A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Now THAT'S What I'm Talking About

Temporary Costello has a very well-argued response to my recent posts on Snarkiness and bias in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page. How well-argued, you ask? Well enough that he has convinced me of... well, I'll tell you after I post it here in its entirity:

Actually, I thought John's remarks were meant to be a snarky comment on the supposed 'situational ethics' that all us bad old libruls embody. Our interpretations of his comments differ; which goes to show that the observer does indeed, have an impact on what is observed; even if only by the interpretation.

Which I believe was one of Jack Montag's main points. In your review of the Journal's supposed bias, you view the articles through your own preconceptions. If I performed the same review, my results of left/right/neutral are likely to show the Journal editorial page as far more right leaning than yours. But since neither of is is objectively neutral (and we both have freely admitted it) what purpose will such a review serve, except to reinforce our own preconceived notions?

Although admittedly, in the second installment you do admit that the results are not showing as far left as you expected. It is to your credit that you admit that it is not the result you have expected.

But further, I have two issues with you Jourtinel experiment. I have been reading the Journal since before the great merger/assimilation, and my interpretation has been that the paper has been weakened considerably by its loss of clear viewpoint, in trying to appeal to a wider range of opinion. so again, as a liberal, I have viewed the paper's skewing rightward with dismay. As I'm sure, you view the loss of the more right leaning Sentinel. But is either of these viewpoints valid? we are, after all talking about the editorial page.

The editorial page of a paper whose market is the largest metropolitan area in the State, which is decidedly more lefty based on the voting patterns. So based on market forces, the Journal is only responding to the patterns of its market, if left leaning editorials occur slightly more often than right leaning ones.

Which kind of leads to the second issue. I do not understand why it is to be viewed as a problem if a newspaper professes to have an editiorial slant. I understand, of course, that if this bleed over into the news reporting side of things, it can be a problem; but analysis of the news reporting is not being presented. (I have seen the Journal allow its reporting to be biased by the Ownership; but the instance I have in mind is evidence of a rightward bias; we'll leave it for another day)

I know one of the next arguments will be that the area needs to be served by a conservative voice; that there needs to be balance. However, I've noticed that the lack of balance in something like talk radio never seems to bother the people that decry bias in the print media. The question is, why is the rightward slant of talk radio simply evidence of the free market working, but when the result is a leftist orientation, it is bias that needs to be eradicated?

A long comment to some short posts, but hey, you asked for it right?

And by the way, I applaud your attitude towards the snark. In my opinion, Montag was not being intentionally snarky, but as you surmised simply trying to push some buttons. especially in the comment about basketball; I think he actually does feel that way about most sports. For myself, I promise to try to keep comments more constructive, and certainly not personally insulting.

Unless Jack gives me another straight set up line like that one.


Now, here's where you convinced me-- I think you are correct that my analysis of the editorial page is somewhat pointless. It is, by definition, opinion. If every single opinion given were liberal, there would be an issue, but I do think that most of the Crossroads section is balanced. And yes, that's through my own perceptions and biases-- my favorite pair of glasses. That's all we have to work with, after all, which is part of the problem with Jack's snark, and with the rest of your arguments. Everybody has biases and preconceptions-- acknowledging them and trying to factor them into your analysis and thinking on a subject is vital to keeping an open mind and to incorporating new perceptions and analysis into your world view. The alternative is to ignore those biases, pretend they aren't there, and let them color all of our perceptions without realizing that this is what is occuring.

Which is an important distinction in looking at the rest of TC's argument. I do not think the case for talk radio being imbalanced to the right (it is) is equivalent, or even all that similar, to the case for the Main Stream Media (by which I mean all major newspapers and news agencies, network news, and magazines like Time and Newsweek) being biased to the left. The reason why, is that talk radio makes no secret of their bias or pretense to being fair and balanced. If you're listening to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, there's no question of the perspective they're coming from, and you can adjust your own reactions accordingly. Same thing with Air America-- you know where Al Franken is coming from, so don't be surprised when he has an anti-Bush slant on most of his topics.

But the Main Stream Media... well, they still reach many more people than talk radio, and they do maintain the pretense of being impartial. They maintain some sort of extra credibility because they are NEWS agencies, don't you know, and they don't have any biases or agendas. Or, if they do, it's just in their personal lives and doesn't bleed over into their work where they are wholly impartial and rational and without emotional or experiential influence.

Which is just crap, pure and simple.

It might be reasonable and doable in an environment that encourages impariality, dissent and a diversity of opinions, but the staff of the major media news outlets are heavily weighted to the left these days, and such an environment no longer exists. Instead the NEWS (as opposed to editorial commentators, an important distinction as TC points out) media seems to feed in on itself in a monstrous echo chamber effect and then be surprised when alternative media outlets-- blogs, Fox News, talk radio-- present a picture other than the one everyone else is presenting.

So, TC, you're right-- on the editorial page, the MJS can say pretty much whatever it wants. I must change the criteria, and examine the news portions of the MJS if the analysis is to have much meaning. In the meantime, I will leave you all with these egregious examples of bias in the MSM. For I still whole heartedly believe that most of the MSM is heavily tilted to the left-- though I'm willing to entertain arguments to the contrary. Especially if they are as thoughtful and well-argued as TC's.
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