January 30, 2008

It's Your Fault That You Hate Us

Via Ace and a sarcastic review by Kevin D. Williamson on NRO's Media Blog, comes an article by Poynter Institute Senior Scholar Roy Peter Clark, entitled The Public Bias against the Press.

And yes, he's quite sincere.

He begins:

The public bias against the press is a more serious problem for American democracy that the bias (real or perceived) of the press itself.

This is a fascinating claim. Clark argues that a healthy degree of skepticism in the American public for (real or perceived) media bias is greater than the actual damage caused by biases held by journalists and promulgated in their reporting.

Let's look at a hypothetical example to test Clark's theory.

The War in Iraq is very much a divisive subject in our culture, and is ripe for the introduction of bias by both those reporting a given story on the war, and those reading it.

Featured on Google News this afternoon is an article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thom Shanker of the New York Times, entitled, White House Shows Signs of Rethinking Cut in Troops. The lede of the article begins:

Four months after announcing troop reductions in Iraq, President Bush is now sending signals that the cuts may not continue past this summer, a development likely to infuriate Democrats and renew concerns among military planners about strains on the force.

In that one sentence there are two examples of unsupported editorializing caused by the bias of the reporters:

  • that if the cuts don't continue past this summer, that Democrats are likely to be "infuriated," and;
  • that concerns among military planners would be "renewed."

Neither author supports the contention that a further reduction in force beyond pre-surge levels would cause Democrats to be "infuriated," and an objective accounting would have noted that, time and again, civilian and military leadership have stated that they would determine troops levels in Iraq based upon conditions on the ground. All Senators and Congressmen, knew this from the very beginning of the troops build-up. Quite simply, there s nothing for them to be infuriated about [note: For a more honest look at what this actually means, William Arkin has a much more even-keeled entry on the subject at the Washington Post blog, Early Warning.

Second, there is no evidence that concerns would be "renewed" among military planners, as they knew before the first surge soldier's boots hit Iraqi sand that the size of the force on the ground after the surge was contingent upon conditions. There concerns are no doubt real, but the biased lede and the implicated that this something "renewed" or unexpected, is rank editorialism featured in a news outlet that has, by the way, taken a quite public editorial stance against the war.

According to Clark, my long-held distrust of the media—honed over years of finding factual inaccuracies and demonstrable hidden biases in their reporting, and doing so again here—is a serious threat to American democracy.

He would have you think that an informed public is a threat to democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. What he is actually lamenting—and is either (amusingly) too biased, too inarticulate, or too dishonest to share—is the demise of the media's role as gatekeeper.

It has become increasingly difficult for a self-selected group (in this case, journalists) to alter or shape public discourse by the selective filtering and dissemination of knowledge. We live in a newly wired world, with a much wider flow of information to be be shared, compared, and analyzed by almost anyone, not just editors and journalists.

Mr. Clark does not lament a threat to democracy.

He resents that his profession must now take part in it.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 30, 2008 05:22 PM

as you intimated, it can no longer be ignored that the internet in general and the blogosphere in particular have exacerbated the public's distrust of the (old) media--clark and his ilk despise the fact that blogs keep a running tab on the biases and inaccuracies in the MSM, and have shown an admirable willingness to jump headlong into issues that the Old Guard has been reluctant to touch. i would very much like to see a case-by-case study done of how many stories were only broached by the MSM *after* online (read: "the public") forums had been discussing them for some while.

Posted by: j at January 30, 2008 05:49 PM

Bush did it.

Posted by: Snooper at January 30, 2008 06:08 PM

Did you just link to Arkin? I remember what Arkin wrote before, and I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say 'honest' and 'even-keeled'.

I'm not derailing the topic, cause I agree 100% with the central theme? I just don't quite get what you mean with the Arkin stuff.

Posted by: brando at January 30, 2008 08:25 PM

Mr. Clark's assertion about the failure of the public to trust the media can be reduced to a brief dramatization:

Posted by: Zhombre at January 30, 2008 09:31 PM

I think Mr. Clark just wants a world where everyone listens to and does not question the man on the TV screen.

1984, anyone?

Posted by: C-C-G at January 30, 2008 09:55 PM

Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

These are UN Sanctions and credit cards.

17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name

Posted by: JC at January 30, 2008 11:42 PM

Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

These are UN Sanctions and credit cards.

17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name

This is the start of an economic collapse and credit scores going down.

Posted by: JC at January 30, 2008 11:44 PM

Watching your demise take place in real time sucks. Clark may not get over it, but I will.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Posted by: Pablo at January 30, 2008 11:58 PM
I just don't quite get what you mean with the Arkin stuff.

Sometimes even a blind squirrel finds a nut.

Posted by: Pablo at January 30, 2008 11:59 PM
That is one reasonable conclusion to a study of media credibility conducted by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. As a good Catholic boy growing up in the 1950s, I was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But no such devotion can I feel to the prejudiced conclusions some scholars and politicians have drawn from this survey.

Q. What in the everloving hell is that?

A. Evidence that Clark feels that fealty to journalism ought to be rooted in faith.

I'll beg to differ.

Posted by: Pablo at January 31, 2008 12:02 AM
My colleague Rick Edmonds reminds me that many people who come to the press without prejudice form their biases after failing to recognize themselves or their values in the news.

At which point they should be fired. Memo to journalists: The news isn't about you. It's about the facts as they exist...or at least it should be.

Posted by: Pablo at January 31, 2008 12:06 AM

Troop size was always determined by the civilian leadership. Perhaps you have forgotten that the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was forced into early retirement after saying that 250,000 troops would be needed.
As far as needing proof that the Democrats would be infuriated, I find that a strange comment from someone who repeatedly talks about BDS.

Posted by: John Ryan at January 31, 2008 09:17 AM

As usual, John Ryan, your grasp of the facts is sadly lacking.

Gen. Pace was not renominated because he would have faced stiff opposition from the Democrat controlled Congress.

Here, read it from your own lefty mouthpiece, NPR:

Gates said that until recently, he had intended to renominate the Marine general for another two years, but that after consulting with senators in both parties, he had concluded that "the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past and not on the future," apparently suggesting that reconfirmation would meet stiff resistence in Congress.

"I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them," Gates said. "However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform, and Gen. Pace himself would not be well-served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

Asked by reporters whether the decision had anything to do with Pace's conduct of the war in Iraq, Gates replied: "It has absolutely nothing to do with my view of Gen. Pace's performance."
You should know by now that you can't get away with making up facts here like you can at DU, John Ryan, so why don't ya just go back there and leave us in peace?

Posted by: C-C-G at January 31, 2008 09:38 AM

Oops. That's what I get for posting without my glasses on. The blockquote in the above post should include the two paragraphs below the one that's already blockquoted. :)

Posted by: C-C-G at January 31, 2008 09:57 AM

Maybe Mr. Clark has a point to some degree. Your own example demonstrating the bias is misleading. Take the lead paragraph of MOST article and it will by itself tend to show bias. The purpose of the lead paragraph is to grab the reader's interest, not present supporting facts. That's what the rest of the article is for. The rest of the article (if read) does go on to state tensions between Gen Casey, GWB, SOD Gates, anon WH officials, etc that would seem to back up the statement about concerns of military planners. Basically, there were statements to the point that winning in Iraq is MORE important than the overall health of the millitary (don't read that as NOT important, just less important). Based on new statements from GWB and others, it looks like the possible outcome of the surge is to have a bigger presence in IRaw, so I don't think its wrong to summarize that there are "renewed" concerns about the strain on the military.

As far as the first point, the NYT articles says "likely" not definitely and based on the Democrats opposition to the war and based on statements made by the President and the Generals in the past, its not a reach. I'm sure there will be some Democrats ticked off by this...

Anyone can cherry pick facts to support their cause or agenda. IMO, maybe what Clark is trying to say is that cherry-picking facts may be dishonest but they are still most likely still facts (just not all of them or entirely accurate). When others criticize the reporter, they aren't typically disputing the facts as much as trying to discredit the reporter. Don't like the message, kill the messenger 21st century style. If you can discredit the messenger, no one will believe anything that is said. Thus discrediting the media, means no one believes any of the media...

Posted by: matta at January 31, 2008 10:22 AM

Says Clark: "But I hold journalists less responsible -- and the public more responsible -- for misperceptions of news media performance. In short, the last two decades have seen unprecedented attacks upon the legitimacy of the news media..."

And off he goes, wrapping himself in the flag of journalism and crying that democracy is threatened.

I concur here with CY. After years of swallowing 'news' stories spoon-fed by journalists, and raging powerlessly at the obvious attempts therein to shove public opinion one way or another, I say more power to those allegedly 'unprecedented attacks'. My three decades of letters to editors, mostly suppressed on receipt, had miniscule effect on public awareness. No doubt Clark approves.

Clark says there have been two decades of these 'attacks'. Not having time to listen to media critics through the slow serial port of talk radio, I've only noticed cogent identification and exposure of media bias (almost always to the benefit of lefty Democrats) since blogs became well established following 9/11. Of course, having the vast Internet resources for immediate fact-checking (hat tip Ken Layne) of journalistic asses greatly enables those exposures of tendentious, opinion-steering articles.

And I say, that if there's a threat to democracy attached to journalism, it comes from that self-righteous crusading by the journalists themselves. How can Clark defend it, when the red-state mindset and traditions (to put an extremely crude handle on it here), which are held by about half the population of the US, are habitually denigrated or excluded from consideration by eager journalists who are out to 'make a difference' via striking verbal blows on behalf of righteousness?

Let him defend against the assertion that journalists (print and TV) are a self-selecting clique (oh, excuse me, 'profession') who do not practice diversity of opinion, and who do practice selective exclusions, and who do not put news items in perspective when numbers are involved.

I say that they've made their own antidemocratic bed, now let them lie in it and shiver at the winds of (horrors!) exposure of their cherished biases. The good old gatekeeping days are being steadily lost to them.

Posted by: Hank at January 31, 2008 10:29 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 02/01/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Posted by: David M at January 31, 2008 12:09 PM

You people act like the MSM is owned by Joan Baez and Jerry Brown. Ever read the New York Posst or Daily News? Ever seen Fox or ABC ? All of the talking heads are moderate Repubs or Democrat s who have cocktails together in their expensive homes after they go at each other.

Posted by: chris lee at January 31, 2008 04:59 PM

Chris, look at the relative proportions of left-leaning media outlets vs. right-leaning ones.

Oh, what am I saying, you'll never accept facts that disagree with The Narrative. The Narrative is all, The Narrative cannot be wrong, so anything that disagrees with The Narrative must be suppressed.

Posted by: C-C-G at January 31, 2008 07:32 PM

That's sooo cheap and mean. What do you describe as "left-leaning". Define your terms. James Carville doesn't come near MY definition of radical.

Posted by: chris lee at January 31, 2008 08:08 PM

If you need someone to define those terms for you, sir, you probably need to label your shoes so you can get the right one on the right foot. Methinks you are stalling.

However, just to shut you up, try this report from UCLA... hardly a neocon stronghold.

Or this one (.pdf) from the University of Chicago.

There are many more, those are just two that my search turned up.

Posted by: C-C-G at January 31, 2008 09:44 PM

Don't bother arguing with Chris. The sky is a different color in his world.

And he's flaker than a bowl of breakfast cereal.

Just lean back and enjoy his entertaining, performance-art-esque displays of grade-A Lefty Crazy.

Posted by: DaveP. at January 31, 2008 10:12 PM

I'm almost done with the cat toy, Dave. I just wanna give him plenty of rope to hang himself with.

Posted by: C-C-G at January 31, 2008 10:24 PM

Oh the irony of being talked down to by Bush/Cheney supporters about honest mediation and truthful disclosure.

Posted by: chris lee at February 1, 2008 07:27 AM

Give em the dusk-orb chris!

Posted by: brando at February 1, 2008 08:20 AM

Ahh, I see Chris has pulled out Lefty Canned Response #4B... SO predictable.

How about speaking to the merits of the articles I gave you, Chris? Or is that too hard for you?

Posted by: C-C-G at February 1, 2008 08:56 AM

I like what Tom Wolfe said about the term "Liberal Arts"'s rooted in Roman times as what you would teach to a "free" man..(liber)> What would you want a slave to think? Unquestioning loyalty to authority..the state, the church..Hopefully the press would have a bias toward "free thought, free speech, free inquiry, etc"..ok, let 'er rip guys.

Posted by: chris lee at February 1, 2008 11:58 AM

CCG..I read the first (UCLA) report but there is no way I am going to read through forty three pages on the PDF to wrestle with your point of view. First of all maybe a "free" people has a liberal bias in general..second of all I think "the press" means the overall big picture for outlets of information and opinion. I think any responsible citizen should check out several sources, investigate their owners and their motives and decide for themselves.

Posted by: chris lee at February 1, 2008 12:15 PM


there is no way I am going to read through forty three pages
He didn't come here for an argument; he came here for abuse.

Posted by: Old Grouch at February 1, 2008 01:15 PM

The Poynter Sisters Institute?

Posted by: DirtCrashr at February 1, 2008 04:50 PM

Chris, if a free people has a liberal point of view, why do so many lefties in the press try to hide their viewpoint? You'd think if it would help them with popularity, they'd be advertising themselves as the most liberal network around.

Your reply, in short, fails the laugh test miserably. But then the Old Grouch is right... you didn't truly come here for a real debate, you wanted to sling some mud and are now probably amazed that you're getting your head handed to you on a regular basis.

If you ever decide to make a cogent, logical argument, I may respond. Until then, however, I am probably not going to waste a lot more bandwidth on responding to you.

Posted by: C-C-G at February 1, 2008 11:41 PM