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The Problem Is Not The Reality Of Media Bias; The Problem Is The Fantasy Of Media Neutrality

Not a day goes by without the media plumbing new depths in their sycophantic relationship with the liberal/statist values that are destroying this country. And not a day goes by without someone indignantly pointing out some new outrageous lie peddled by the journolistic (sic) class.

This indignation is misplaced. The problem with an almost monolithically biased media is not the bias – all newspapers (for example), at all times, and in all places, have always been biased one way or anoth…

  1. BrentB67

    Well said

  2. Merina Smith

    I agree that it is impossible for humans to have an omnipotent POV, but a fair-minded person can try.  Journalists should try.  It is wrong that they have given up trying.  And it’s been bad for them. 

    My husband was a very successful high school debater, which has given him a life-long ability to see both sides of an issue in a fair light.  I have to admit that sometimes this is annoying (when I want him to take my side!) but in the end I appreciate it because I know I can really trust his judgment.  It’s served him very well in his career as a law professor writing about law and religion, because what he writes or says is always considered and reasonable. 

    Many, perhaps most, journalists have lost the ability to even see their own bias.  What’s even more annoying is the so-called “fact checkers,” who tout themselves as being above the fray, when they are utterly unable to see how their biases affect their “facts.”  All of these people should be herded into a room and required to debate every issure from both sides. 

  3. KC Mulville

    When Chuck Toad  (oops, I mean Todd) claims that media bias is a myth, it’s just silly.

    On the other hand, I have a problem with the idea that the “low-information voter” will penalize Republicans and conservatives. I mean, they aren’t participating … that’s the whole point … so why worry about them?

    (I’ll answer my own question:) That’s why constant polling is a dangerous distraction. High-information voters, and obsessed political players, use polling results as weapons and cudgels for the game inside the Beltway. Polling gives low-information voters high importance, which is exactly the inverse of what should be happening. Instead of monitoring the reality, constant polling changes the reality.

    The combination of

    • media,

    • low-information voters,
    • polling,
    • (and most importantly) inside-the-Beltway activists

    is a toxic coordination that produces the essence of corruption: the process of making decisions is tilted to the people least qualified to understand their decisions.

  4. Merina Smith

    Yes–I agree, KC.  No one can take the long view on anything because everyone is so busy worrying about polls taken of people who understand nothing, or worse, think they understand something based on highly partisan media coverage.  How can this be mitigated?  I have no idea. 

  5. genferei
    Merina Smith: I agree that it is impossible for humans to have an omnipotent POV, but a fair-minded person can try.  Journalists should try.  It is wrong that they have given up trying.  And it’s been bad for them.

    I would argue that they never tried. For most of the history of journalism that was OK: no one expected journalists to be possessed of some kind of Olympian detachment.

    At some point after the second world war the myth of neutrality/objectivity arose. Perhaps it was to do with the professionalization of journalism: those J-schools had to create some definition of journalist other than ‘someone who writes ephemera for money’. But actual journalistic practice didn’t change. It couldn’t.

    What did change was journalism’s image: the image it projected to the public, and the self image of its practitioners. This myth became central to the new journalistic enterprise, which is why otherwise sensible people will say they think media bias doesn’t exist.

    My argument is that, since journalists have NEVER been neutral, and since they show no desire to actually, in their real practice, be neutral, we should stop expecting them to be neutral_and_call_them_out_when_they_try_to_maintain_the_pretense.

  6. Mollie Hemingway
    C

    Well, speaking as a reporter who has long favored the American media approach — which isn’t objectivity so much as an attempt toward objectivity, I think you raise a good point.

    The media have recently been acknowledging that they are unable to treat some people fairly. They don’t want to, in fact. They’re open and honest about this. Given this honesty, the worst thing to do would be to pretend that they’re doing a good job with anything other than press releases for their given cause.

    I wrote about this here at GetReligion and I think it’s instructive for this discussion:

    WP: Yes, we fear and loathe religious traditionalists

    It’s not even that the reporter and ombudsman admit their bigotry — it’s that they seem so proud about it.

  7. Barbara Kidder
    genferei

    Merina Smith: I agree that it is impossible for humans to have an omnipotent POV, but a fair-minded person can try.  Journalists should try.  It is wrong that they have given up trying.  And it’s been bad for them.

    What did change was journalism’s image: the image it projected to the public, and the self image of its practitioners. This myth became central to the new journalistic enterprise, which is why otherwise sensible people will say they think media bias doesn’t exist.

    My argument is that, since journalists have NEVER been neutral, and since they show no desire to actually, in their real practice, be neutral, we should stop expecting them to be neutral_and_call_them_out_when_they_try_to_maintain_the_pretense. · 17 minutes ago

    Your article states the case exactly!

    Are the following two factors more at play today?

    *Those liberals who work in journalism, operate on the premise that ‘the end justifies the means’, in their efforts to influence the ‘unwashed masses’, and 

    *these same journalists smell blood;  they believe that this is the time for that last push to get their cause over the finish line (Rush Limbaugh said as much last week).

    I await your reply!

  8. Merina Smith

    Fine article, Mollie.  What is your solution?  I mean, in a way, if they really would acknowledge their bias openly and inform everyone that they are biased, it might be good.  That’s what genferei advocates. 

    What they do is infinitely worse, however.  As you point out, they are proud of their bias. They regard themselves as heros for taking the “moral high ground.”  In essence, they are preaching their secular religion with great zeal, and the irony is that they are exactly what they accuse those who don’t agree with them of being–self-righteous zealots who deal with only straw man arguments from opponents. 

    They nevertheless count on the ideal of unbiased reporting to give them cover for their shameless and shameful bias.  Your average voter doesn’t think too much about the bias because they are accustomed to the idea of unbiased reporting.  People on the right complain, but we have been stereotyped as “extreme” and are easy to ignore. 

    As I pointed out in another thread yesterday, a press that refuses to do its job is worse than one controlled by government, because at least then everyone knows that they can believe nothing they read. 

  9. Copperfield

    Just so.. and well stated, genferei.  How do we combat this, though?  I’ve found myself rather hopeless on this front.  Media liberal bias and pretended objectivity is one problem.  But it is joined by two other important public institutions being largely leftist in their sensibilities: academia and entertainment.  The result of this post-modern tripartite alliance is that the default public sensibility becomes leftist.  Conservatives and libertarians are what they have always been, but the public sensibility fostered by these three instutions creates an atmoshphere where anything to the right of Piers Morgan is deemed “extremist”.  Throw in myriad media formats with which people are hit forcing them to declare opinions on EVERYTHING, and it makes for a largely misinformed public that is, nonetheless, very judgmental about parroting the popular position on every important issue.  There simply are no other informed opinions than the ones held by entertainers, journalists, and professors.  Everyone else is a rube against whom every logical fallacy is employed as proof.  The challenge is how to step back from this.  I don’t know if we’re capable of it as a people anymore.  I’m sick about it, but there it is.  Thoughts? 

  10. Barbara Kidder
    Copperfield: Just so.. and well stated, genferei.  How do we combat this, though?  I’ve found myself rather hopeless on this front.  Media liberal bias and pretended objectivity is one problem.  But it is joined by two other important public institutions being largely leftist in their sensibilities: academia and entertainment.  

    Throw in myriad media formats with which people are hit forcing them to declare opinions on EVERYTHING, and it makes for a largely misinformed public that is, nonetheless, very judgmental about parroting the popular position on every important issue.  There simply are no other informed opinions than the ones held by entertainers, journalists, and professors.  Everyone else is a rube against whom every logical fallacy is employed as proof.  The challenge is how to step back from this.  I don’t know if we’re capable of it as a people anymore.  I’m sick about it, but there it is.  Thoughts?  · 23 minutes ago

    History may refer to this period as our re-entry into the ‘Dark Ages’.

  11. Bookworm

    That is precisely the problem.  I have a liberal friend who is devoted to Jon Stewart’s show, which he cites in political arguments as a non-partisan source of information and analysis. 

    Armed with this viewpoint, my friend assures me that Stewart spends at least 90% of his time attacking Republicans because “they deserve it.”  In same vein, Stewart needs to spend only 10% or so of his time attacking (gently) Democrats because he, in his non-partisan wisdom, has not discovered anything about them worthy of attack. 

    Needless to say, it’s impossible to have an intelligent political discussion with this friend, because he views himself and his sources as impartial, which means (to him) that my sources and I are dangerously fascist.

  12. Bill Nelson

    What is more tiring is the constant whining by Republicans about the bias.

    Everything is biased. And the media, historically, have been very biased. In the early part of the 20th century most major US papers were owned by one person who ran the paper and dictated the bia of the paper. Papers, and their owners, were either pro or anti-Roosevelt in the 30s and 40s.

    And the tradition of the British Fleet Street is the same, papers were allied with one of the other parties, or with specific causes (e.g. labor unions).

    Bias exists, it always exists, stop complaining and find a way to get your ideas out to the people.

  13. genferei
    Barbara Kidder

    Are the following two factors more at play today?

    *Those liberals who work in journalism, operate on the premise that ‘the end justifies the means’, in their efforts to influence the ‘unwashed masses’, and 

    *these same journalists smell blood;  they believe that this is the time for that last push to get their cause over the finish line (Rush Limbaugh said as much last week).

    I wonder if it is just that the cocoon is so much stronger for the modern journalist.

    In the past, when journalism was a trade, you would no more expect a random journalist to have a particular political outlook than you would a random electrician.

    Now that journalism is a ‘profession’, and everyone involved goes to college, and a great number of them study ‘journalism’, an ideological groupthink emerges. It is quite possible that the average journalist has never, ever, during their adult life, known anyone that doesn’t believe the liberal pieties. It is, quite literally, unthinkable to believe anything else.

    So it takes little persuading to write such opinions off as invalid, and those that hold them as in- or sub-human. Swatting a republican is like swatting a cockroach: morally_neutral.

  14. Western Chauvinist

    Agreed with everything above. Excellent article Mollie.

    I think we’re headed for Mark Steyn’s outposts of civilization — those few remaining communities where faith and reason abide. Peter Kreeft talks about totalitarians’ understanding that when you take over the language — redefine the terms — then you win the culture. The Left has been doing this for a hundred years.

    Someone who is illiberal (for authoritarianism) is called a “liberal.” Couples of the same sex with no natural complementarity and no natural procreative ability have the “right” (another abused word) to “marriage.” And someone who propagandizes for his cause and mischaracterizes his opposition to achieve his ends is a “journalist,” or worse, a “reporter” (as if what he’s doing has anything to do with “reporting” the facts).

    Without some external moral authority (God), everything is subjective and becomes relativistic. That’s why I agree with Kreeft’s assessment that only the marriage of faith and reason can save Western Civilization. Unfortunately, I don’t see how the marriage can be saved in the wider culture at this point. I hope I’m wrong.

  15. Colin B Lane
    Western Chauvinist: Agreed with everything above. Excellent article Mollie.

    I think we’re headed for Mark Steyn’s outposts of civilization — those few remaining communities where faith and reason abide. Peter Kreeft talks about totalitarians’ understanding that when you take over the language — redefine the terms — then you win the culture. The Left has been doing this for a hundred years.

    Someone who is illiberal (forauthoritarianism) is called a “liberal.” Couples of the same sex with no natural complementarity and no natural procreative ability have the “right” (another abused word) to “marriage.” And someone who propagandizes for his cause and mischaracterizes his opposition to achieve his ends is a “journalist,” or worse, a “reporter” (as if what he’s doing has anything to do with “reporting” the facts).

    Without some external moral authority (God), everything is subjective and becomes relativistic. That’s why I agree with Kreeft’s assessment that only the marriage of faith and reason can save Western Civilization. Unfortunately, I don’t see how the marriage can be saved in the wider culture at this point. I hope I’m wrong. 

    C’mon WC, now I’ll have to make that a double shot of bourbon.

  16. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Barbara Kidder

    Copperfield: Just so.. and well stated, genferei.  How do we combat this, though?  I’ve found myself rather hopeless on this front.  Media liberal bias and pretended objectivity is one problem.  But it is joined by two other important public institutions being largely leftist in their sensibilities: academia and entertainment.  

    Throw in myriad media formats with which people are hit forcing them to declare opinions on EVERYTHING, and it makes for a largely misinformed public that is, nonetheless, very judgmental about parroting the popular position on every important issue.  There simply are no other informed opinions than the ones held by entertainers, journalists, and professors.  Everyone else is a rube against whom every logical fallacy is employed as proof.  The challenge is how to step back from this.  I don’t know if we’re capable of it as a people anymore.  I’m sick about it, but there it is.  Thoughts?  · 23 minutes ago

    History may refer to this period as our re-entry into the ‘Dark Ages’. · 1 hour ago

    Yes. Assuming we survive all this and go on for centuries more, I have no doubt that this is absolutely true. Looking forward to the Renaissance!

  17. kylez
    Merina Smith: Yes–I agree, KC.  No one can take the long view on anything because everyone is so busy worrying about polls taken of people who understand nothing, or worse, think they understand something based on highly partisan media coverage.  How can this be mitigated?  I have no idea.  · 4 hours ago

    Political/historical tests given to people before they are registered to vote?

  18. Crow
    Barbara Kidder

    History may refer to this period as our re-entry into the ‘Dark Ages’.

    While cautioning that much of what has been written about the “Dark Ages” is little more then the residue of an Enlightenment-era caricature, I do agree with your point here.

    I actually think we are already living in a new dark age of sorts.

    And, if you’ll grant me a small indulgence and let me wander off topic for just a moment, as well as speak beyond the horizon of what our medium here really permits, I’ll say in passing that if we had to point to a specific event which demonstrated that we were entering a full-fledged new dark age, I might select May 1st, 1933. On that date, Martin Heidegger abandoned reason, faith, sense, and sober politics, and having assumed the title of rector of the University of Freiburg a week earlier, he joined the Nazi party.

    I cannot fully defend for you here why that is my choice (I’m sure it seems an odd one), but I will simply say that this “error of commitment” is about as concrete an incarnation of_the_crisis_of our time as any.

  19. Crow
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Merina Smith: What is your solution?  I mean, in a way, if they really would acknowledge their bias openly and inform everyone that they are biased, it might be good.  That’s what genferei advocates. 

    I honestly don’t know. I am aware that at my job at GetReligion we’re losing the battle for an objective media that covers issue with a modicum of knowledge and fairness. But I am not entirely sure what to do in the face of a media hostile to knowledge and objectivity.

    Considering how bad things are at the moment with regard to their bias and to their prideful defense of that lockstep mentality, I think genferei has a point.

    Things can’t get much worse as far as this goes–Paul Rahe exaggerates very little when he says the NYT is Pravda on the Hudson. To borrow a Marxist phrase and reappropriate it for good: heightening the contradictions may cause the entire edifice to collapse

    Even still, I think that we must be cautious in the way we present the problem of bias. We do not wish to be saying that objective norms are impossible to arrive at through reason.

  20. Crow

    As far as what the battle plan is to confront media bias, I can’t say I have a fully worked-out strategy either. But I think we have begun to see some weapons which are inflicting damage.

    • The Gingrich Doctrine: question the premise of the question. While being careful not to allow the conversation to devolve into being argumentative for the sake of argumentativeness, don’t simply respond to the question being asked–broaden the boundaries of the discussion by dissecting the hidden premises beneath the question. This hangs together with the next point:

    • The Breitbart Corollary to the Gingrich Doctrine: Oftentimes, the premise beneath the question stems from the Liberal questioner assuming the position of an unearned moral superiority. Do not allow them to assume that position, do not yield the moral highground. Political debates inevitably involve moral principles, statistical truths are not sufficient to win the argument convincingly.
    • The Obama Approach: Obama penalizes journalists and makes them coy by denying access–the very oxygen they breathe. Republican leadership should study this approach, and appropriate from it what they can deploy effectively. Additionally, Obama goes around the “hard media” to the “soft media” of pop culture. Pay attention!

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