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Santorum and The Bias of Balance

By Judd Legum on May 22, 2005 at 9:19 pm

"Santorum and The Bias of Balance"

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The media — desperate not to appear biased — tries to create balance between competing points of view in each story. This kind of artificial balancing act is, of course, it’s own type of bias. But people tend to get less upset about it, so the media is less concerned.

A perfect example is the coverage of Sen. Rick Santorum’s remarks Thursday night, when he compared opponents of the nuclear option to Hitler. The media couldn’t allow itself to report Santorum’s comments in isolation. Rather, reporters paired Santorum’s comments with those of Frank Lautenberg, who compared filibuster proponents to a Star Wars character named Palpatine.

Never mind that Santorum compared his opponents to a reviled historical figure who murdered millions and Lautenberg’s comments involved a fictional character in a summer movie. Treating Lautenberg’s and Santorum’s comments as equivalents created the balance the media wanted.

Washington Post, 5/19/05:

The number three Republican, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), said Democratic arguments are “the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, I’m in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city?”…Still, it was hard to top Lautenberg…[who] likened Republican leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) to Palpatine.

New York Times, 5/20/05:

One Republican compared Democrats to Hitler, and a Democrat compared the Senate majority leader to a “Star Wars” villain.

New York Times, 5/22/05:

The images of senators taking to the floor and comparing members of the opposing party to Hitler and “Star Wars” villains may only serve to heighten public discontent with the partisan warfare.

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