute to one of three things: either rightwing bloggers weren't aware of my challenge, they didn't think it warranted a response, or they lack the evidence to back up their claims.
Perhaps he should have informed us we had a test due. I only answered because I happened across it, and happened to have something to say. I'd love to be able to command responses from Lefty bloggers on a variety of issues, but they don't seem to be reading QandO. In fact, judging from most of their blogrolls, they aren't reading the Right at all. If you don't think that's having an effect on the discourse of the left, you might not be reading lefty blogs, either.

In any event, Daou cited my own response, writing that...
...it merely echoes the media's he-said-she-said excuse, without addressing the substance of my examples. Nor does it provide counter-examples. Dismissing my argument as anecdotal or subjective is hardly a debunking of my assertion. Furthermore, I said nothing about monolithic media bias. My argument is about ubiquitous narratives and storylines threaded through the past half-decade of political coverage.
I'll re-print the (slightly cleaned up) response I left at Daou's blog:

Well, for what it's worth, I wasn't trying to debunk your assertions. I was merely pointing out that, as far as I can tell, all of the metrics for judging bias are subjective. Even establishing metrics is a subjective judgement call.

You want to play the media bias game on the "narrative" playing field. Fine. I acknowledge your citations, and in many cases agree with them. You've convincingly established the existence of incidents — anecdotal evidence — in which the media sometimes incorrectly skews stories in a way that benefits the Right.

What you haven't done is convincingly establish that this is the final, dispositive metric. It's a good point, certainly, but there is no end of that kind of anecdotal evidence for media bias.

That doesn't prove a monolithic — i.e., uni-directional, media-wide — bias. It just proves that there's good anecdotal data to back up the existence of some media bias.

My post argued that there were better explanations for this bias than the common "left/right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican" explanations.

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Ultimately, I think the left/right bias explanations shallow oversimplifications of a complicated issue. Just like the narratives that Peter Daou cites, it provides a tempting and easy template — and wonderful red meat for the masses — but it's an ultimately facile analysis.

MORE:

Tom Maguire also responds...
If a coin touted as "fair" comes up heads seventy-five times in one hundred trials, color me suspicious. And please don't offer the twenty-five "tails" as proof that the coin is fair.

In this context, even if the media sometimes tilts right, that hardly proves it mostly, or always tilts right.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
I would think that looking at the corrections that newspapers are actually willing to make would provide some indication of bias. Errors usually occur because the authors assume the (incorrect) information to be true. Which side did the initial errors favor?
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
I’d love to be able to command responses from Lefty bloggers on a variety of issues, but they don’t seem to be reading QandO.
OOH...OOH...OOH...
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
Hmmmm.......

I think you have made some good points, though I think from the studies I have seen (including one in the late 80’s by a group of liberals who I cannot remember, and were astonished at how their own biases about the media were disabused by the study) certainly point in the direction of a liberal bias. The left however has a real beef, they are not that well represented, which is hardly surprising. By left I mean the real left, not your average big government liberal. Neither are libertarians, Nazis, clan members or many other groups. Nor is it surprising, most people don’t agree with them (or me). What is less excusable is the major media outlets marginalization of mainstream conservatives. The media is awash in mainstream liberal bias which often tries to be fair, but can’t manage it. That has changed a lot in the past few years, mostly due to new outlets (talk radio, blogs, fox and a number of other areas) and I do not find it surprising that liberals are exercised about it. The Daily Howler is a great resource for seeing how the stupidity of the media does liberals (with whom I have common cause on many things) no favors.

In other words the traditional mainstream media sees the moderate liberal as the center, mainstream conservative or libertarian ideas as extreme and the left as on par with mainstream conservatism as a out of the mainstream. That both the left and conservatives find them biased is hardly surprising, but mainstream conservatism (which includes, in my opinion, sub categories such as small gov’t conservatives which outside of Washington still exist) can at least argue they are a big enough group to deserve to be well represented.

Still your main point about the way that bias manifests itself in all ideological directions being far more complex than a mere ideological agenda is quite accurate.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://
If a coin touted as "fair" comes up heads seventy-five times in one hundred trials, color me suspicious. And please don’t offer the twenty-five "tails" as proof that the coin is fair.
Now this is a great way to sum up the fallacy behind the "it goes both ways" argument. Asserting that, just because one can point to incidents of bias both ways, therefore there is no overall bias - well, that’s just silly. It’s quite similar to the "moral equivalence" arguments advanced during the Cold War.

If it’s all so balanced, why did Rush Limbaugh rise to prominence as soon as repeal of the Fairness Doctrine allowed him to? There had to be a market gap there, which indicates that something was missing from the then-mainstream-media, which is pretty much the same as the MSM today. And the fact that liberal talk radio fails again and again is suggestive that there is no equivalent market gap on the other side, hence the liberals feel they are already served by the MSM. Conservatives obviously don’t.

I know the DU partisans claim the media is biased the other way. But if they’re right, and there are any significant number of liberals who feel that way, why isn’t Air America a resounding success?
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Exactly, Mr. Hollis. In a very real way, the marketplace has afforded us the most "objective" test for bias one could hope for.
 
Written By: CNH
URL: http://
Thanks very much for the mention.

I loved this from Daou:

All I’ve gotten so far is a trickle of posts, which I attribute to one of three things: either rightwing bloggers weren’t aware of my challenge, they didn’t think it warranted a response, or they lack the evidence to back up their claims.

This is a former Kerry campaign adviser who last week praised as "seminal" work a post which described a big chunk of the right blogosphere as "Authoritarian Cultists".

So I lean to (b), "they didn’t think it warranted a response".

It just may be that folks have the sense that Daou is unlikely to be a fair-minded debate opponent, and is more likely to be a partisan attack hack.

He can file that under "The Auto-marginalization of Peter Daou".

Hmm. It may be worth noting that, to take my side on that "Cultist" argument, I also had to take up arms on behalf of some folks who may not have me on their Christmas card list. But it’s delightful to be on the same side as Jon Henke, President of the Powerline Fan Club.
 
Written By: Tom Maguire
URL: http://
I’d go with a) and b). Had I known about his challenge, I wouldn’t have thought it worth a response. There have been a number of books published in recent years making the case for liberal bias, some better and more authoritative than others. There are also those recent academic studies. And then there is the Media Research Center, which has been collecting anecdotes long enough to make actual statistical observations.

I’m not sure how any blogger responding in comments would be able to do a more thorough job than has already been done elsewhere. And if Daou et al don’t accept these arguments, why should anyone believe they’ll listen to new proof?

My final "proof": I know it when I see it. I can watch almost any nightly broadcast by Anderson Cooper or Chris Matthews and notice numerous statements that are slanted - if not wholly wrong - towards the liberal point of view.

PS: I think Lance hit the nail on the head that the bias is mainstream liberal. This explains to me (at long last) how such true-believers as MK can make their claims of right-ward bias in good faith.
 
Written By: equitus
URL: http://
OOH...OOH...OOH...
You’re not a Lefty blogger.
Hmm. It may be worth noting that, to take my side on that "Cultist" argument, I also had to take up arms on behalf of some folks who may not have me on their Christmas card list. But it’s delightful to be on the same side as Jon Henke, President of the Powerline Fan Club.
Well, you’re not on my Christmas Card list, but only because I don’t have your address. Or a Christmas card list.

Otherwise, I’m a big fan and would generally prefer to stay on your side for, if nothing else, fear of getting on your bad side.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I use the metric of expert guest commentary. Who do the broadcast media organizations ask to come on their news casts and comment on a story? Fox almost always has poeple who support the conservative view point. It has a definite right-leaning bias. CNN’s guests are either nuetral or support the liberal view. They lean to the left.
 
Written By: Doug Purdie
URL: http://www.onlybaseballmatters.com
I always find the gun-control issue a good litmus test of media bias. You could present the issue three ways: (1) Neutral or Objective, i.e., Some people advocate stricter gun control, and even outright confiscation, while others object to such measures as a threat to liberty; (2) Biased to Right: Gun control as a violation of the Second Amendment; or (3) Biased to the Left: stories of heroic individuals taking on the evil Gun Lobby. Observing the way the MSM has covered the topic in the past forty years, I have only occasionally encountered scenario #1; never encountered scenario #2; almost always encountered scenario #3. Just anecdotal, impressionistic evidence, of course, not very convincing. We all know CBS, NBC, ABC, the NY TIMES, NEWSWEEK, etc., are all staffed by hardcore shills for the GOP.
 
Written By: Bilwick
URL: http://
The media is in the business of selling advertising. To attract eyeballs and increase ad rates, the media depends on its content. If "fair and balanced" sells, then that is presumably what the media will publish. If having "liberal bias" attracts more eyeballs, then that is what the media will do. The fact that these outlets continue with "liberal" content would seem to indicate that there is a substantial market for that content. One could even make the argument that if the MSM is biased in a liberal direction, it must be because their customers favor such a bias.

 
Written By: Steven Donegal
URL: http://
The fact that these outlets continue with "liberal" content would seem to indicate that there is a substantial market for that content. One could even make the argument that if the MSM is biased in a liberal direction, it must be because their customers favor such a bias.
And no doubt that would explain why the network news broadcasts are losing viewers by the million, mainstream newspapers are facing an existential crisis, and Fox caught the heavily established CNN on viewers with less than two-thirds as many cable viewers having access to it.

Yes, the market is working alright. It’s telling the MSM that they need to change. The problem is that, because of their left liberal political orientation, they don’t believe the market applies to them - or should apply to them.

That’s why, for example, they’re such cheerleaders over campaign finance reform. It gives them a privileged position in the marketplace. Expect more obvious manuveuring for government favors as their position continues to decline.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://

 
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