Wednesday, January 11, 2006

How Media Bias Works

Hunter Baker refers below to a recent study alleging liberal media bias in the news. The methodology used was to count citations of outside "experts" to see if there was a partisan balance.

The study found a strong tilt to the left in the reports of most media organizations.

Now is this proof in itself of bias? Let's look at a recent Washington Post article on the NSA domestic "spying" affair.

Aside from the contentious wording that the administration has "assertions" while the contrary congressional report has "conclusions," we see that the WaPo quotes two "experts," both of whom are dismissive of the administration's position.

I discussed this very article with a lefty pal of mine and he sees no bias. Me, I see not only Congress lined up against the executive branch (little surprise---this tug-of-war over national security authority has been going on since the founding of the republic), but 100% of the outside experts. I would expect the casual reader to conclude that the weight of arguments is against the administration, since they occupy the lion's share of the volume.

I find this article to be representive of the norm, and certainly my liberal buddy saw nothing unusual about it. Which is precisely the point.

Since I'm feeling magnanimous today, I'll offer that no Bush-friendly "experts" were consulted because the WaPo simply doesn't know any. But whatever the reason, the aforementioned study (and it is not the first such) clearly indicates it is the rule rather than the exception in our national news media that among third party commentators, the left get more air than the right.

Put simply, an article or news segment is imbalanced unless it presents both sides in roughly equal proportion, as spoken by third parties, not just the accused and the aggrieved themselves. We all tend to give credence to the views of third parties when making up our minds about things, as we should. For that reason, I find the theory behind the study's methodology entirely proper, and can think of none better.

The WaPo rounded up two "impartial" witnesses against the Bush administration and none in its defense. Any reasonable person would, based on the evidence presented, be obliged to conclude its guilt.

The WaPo article was biased, whether intentionally or not. I do not know which of those possibilities is more disconcerting.

17 comments:

Tlaloc said...

" I would expect the casual reader to conclude that the weight of arguments is against the administration, since they occupy the lion's share of the volume."

The weight of evidence IS against the administration. I guess that makes the story good reporting, huh?

Tlaloc said...

"Put simply, an article or news segment is imbalanced unless it presents both sides in roughly equal proportion, as spoken by third parties, not just the accused and the aggrieved themselves."

So in any story about disease we should have an equal number of doctors as followers of the "four bodily humors" theory? No of course not. When a story is one sided it is UNbalanced to portray it as balanced.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks for proving my point, and the old saw about lefty open-mindedness---always willing to look at both sides of the same side.

Tlaloc said...

Nice to see that when out reasoned you can always retreat to the old ad hominem.

Feel free to contest either of my points or to conceed your own.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

The purpose of the 4th amendment is to make sure that the enemies of America are allowed an adequate amount of time to prepare their weapons of mass destruction in order to obliterate us. We all may very well wind up dead at the end of the day, but at least we can rest easy knowing that no one's privacy rights were violated. This is just as the Founder's would have wanted it: a nation of corpses who can consume as much pornography as they want. God bless America.

(The above is heavy sarcasm)

Tlaloc said...

Did I miss a huge change in topic? When did we start in on the fourth amendment? And more importantly- why?

Tom Van Dyke said...

You haven't even got near my argument. There are always witnesses for the defense.

You already unintentionally proved my point and it's clear you don't even see how. That should be more disconcerting to you than it is to me.

I was really hoping that you were just foolin'. That would have been clever.

Your attempt to embarrass Dr. Beckwith insults your intelligence, not his. His segue is quite relevant. Damn straight, FJB. Always a delight to hear from you.

Tlaloc said...

"You haven't even got near my argument."

Okay, if you say so. I guess it's nice being able to just claim things like that rather than doing the heavy work of constructing an argument and supporting it with evidence or anything. Nice work if you can get it.



"Your attempt to embarrass Dr. Beckwith insults your intelligence, not his."

Actually it wasn't so much of an attempt to embarrass him as an attempt to figure out what he was talking about. I don't really feel a need to play the games you seem to think I must be.



"His segue is quite relevant."

Feel free to explain how. I can see how the fourth amendment argument if we were discussing the NSA wiretaping (and believe me I'm more than willing to go there). But we weren't. We were discussing the idea that the Post was biased just because they ackowledge the extremely wide spread contention that the president committed a blatantly illegal act.

James Elliott said...

Tom, this is parsing and semanticism of the worst kind.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gee, that's vague to the point of unhelpfulness, James.

Don't you agree that outside "experts" are given more weight than the litigants themselves?

James Elliott said...

You're parsing between "assertions" and "conclusions." You are also taking "balance" so far out of actual journalism context so as to be unrecognizable. Balance used to mean that you'd accept and print quotes from both sides that were refutably lies just because you were afraid of appearing partisan. The Washington Post article in question does a fine job of conveying information.

Haven't you ever stopped and thought how interesting it is that both camps - liberal and conservative - feel that there is bias against them in the media, that the media doesn't give them a fair shake? There's an old adage: If no one's happy with me, I'm doing my job right. In the case of the media - and especially in light of all the whingeing you do - I'd say they're doing pretty well. Not perfect, of course, because who is? Especially when your media outlet is owned by a corporation with diverse interests and exercises editorial control? But that's an entirely different problem from the one you and most other liberal and conservative bloggers try to construct out of whole cloth.

Beware the green-eyed monster, Tom.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I did parse "assertion," which in my opinion, carries a certain pejorativeness. But I left it as a side point.

The central thesis, and the one that the study in question uses as its methodology, is that outside "experts" are (and indeed should be) given more weight than the litigants, and some sort of balance appears to be wanting.

Matt Huisman said...

Haven't you ever stopped and thought how interesting it is that both camps - liberal and conservative - feel that there is bias against them in the media, that the media doesn't give them a fair shake?

To be honest, none of this bias stuff is all that interesting - but anyone who's ever watched a sporting event knows that the good coaches 'work' the refs, no matter which way the calls are going.

There's an old adage: If no one's happy with me, I'm doing my job right.

Or it could just mean that you're really, really bad.

As far as the methodology in the research goes, I'm not all that crazy about it - but it's not the worst thing I've ever seen.

At the end of the day, the ratio of Dems/Reps in the MSM is 9:1. I don't care how good your journalistic ethics are, you're going to slant a little. Fortunately, most of the world has figured out how to adjust to this - so it doesn't matter.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Republicans' success on Capitol Hill suggests that's true, Mr. Huisman, but it should not be taken for granted. Certainly talk radio and the mighty righty blogosphere provide a counterbalance, but it requires our eternal vigilance.

It's quite possible that had Dan Rather's phony documents not been unmasked by the blogosphere, John Kerry would be president.

Lately, I am more troubled by my lefty friends' reliance on the MSM and their own echo chamber, that has inflamed them to the point that they perhaps no longer even recognize the other side of the story when confronted with it, as illustrated in this very thread.

As for the rest of the world, if my own friends in England are any indication, I must heartily disagree. By their own admission (and many are themselves on the left), they hear little of any conservative thought. Their press is near-monolithic from the BBC on down---besides the Torygraph, which few read, they have little in the way of counterbalancing New Media, either on radio or on the internet.

Tlaloc said...

"It's quite possible that had Dan Rather's phony documents not been unmasked by the blogosphere, John Kerry would be president."

A bad choice of example since the story was true and the right wing blogs lept on the documents being retyped as a way to draw attention away from that fact.

Matt Huisman said...

Lately, I am more troubled by my lefty friends' reliance on the MSM and their own echo chamber...

This is what I'm talking about when I say that it doesn't matter. People who show any political awareness at all are now gravitating to the media that is in line with their worldview. And I'm OK with that to the extent that no one tries to pass their stuff off as hyper-neutral, or confuse reporting with commentary.

Fortunately, most of the world has figured out how to adjust to this - so it doesn't matter.

I may have overdone it a bit here - probably my subconscious giving Mark Steyn a little too much credit - and should have said 'most of the country'.

Devang said...

Plen-T-plaint.