Saturday, January 13, 2007

Readers beware: the myth of bias-free media - The Daily of the University of Washington Online

Mr. Brandon Dennis is the resident social conservative columnist for UW's student newspaper and I've been meaning to fisk his columns for sometime because I honestly think they are bad because he tries to prove too much (or are just plain wrong or the facts and sources he uses are very dubious e.g. World News Daily).

In this article, he makes (at the very conclusion) that because all forms of media have an inherent bias, there is a need to take more than one viewpoint to come to a conclusion. An entirely, eminently sensible position to take. You need two lines to create a point and you definitely need to read more than the Straits Times if you ever want to be a debater. And as they concede, they do have a pro-government bias.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, except when you're effectively the only mainstream English daily, I would argue that you have a duty above and beyond that of simply being partisan. And in fact, with their history of misquoting opposing viewpoints, one wonders where the notion of journalistic integrity has gone.

Anyway, the real problem is that he also tries to exonerate (in a fashion) Fox News by attempting to tar all other forms of media with the same brush . Oh and he starts off with a little homily about how research showed him that the PATRIOT Act was really not as bad as the media makes it out to be and gives this little exchange between him and another student who has apparently sipped from the cup of liberalism and therefore cannot comprehend it might not be terribly bad.

To be fair, it's not all that bad, but let's just say that the Executive's actions with regards to warrantless NSA wiretapping and the SWIFT cooption incident demonstrate bad faith and a deliberate subversion of the rule of law. After all, Congress may be acting ultra vires with its passing of FISA or the War Powers Resolution but the appropriate course of action is to get it struck down not go ahead and flout what is a properly enacted statute.

Anyway, I realise that this is not my usual style of fisking but I typed out the comments already and I have no desire to reformat them to address his column paragraph by paragraph. So here it is....

Fallacy 1: Equivocation in mixing unconscious bias with actual bias (hmmm…maybe the word prejudice should be used here) and lumping all forms of media together (except for the poor talk radio hosts) and thus using it in a misleading fashion in an attempt to tar all other non-Fox networks and forms of media.

Which leads us to…

Fallacy 2: Non-sequitor. Even if all forms of media were actually deliberately biased (an unsustainable assertion as it is), the question must be the extent of their biasness i.e. some must be less biased than others. Included in this assessment must be a determination of whether there is a good faith attempt at being non-baised e.g. AP, Bloomberg etc. And furthermore, that doesn’t take Fox off the hook for pushing a very particular agenda.

Which brings us to…

Distinction 1: Editorial and News. Whether "old" or "new" media and without a definition here I will presume old refers to non-internet, non-news cable network types of media, which in turn refers to "new" media, there is a distinction to be made between the editorial section (where the paper sure takes a particular stance or conscious bias) and the news section where I will note that the best Mr Dennis comes up with is unconscious bias. Thus while I may dislike CNN’s Lou Dodd for pushing his populist rhetoric, it doesn’t permeate the rest of its news programming unlike say Fox. There is a reason why this distinction exists and conflating the two is being sloppy at best and disingenuous at worst.

Distinction 2: Reality of news reporting. More often than not, the frustration with the "old media" is that in their attempt to be balanced, they lose objectivity and that’s bias. See e.g. the pre-Dover trial media presentation of Intelligent Design. The entire he-said, she-said approach gives the impression of a scientific debate where there was none. This is balanced but it sure isn’t objective.

Issue 1: Does reality have a "socio-political-economic liberal bias"? Or conservative one? This is relevant in assessing whether a report or an entire network is biased in the sense that it is non-objective. Obviously, if reality has a liberal bias, then reporting in a liberal fashion isn’t being biased but simply being true to reality. Sometimes there is a right and a wrong answer (see e.g. the perpetual false dichotomy with regards to the adult and embryonic stem-cell debate or even that of globalization and "social justice") and by deliberately ignoring the strongest arguments of the other side, that’s real bias. However, ignoring factual distortions and not giving the other side a venue to perpetuate those views is not being biased, that’s just being objective.

First Amendment 101: I’m not entirely sure if Mr Dennis ever did any research or took any courses on First Amendment law and in particular libel because his example about the (deliberate) misquotation (“I am sure that there is no such thing as a fairy” becoming “I am…a fairy”) is just flat out wrong.

That is a libelous statement that would not receive First Amendment protection. Even under the most stringent protections available under New York Times v. Sullivan, the public official simply has to show that a false statement was make with actual malice i.e. that it was false or made recklessly in disregard of the truth.

The defamatory imputation is what is important here and therefore the ellipses are of no bar to a successful suit made here because the average reader of reasonable intelligence will take it to constitute an admission of homosexuality whereas the original statement of which it was made had nothing to do to that effect.

I realize that not all of us are lawyers or necessarily well read in a particular area of law but seriously where’s the fact checking in this regard? Kinda reminds me of the Ridge and some particularly sloppy articles written.


Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home