Media Bias: A Dissection (3/3)

Surya,

I read your response and took a look at the David Pell piece you sent. While I appreciate the admission that media bias exists, I have to disagree with Mr. Pell’s premise. Specifically, he writes:

The media is biased against Donald Trump. He’s earned that bias time and again. He has maligned the media, invented stories, lied during interviews, repeatedly made false claims of false news.

Two problems with this:

  • You can’t “earn” media bias any more than an unarmed man can “deserve” to be shot by the police. Media ethics don’t cease to exist because the person the media is covering is judged unethical. I have covered many people with whom is strongly disagreed. That did not give me the right to abandon the precepts of good journalism and turn my publication into a tabloid. On a related note, and to reiterate a point I made before, bad behavior on the part of journalists only serves to prove President Trump’s point. In other words, how exactly is publishing fake news a good way to defend against Trump’s claim that the media publishes fake news?
  • Pell is intentionally limiting the scope of his history to imply a false cause and effect. His error is pretty obvious. He has chosen as his starting point President Trump’s assault on the media, conveniently neglecting everything that happened before it. He wants us to believe the media was just sitting there, being all impartial and innocent, and President Trump viciously attacked them for no reason. Sorry, I’m going to have to call “bullshit” because, you know, I actually have a memory.

That said, there is a compelling explanation (get it?) in there for what is happening, which you have elucidated as well. It’s refreshing to have someone call it like it is. Clearly, the people in the media are Democrats who wanted Secretary Clinton to win. They were devastated when she lost and could not handle the fact someone they deeply despised beat her. They decided to become the Opposition Media and join the resistance! But instead of doing what most presidents do and standing by while the media lobbed one tomato at him after another, Trump broke with tradition (his MO) and attacked them right back. This has led to a game of escalation where both sides are now shattering every norm and rule of decorum we have ever known.

I find it amusing that the media can only see one side of this. They routinely talk or write about how President Trump is bringing down the office of the President. Meanwhile, they also often talk or write about the sacred role of the media as the watchdog of government and the Fourth Estate. Yet somehow they are unable to see that their reaction to Trump — the decision to abandon good journalism and media ethics — has equally diminished their institution. When you point the finger, you have three fingers pointing back at you.

Moving on to some of your other points:

You argue the Trump administration shouldn’t get the “benefit of the doubt” because of a long list of “stretched truths.”

Again, media ethics are not relative. The very essence of ethical objectivity is to give the subject you are covering the “benefit of the doubt.” Moreover, as our mothers taught us, “He did it, too!” is not a valid argument. Since I love Latin logical fallacies these days, I’ll share that this one is called tu quoque (literally “you also”). In other words, hypocrisy is not a defense. The media is not justified in stretching the truth because they believe Trump stretches the truth.

You write: “You can see clear, incisive reporting of the reality of the situation *or* deeply biased reporting of events intended to distort and skew how it is interpreted.”

No, sorry. I have been very detailed in pointing out the flagrant bias in the story I selected. (See, in particular, the places where I wrote “WTF?”) There is no defensible ambiguity in those examples. They cannot be described as “clear, incisive reporting” and definitely not as “the reality of the situation.” They represent editorializing of the worst order, and they are about speculations by anonymous people, not verifiable reality.

You ask: “Is using the word ‘favorite’ unfair?” etc.

No, I don’t think it’s unfair. That’s a perfectly fair opinion to have. It just doesn’t belong in a news story. It belongs on the editorial page. In a news story, a journalist is required to quote someone as expressing this opinion — or not write it.

Next, you talk about an article you think should be titled, “Democratic leaders wage state level war to save Obamacare.”

I thank you for adding Exhibit C to my list and pointing out another, subtler form of media bias you correctly identify as lack of context. Of course, I disagree that my example was a stretch. Please do check out that article again, especially the “WTF” items and the places where the journalist pretends she is a mind reader who can also see the future.

Also, to be fair (like a good journalist should), I will point out that WaPo has published this piece in a section called “Wonkblog.” Readers have a different expectation of blog posts, so it could be argued that the strict rules of objective journalism don’t apply. That said, any ethical blogger would also give proper context to his or her posts so as not to mislead readers. Such a blogger would also recognize that the brand at the top of the page and stated in the root domain means they must live by a higher standard befitting the reputation of the publication hosting their posts.

Returning to your point, I get what are you saying about me. My reaction to a piece is subjective, and what sets me off is not always going to be the worst example of media bias an objective observer could find. I accept that, and I thank you for pointing it out.

Speaking of exhibits, I have already added Exhibit B to the bottom of the original post and, when I have additional strong reactions to examples of media bias, I will add those to the list as well. Why? Because it’s therapeutic!

As a self-check, I am also going to wait to see if my “Spin Cycle” outline holds up. As I write, the story we are talking about in this exchange is already losing steam and looks to be at the end of its cycle. My bet is that no one will remember or talk about this alleged leak to the Russians in another week or so. But, of course, by then we’ll be talking about the next “explosive” story. Let’s see if that one follows the same cycle this one did, or if I need to throw out my outline and admit it was too clever by half.

Jordan

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