Friday, April 25, 2014

'Proving' media bias

Of late I’ve been engaging in yet another discussion of so-called liberal media bias, a conservative meme for the last four decades.

One of the people involved posted findings from a professor at UCLA which “proved” that the mainstream media lean liberal because of reporters’ general agreement with the stances of Americans for Democratic Action, which admittedly leans left.

The study, however, assumes something that I, a professional journalist for 16 years, never will: That we who are in the media don’t understand or aren’t exposed to worldviews other than our own. Indeed, by definition we are quite conversant in what other people believe, but we just don’t accept it blindly. And since I’m an evangelical Christian and thus in a world where ideological conservatives dominate, you certainly can’t say that about me.

As such, taking surveys to determine such slant is a lazy person’s way of determining it.

The only practical way to do so is to check actual product — that is, analyze stories by their content. But if you do that … well, you’ll see where the real bias is.

On the right, not the left.

I’ve always been an avid consumer of news, both print and broadcast, even before I went back to school in the 1990s to major in communications. I first began to notice the deliberate slant to the right, in too many stories to mention here, in Christian media in 1983 when I started watching the 700 Club.

One I will highlight, however, was its treatment of the 1984 disruption of an Easter service at my then-church by a group of unemployed steelworkers and some of their pastors. Part of the news hook was that one of the demonstrators was the actor David Soul, brother to one of the pastors — but which the 700 Club failed to mention.

Why was that? It’s likely because the show had interviewed Soul the year before and the anti-union 700 Club probably didn’t want it audience to consider that a follower of Jesus could be a pro-labor activist! After a while I detected a pattern and in 1985 stopped watching it altogether.

And that’s been the case throughout conservative media — leaving out pertinent information or, even worse, adding things that aren’t even true. But many of them don’t even seem to care that the product they put out is flawed; after all, inflaming, not merely informing, appears to be their function.

In 2007 Insight magazine, a publication of the Washington Times, ran a fairly lengthy story on the background of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. While mostly accurate, the story also mentioned that he had been educated in a Muslim madrassa and that it got that information from someone “in the [Hillary] Clinton camp.” The allegations caused a sensation, CNN even sending a crew to Indonesia to see if that was true, and it turns out that neither was. The response from the Times then-executive editor Wes Pruden? “Sue us.” (As if that was going to happen, given that zillionaire Sun Myung Moon was the publisher.)

Remember the “ground zero mosque” in New York City that caused a sensation on the Fox News Channel four years ago? Well, a Muslim-oriented community center called Cordoba House, which included a worship space, was being built 2½ blocks away. (The closest house of worship was an Episcopal church about a block away.) On top of that, the previous December the New York Times ran a story on a hearing concerning Cordoba House in front of a city zoning board; a regular Times reader, I just happened to find that story right when the controversy broke. The imam who headed Cordoba House had condemned the terrorist attack by Islamic extremists on Sept. 11, 2001 early and often — but that still wasn’t enough to stem the outrage.

It might be that, in the rush to prove “bias,” some people ought to look in the mirror.

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