Media Bias Doesn't Matter Much if No One Is Listening Anyway

Categories: Schutze

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David Carr, who writes a media column for The New York Times, has a piece in today's paper about dumb it is for Republicans to claim the mainstream media are biased against Mitt Romney. He pulls a bit of a trick, seems to me, by folding claims of media bias into a separate issue -- an accusation from some Republicans that the national polling industry is in on the anti-Romney conspiracy.

Give me a break. Polling industry, of course not. Media, of course.

In the same paper today the Times prints a version of an earlier blog piece by Nate Silver going after the polling question. Silver demonstrates persuasively that since 1972, when national polls began to metastasize in number, the polls have erred in favor of Republicans about as often as they have in favor of Democrats. For the most part, as Silver shows, the polls have been amazingly accurate in their predictions.

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But what about the media thing? To what extent do the reporting staffs of national media come to work each morning with their own little brown bags full of liberal philosophical bias? I don't know how to answer that question scientifically, and the only anecdotal evidence I can offer is about print, my own wing of the business.

But I can tell you this much: Any honest person who has ever worked for a major market daily can only laugh at the suggestion that print journalists are anything but overwhelmingly liberal in their philosophical and cultural inclinations. Of course we are.

It's quite different for me now, because I'm no longer at a daily. I know we in the alternative press get tagged as liberals for a number of reasons including ancient history and the interesting notion that bare breasts are a liberal/conservative issue. I never quite got that one.

The interesting reality is that there's a hell of a lot more devil's advocate editing in the alt weekly business -- much more of tendency for editors to challenge a reporter's undisclosed and perhaps even unwitting biases -- than I ever found when I worked for the dailies.

Not that anybody expects us to come out of the process purified of bias. The ethic in the alt wing of the business seems to be that you just need to own your biases and display them plainly every little chance you get rather than pretending to the reader that they don't exist or, worse, pretending to yourself.

My experience at the dailies was the opposite. No one ever said anything, but a reporter who came across as a guy who might conceivably vote for New Gingrich could pretty much kiss his advancement good-bye.

The worst part of it, of course, is the absolute and unshakeable faith that daily print media people have in their own so-called objectivity. Ask anybody in the dailies if they think they are objective when they attack a story. They will tell you yes with fervent conviction.

But here's the real test question. Ask them what in the hell that means. Do they believe that they are able to erase their own cultural and personal origins and conditioning when they down sit to the keyboard? Do they really believe their origins and conditioning never invade their writing? Are they endowed with some kind of magisterial wisdom that escapes the average Joe?

I have a lot of respect for my colleagues in the daily business. I don't think they would ever say yes to all of that. They know better. Therefore no one in the business ever asks those questions.

The silliest notion harbored in the heart of the trade is that journalists, acting on some kind of priestly conviction, could do anything about their own basic biases anyway, even if they wanted to. At some point, after all, it's not so much a question of bias as of the human condition. We all come from somewhere. Sooner or later it shows.

Look, there is one true source of honesty, integrity and courage in this business and only one. Competitive anxiety.

For a newspaper to be honest with its readers, the editor of that paper needs to wake up every morning at about 4 a.m. with a dry mouth and eyes like pinwheels, thinking to himself, "What are those bastards across the street going to do to me today?"

What does the competition have that I don't? What will the competition do today to make me look stupid in front of my readers? What have I got to be terrified about today from those bastards across the street?

For that, you need bastards across the street. Serious market competition is the only force capable of consistently wringing any honesty from an otherwise smug and complacent army of self-satisfied fault-finding carpers. (Umm ... that's actually what we're supposed to be, believe it or not, so maybe you can see the problem.)

Where there is real media competition, the reader is king. On his throne with his scepter, the reader rules: "Yeah, you guys over here are probably telling me the truth. I'll buy your stuff. But you guys over there at that other place sound dodgy. No sale."

Ka-ching.

Only when journalists know their livelihoods depend on the reader's ka-ching are they capable of pushing their own biases aside long enough to tell the reader what's really going on. Otherwise, forget about it.

So as the mainstream print media business has atrophied into more and more of a closely held cartel, especially in the big regional markets where it's usually a virtual monopoly business, the reader sniffs bias or has just gotten bored. In either case, he has gone elsewhere. And that's news?


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53 comments
Embarrassed4Dallas
Embarrassed4Dallas

The problem in Dallas and why we deserve to be number 40+ behind Tulsa is because everything you stated above. Our editors are overwhelmingly Anglo and male in our daily rags, mags, alternative news, including the Observer, both on-line and in print, as is on-staff writers. Unfortunately, they only seem to be comfortable with hiring other Anglo's who are 30.  It doesn't matter whether they are talking politics or food. The latest example would be the new Cultural Map, which might as well be called a Cultural One-Way Street.  

 

There is this ridiculous notion that journalists and writers who are multicultural can't possibly be unbiased,  plugged-in, know what's really cool, have any money, or shop at Whole Foods.

 

As long as Dallas leaders, investors, media owners and the ad agencies continue to compartmentalize us and treat us as if we really are different, when in fact we aren't, our news reporting, non-profit organizations and how we promote Dallas will continue to be whiny and bland.

 

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

It is amazing how powerful these journalists once were in politics. Everyday people used to care what a network anchor thought or what a newspaper editorial page recommended. At the time, we thought they had studied issues and really did know more more. Now with blogs et al, we know these groups' info was really no better than anybody else's. They simply had a platform. Now everybody has a platform and we do not care. Many of them will not have jobs in 5 years unless they are "self-employed." I do agree that polling has come along way, but as the sampling process gets fewer and fewer responses, eventually the adjustments will overwhelm the info in the actual data. The process will go over the cliff if FCC does not get a handle on these groups that add a "political survey" to their spiel to avoid Do Not Call laws. I personally do not take a call from anyone I do not already know.

talkermark
talkermark

My personal experience has been that the "Alternative Media" --- Sacramento News & Review (print) and Univision (yes, to those of us who don't speak Spanish, it is an alternative media) has been the fairest, down the middle (objective) and diligent at getting even the tiniest facts right.  The one exception  being of spelling my wife's name "Hollie" rather than the correct "Holly".  The whole "ie" thing is a California thing, Holly is a New York Italian and California "things" at the time really didn't sit well with her.  The mistake never repeated.

 

But I digress.  

 

As a controversial public figure I have been covered by all kinds of media, ranging from local to international.  But only the two I mentioned here treated me as someone (or something) to be explained to their audience, not just to reinforce existing notions, but rather to arm their audiences with information.  CNN came close at one point but the SN&R & Univision put the research into me, fact-checked and double fact-checked quotes and source checked my facts.

 

What I learned from those experiences was that oddly enough, once the screaming and lousy reporting ends, actual journalism happens and lordy oh lordy, the political differences aren't so different - just the paths chosen to reach what (as far as I can see) is a shared goal.

 

 

Mark WilliamsTalk Show Host / Author / former Chairman of the Tea Party Express

 

FYI Jim,  I'm filling in on WBAP this Friday (October 5) from 8 PM - Midnight.  I'd welcome calls from your readers!

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

Jim, this is one of the reasons I read the Observer, the authors are open about their bias.

 

Interestingly, a friend pointed out an article about this very subject. The article talks about how the media has gone to far in their bias, and it is actually a threat to the First Amendment. It's by a guy who worked on the mcGovern, Carter, Hart, Biden and Brown campaigns.

http://www.aim.org/video/pat-caddell-the-audacity-of-corruption/

 

One of the things he points out (indirectly) is that the bias is not just in how stories are covered and what is said about them. It is also in what is reported and how much coverage it gets.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

That old republican cop-out.  "The Media is all against us!  Boo-hoo-hoo".

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

The confirmation bias of the consumer is really the only thing that matters. It's hardly news at all regardless of where you find it, anymore.

 

It may be information that we see thrown in our general direction on a daily basis, but that doesn't make it capitol N "News". Mostly it is product in search of a sponsor that is willing to run their advertisements over what brand of "News" they perceive their target demographic consumers are willing to swallow.

 

You see a lot more ADT, LifeAlert & Jitterbug ads on Fox. Their target demographic are people looking for security and large buttoned cell phones.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Since the 1960s, half this country has demanded social services beyond a base net while the other half refused to pay for it so the politicians borrowed it.  Now the bill is due and the Press and the Left wants those of us who tote the note around here to not only play catch up on $116 TRILLION, but you are trying to order us to the tongue of the wagon to pay even more on a ghastly universal healthcare act that no one read, no one ran the numbers on, and will dump 40 million more on the taxpayer and no more doctors.

 

Then we are treated to a big jerk off and yuck up about reporting the goes well beyond open bias to protect the moron of a President and his malfeasance, both domestically and abroad.  

 

Hey that's just the way we are (ha!) man, were biased.  Deal with it.

 

Yanking polls around.  Calling everyone racist that objects to all this, Ignoring Benghazi, making up crap about what happened and like Pat Caddell said - you guys crossed a line - you are the enemy of the people.

 

We have to go to the British press to find out what's going on.

 

Somebody needs their ass kicked.

 

 

mcdallas
mcdallas

This article is why I read almost every single word that @JimSX writes.  He is brutally honest about everything, including his own bias.  Let's face it, everyone has a bias.  Our job as readers is to take in media from multiple sources across our personal biases and then (and only then) come to a conclusion.

 

I consider it a shame when someone comes to a firm conclusion about anything, much less about matters of politics, having only read one source from one side of the political spectrum.

 

So, you disagree with @JimSX 's bias?  He's still a good writer/journalist, so keep reading him.  You disagree with Glenn Beck?  He's still a good journalist/fact-finder, so keep reading him, too.  The worst thing you can do is write off someone with a lot of clout in the field and miss out on their perspective entirely.  Even if you do think they're a clown.

jmckee3
jmckee3

While I appreciate your point I don't think that is the media's problem with Romney, if anything I think they have been overly kind to him.

 

The media's job is to report facts, figures, plans and positions of a candidate, to report their history and relevant facts from it. Not only has Romney been far from friendly, often bordering on outright hostile and rude towards the media he refuses to give them anything substantive to report on.

 

Romney is a bad candidate, maybe he would be a decent president, no one has anything to go on beyond vague speculation on how he would act in office but it is not the media's job to polish him for their audience, their reporting is merely a reflection of what a bad job he is doing on giving any reason for anyone to vote for him than not being Obama and some incredibly vague cliched policy goals that the math doesn't even add up on.  

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I'll forego commenting on the poll side of things, since I have no idea of the science or math behind them.

 

On your points about media bias, I suspect you are right on target.  It's one of the reasons I read UP.  I know where the bias is coming from, there's no attempt to hide it.  The facts still get presented, and facts are facts.  I've found in a lot of DMN stories the facts are alluded to, but not quite presented.  In that allusion lies the rub, and the reason why I don't buy or read the DMN. (Well, I'm also a cheap bastard so the paywall put me right out).

 

Where I think the big news outfits (cable news, mainly, but also big national print media) loses trust is that they can't make it mean something to local viewers.  A healthy local daily or weekly, regardless of slant, is written from the perspective of the people doing the reading.  Local.  It means something to them.  What meaning can a story about unemployment in Iowa or booming shale extraction in North Dakota (do people really live there?  I've never met anyone from North Dakota...) have to me?  There's no local bite to the story.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Here's the problem the industry faces.  The situation you describe exists right now in television, and they are floundering and blaming things OTHER than competition.  

 

Fox News is the competition.  It beclowns the rest of the media on a near daily basis.  What is their reaction?  Claim that FOX is the biased one.  Why?  Because Fox gets and runs quotes from both sides.  The others don't.  They run quotes from the left side, and sneer at and "provide context" for quotes from the right side.

 

It's no accident that Fox ends up with roughly HALF the entire TV news market.  Does Fox have a bias?  Hell yes.  It's not to "conservative news."  It's to ratings.  There's an underserved market for people who want news without the sneer, people on both sides of the aisle, and Fox is cleaning up on it.  The problem is, rather than responding to that by improving, the other news agencies are responding with more sneering.

albert.finney000
albert.finney000

As one of the directors if the Quinipiac said about their poll weighting favoring democrats, and whether the actual vote vote would reflect their weighting: "unlikely".

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

9/21/12 - New Gallup Poll - U.S. Distrust in Media Hits New High:  A majority or 58% of Democrats trust the press compared with 26% of Republicans and 31% of independents.  The Pew Research Center reports that it's getting only 9 percent of the people it contacts to respond to its questions. That's compared with 36 percent in 1997.  Hence, of that 9%, it is largely Democrats, with Republicans and Independents refusing to participate thus, further skewing the results.  The conclusion the President is ahead is voodoo polling.

 

It'll tighten up days before the election since that's when the polling companies nuts are on the line.  They do not want to go four years in the wilderness branded as missing the call by five or ten points.  Now THAT would be a bad business model.

Embarrassed4Dallas
Embarrassed4Dallas

 @MikeWestEast I can't think of a soul who has a home phone, much less answers one.  Our lines are used for cable and faxes.  The results of any call-in poll would be overwhelmingly older people, who tend to be conservative and can't imagine they would be anywhere near accurate.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @talkermark Shared goals such as... universal healthcare, maybe?

 

*chuckle*

 

There will always be a few Grand Canyon issues, and those wedges will ever be exploited by BOTH sides of our political spectrum for their own ends.

 

Yes, mostly, we all want safety, security and individual freedoms, but we all know that politicians need to justify their existence to keep their jobs, so they need to continually keep us divided by race, morality, class - what have you, and they do it with the willing collusion of the media, which mostly just wants to sell us shit.

 

Talk about'cher match made in heaven. 

talkermark
talkermark

 @Tim.Covington    Spot on Tim.   The idea that journalism is designed to be, or ever has been free of bias is a myth that took root with WaPo & Watergate.  Even a simple browsing of history will enlighten the browser to that fact.  Until Watergate, no media ever hid it's bias.... especially print!  Check out the publications from before the revolution right up until 1974 and you will find that each has a proudly declared bias!   Back in the day newspapers frequently even included that bias in their masthead!  By way of example, the Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle is still in operation.

 

The mainstream (drive-by) media has blown all credibility simply because we are all onto their lie.  Papers like the Observer may publish content that enrages, but honest about their perspective.  

 

The trick is to channel that rage into critical thinking and not into how to blow up an embassy and kill the ambassador.

 

albert.finney000
albert.finney000

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz - in every study, major media folks vote overwhelmingly democrat, and the resulting corruption of a vital piece of the process is sometimes lamented, and for that, we're very sorry.

Chuck_Schick
Chuck_Schick

 @TheCredibleHulk Which brings up my earlier point about corporate control of media - if the intent is to make money and sell ads for ADT, Life Alert and Jitterbug, then the media isn't doing its job of reporting the news that matters, not just the news its audience wants to see.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @holmantx But since the Reagan revolution, the group that doesn't want to pay for it is the income tax payers.  They've borrowed $2.2 trillion from the payroll tax payers. 

MisterMean
MisterMean

 @jmckee3 Romney-the best of a bad lot.  The only canidate in the Republican party primary that was not off the wall was Huntsman.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @RTGolden1 Abu Ghraib: 47 Times on the front page of the NY Times | Benghazi: 2 Times

 

No one died at Abu Ghraib.

 

On June 10, 2008, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, along with co-sponsor Robert Wexler, introduced 35 articles of impeachment against Bush. The House voted 251 to 166 to refer the impeachment resolution to the Judiciary Committee on July 25, where no further action was taken on it.

 

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was the most substantial portion of the articles of impeachment introduced by Kucinich and Wexler.  Five articles addressed allegations partially or tertiarily relating to the war, including the "outing" of Valerie Plame,

 

 Articles 17-20 concerned the treatment of detainees, the "kidnapping" and detention of foreign nationals, and the use of torture. Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse.

 

Our ambassador was tortured and murdered and the administration lied to us regarding why, ostensibly to cover their withdrawal of a security force as the ambassador noted in his diary.  In other words,

 

And precisely because there was no evidence, the seriousness of the charge, Tom Foley, Speaker of the House, had to investigate.

 

In this instance, we have bodies and the American people would like to know why.  Do we have a press or not?.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @everlastingphelps But watching Fox makes you less well informed than the ignorant.  They ARE adept at telling you what they're saying, but getting he said/she said quotes from people who represent only the most facile and political aspects of most issues is not news.  Libertarians and liberals don't agree with R and D.  The facts seldom follow the politics, but Fox seldom scratches below politics.

Chuck_Schick
Chuck_Schick

 @everlastingphelps Corporate control of the media is the problem. Tying the success or failure of a news organization to profit margin/stock price/potential executive bonuses is what led to bias and Fox News.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @holmantx Read Nate Silver's piece. The science of polling has come a long way. It's the basis for all the market study on which industry depends. The polls correct for sample bias. Otherwise they wouldn't even be in the game. Do you think the polling companies get it right when they're measuring attitudes toward Proctor and Gamble products but wrong when they're measuring political leanings? If so, why? Please expand.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @Chuck_Schick Agreed.

 

What is the purpose of the news? Inform people or sell product?

 

I'd suggest that it's mostly the latter and that any "news" (meaning any sort of useful, timely information) that sneaks across is incidental.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @scottindallas The IRS reports we have lost a third of our millionaire filers and 40% of our $10 million filers.  The middle has lost 8% of their income and we can have the biggest tax increase in the history of this planet on 1/1/13 but that doesn't mean they will be able to collect it.  It's called going off the grid.  People are beginning to bug out.  Every man for himself.  If runaway inflation doesn't get us, deflation will.  There is just too many torpedoes loose already in motion for us to just run through the next four years red-lipped wide-eyed and laughing.

 

One way or another, this shit is coming to a screeching halt.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

 @MisterMean  @jmckee3 Huntsman committed the sin of consorting with the enemy. How dare he accept the position of Ambassador to China from a Democrat?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

 @holmantx A fascinating set of facts, to be sure.  Not exactly sure what it has to do with my post, or why you chose to respond to my post with it.  Would have been better posted on its own.  As it didn't address one single thing in my comment, I'll chalk it up to you being overly anxious to throw your points out there, and suffered from premature articulation.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @holmantx  @RTGolden1 What is there to report?  We armed Libya, there were militant Salfists there and this attack was presaged by the Zahwahiri video calling to avenge Al Libi.  You were on to that here before me. 

 

Someone, Hillary, Rice, Obama should have put more guards in place.  Whatever, what would you have done differently in Libya?  Are you suggesting we kept Quaddaffi in power (I did)  or flat out invasion?  Where's the money for that?  That's the problem with most critiques on the issue, there's not a lot there.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @Chuck_Schick "Corporate control"

 

"Profit Margin/stock price/potential executive bonuses"

 

Take all the sneer out of the comment, and there isn't any comment left.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @JimSX  @holmantx Why they get it right for P&G and not for political leanings is that they are serving two different purposes.  The ones for P&G are designed to enable P&G to make their own decisions and react.  (The internals for the campaigns are for this purpose too, and are generally more honest, and historically more accurate.)  

 

The other polls aren't designed to make decisions.  They are designed to influence decisions.  They are about as honest as "nine out of ten dentists recommend Crell!"  The purpose of the survey wasn't to find out what Dentists think, it was to get that 9/10 number.  It's the same with this round of polling.  Whoever is paying for the poll is looking for something.  When it gets closer to the election, the bias will shift to the P&G style poll, they will begin to track the campaign internals, and the pollsters will try to save their reputations.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @holmantx By the way, my own headline for that Gallup poll would have been, "Republican connection to reality hits new low." 

albert.finney000
albert.finney000

 @EastDallasDad 

 

"People with more education tend to vote for Democrats."

 

That's probably why America's public school system is the envy of the world, and major media is so highly regarded these days, both being proudly democrat institutions, smart is as smart does.

 

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

 @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  

Part of the problem is, they usually do not see themselves as paying to little in taxes. They think that others aren't paying enough. All of these people know that, if they feel that they aren't paying enough, they can just cut a check to the government to make up the difference.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

 @RTGolden1  @EastDallasDad  @albert.finney000 I very much enjoy the hypocrisy of many Democrat leaders, such as Al Gore, Jr. among others, who state that they want to raise taxes on the wealthy.  Why don't they just be honest with us and say: "I am not paying enough in taxes.  I want to pay more taxes.  I am going to change the law so that I have to pay more in taxes."

Chuck_Schick
Chuck_Schick

 @everlastingphelps I define it as working in the newsroom, making decisions about coverage and working to report both sides of a story objectively, only to come across a "sacred cow" that must be published no matter what. As Jim said, we know where the bias lies in The Observer, but we don't always see it in The Dallas Morning News or CBS, NBC and ABC. Because of corporate and managerial influence, it's there.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @Chuck_Schick No, I mean how you define "working for."  The law firm that employs me has had lots of publicly traded media agencies as clients, but I've never gotten a check from one.

Chuck_Schick
Chuck_Schick

 @everlastingphelps Publicly-traded companies, as opposed to a privately-owned or non-profit organization. My point is news organizations got off track in the late 1960s, when CBS execs started looking at news budgets and demanding they bring in a better return vs. the public service of journalism, which shouldn't have a profit margin.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @scottindallas  @JimSX  @holmantx Joe Scarborough isn't especially credible lately when he can't tell the difference between a crowd chanting Romney and one chanting Ryan.  He's slipped into "I have a theory, now let's make the facts fit it."

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @everlastingphelps  @JimSX PLus, they will have to tighten it up if these number were indeed ginned since . . . and I know they will worry about it . . . their fat-assess are not going to take the time to vote in the numbers they will need if they have been told the race is decided.  It's like herding cats.  And the Left has no respect or confidence in them.  They know they are not ideologues.  

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @holmantx  @JimSX silly the media and the politicos are like a whore and a john.  I don't know who's who, or, it a reciprocal relationship.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @JimSX And the President cannot be ahead by 8 points in a poll that also says Romney is 19 points ahead in independents.  

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 @JimSX Rasmussen's FAQ says they don't survey cell phones.  Also, the FCC does not allow auto-dialers on cell numbers, which makes these survey companies have to manually dial cell numbers.  Well see.  The only poll that counts is when the TEA Party rolls (ha!).

 

So what happens to the pundit class if he wins? Is it unique to the journalism biz that the customer is always wrong or might it be they collectively tried to suppress the vote? If Romney wins in the face of this kind of journolista thuggery, you may have really hurt yourselves this time.  And you better watch out. Your voter blocks may not show up if your man gets more than 10 points ahead (ha!). When you attempt to suppress the vote, make sure it's not your own. And you know what I’m talking about. Your voter blocks won’t come off the couch unless there is something in it for them. Remember – they are practical and mercenary. They are not ideologues. The rest of America is motivated to put this guy out of office before we are irrevocably disfigured.

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