"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Listening In

I know, I know, I keep saying that I'll do a long article on this someday. But for the meantime we should keep doing the small ones.

Media folks love to deny that they practice biased reporting. Their position is refuted easily enough, merely by pointing to headlines. One needn't trouble to seek proof in the fine print of the reporting itself. It proclaims itself in big letters right up top.

This link is to the ONLY fair headline on the domestic wiretapping story. It is to the London Times, with the headline reading: Bush defends secret wiretapping of Americans.

All the American headlines have cleverly slipped in a negative tilt. Some make the President seem ominous; others paint him ludicrous. Ominous ones read something like this: Bush Backed Spying on Americans (BBC). Or: Bush Defends Secret Spying in U.S. (ABC). Ludicrous ones go like this: Bush Says Eavesdropping 'Makes America Safer' (Reuters).

10 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course. Even punctuation will do the trick.

Bush Says Eavesdropping 'Makes America Safer'

Quotation marks? Nah, "scare quotes."

Bush Says Eavesdropping Makes America Safer

It should be noted that it's the fresh-faced aspiring world-changer J-school grads who write the headlines. Accomplished polemicist/"reporters" are far more clever in hiding their tracks.

I enjoyed this one the other day---notice how CNN buries the turnaround in public opinion that now no longer thinks the war was a mistake:

Meanwhile, 48 percent of respondents to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said they thought it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq, as opposed to 54 percent of those polled last month. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent. Fifty percent said it was not a mistake, compared to 45 percent last month.

I don't mean to claim the poll itself is significant, as it falls within the margin of error. I just wanted to point out that the turnaround is the most newsworthy feature of the poll, and is unremarked upon. Intentional? I think mebbe. The phrasing should have been that those who thought the war was a mistake are now statistically in the minority. That would be a straightforward accounting of the facts.

(It would be paranoid of me to note that "fifty" is spelled out and hides from the skimming eye.)

Kathy Hutchins said...

It would be paranoid of me to note that "fifty" is spelled out and hides from the skimming eye.

Yeah, that would be pretty paranoid of you. The Chicago Manual of Style rule is that numbers zero to ten are always spelled out; larger numbers are written numerically unless they are the first word in a sentence, when they should be spelled out in full.

ARGGGHHHHH! You just reminded me I spent four years working as a copy editor!

You are not paranoid, however, to point out that they did, in fact, completely bury the lede of that story, and they certainly wouldn't have stood on the margin-of-error caveat had the numbers run the other way.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm glad I didn't note it then. I wouldn't want to seem paranoid. I'm sure constructing the sentence with "fifty" first was just luck of the draw.

The original CNN report uses the numerals 3 and 4, BTW. Another style element destined for the crapper.

Tlaloc said...

"Bush Backed Spying on Americans (BBC)"

What precisely is wrong with this headline? Wiretapping and monitoring of librry lists is in fact spying. It was done on Americans. And Bush did support it by ordering it done circumventing the usual safeguards. So where exactly is the bias? Sounds like three facts put together in a sentence, *Gasp*!



"Bush Defends Secret Spying in U.S. (ABC)"

Again this seems factual. The spying was secret since not even the FISA knew about it.


"Bush Says Eavesdropping 'Makes America Safer'"

Did bush literally say that? Yes he did. Repeatedly. Why you would complain about him being correctly quoted frankly escapes me.

If anything what this post points out is that even when the papers write only facts it isn't biased ENOUGH to make you happy. We went through a long period of the papers kissing Bush's butt (remember the year or two after 9/11 when bush could do no wrong and fact checking was strictly optional?). It's about time they got back on the job and took him to task for running the worst modern presidency.

Tlaloc said...

"Quotation marks? Nah, "scare quotes.""

No they really are quotation marks. In a headline when you use a person's exact words you put them in quotes to make it clear youa ren't paraphrasing. I'm sorry that you don't like it but pick up any newspaper and they di the exact same thing.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, I was not clear. It is my opinion that the headline was composed that way to take advantage of the quote marks.

Still, I can't find "makes America safer" in the original Reuters report, nor in the president's radio address, on which the article is based.

I had expected clever manipulation, but not fabrication.

(Let me say, it only appears that way, and I could easily be wrong. I admit I am paranoid. I get The Los Angeles Times, where such semantic gamesmanship and distortion is the rule, not the exception.)

Tlaloc said...

SO out of curiosity, if the media is so liberal (and of course that goes double for the New York Times) then why did the Times sit on the illegal wiretapping story for over a year?

Gosh a year...what was happening a year ago? Oh yeah the presidential election. So the supposedly uber-liberal paper had evidence of a presidential crime and they refrained from publishing it in the middle of the election frenzy. Even though it might easily have tipped the balance in Kerry's favor.

Odd. You know that's not what I'd expect from a media that you claim is inimicable to the interests of the right. Not at all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In anticipation of your predictable question, I answered it in advance by thoughtfully providing links in my above comments.

One is a scientifical study of media bias, so it must be true.

Tlaloc said...

If my question was so predictable why don't you bother to answer it? And no pointing to a study of media bias doesn't answer the question at all.

Nor is bias a scientifically defined term. If you want to step up to the expert table you need to keep the players straight.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You take a generally true statement, treat it as an absolute, point out an exception, and do a victory dance. Or you parse the meaning of terms. I do not know if you realize that's sophistic, but it is.

I respond to you on the rare occasions you have a legitimate point, as at the beginning of this discussion. Otherwise, I find myself under no obligation to indulge you. I am not here to argue, as life is too short. After my point is made, I'm quite willing to yield the last word, which you invariably take. Rock on.