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Beyond “Bias”

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"Beyond “Bias”"

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For an institution shot through with liberal bias, the liberal media sure does seem to love conservatives. On one cable network, for example, a former Republican congressman hosts a three-hour show every weekday. And that’s the most liberal of three networks! Impressive. Similarly, The New York Times is so liberal that it not only has Bill Kristol as a columnist, but also decided to publish this item about how unfairly liberal the media is, citing tons and tons of examples of the liberal media itself calling out its own dastardly liberal biases. Why, with the liberal media so eager to condemn its own biases and give jobs to all manner of rightwing hacks, it’s almost as if the liberal media not so liberal.

But that’s just some silly blogger talking. In the real world, all responsible people know that when conservatives win elections, the only responsible thing is for the media to give more platforms to conservatives in order to reflect the country’s conservative sentiments. Meanwhile, when conservative lose elections, only responsible thing is for the media to give more platforms to conservatives in order to counterbalance the liberal bias that caused the losses. Also to publish articles about how conservative the country’s sentiments are. But never, ever, ever wonder how liberal the media could really be if it reacts to conservative electoral defeat by proclaiming the country to be essentially conservative.

Oh well.

But seriously. One contribution that Media Matters has made to the field that I think hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves is the attempt to shift media criticism out of the hoary territory of accusations of “bias.” Simply put, it’s not possible for working journalists to purge themselves of bias, nor is it possible for readers or critics to adduce definitive proof of bias. Making spurious claims of bias in order to try to get journalists to pursue the impossible task of eliminating their mental biases is impossibility squared. It’s an intellectually bankrupt dead-end. By contrast, one can just critique the work. Point out errors of fact or logic, or observe the relative balance of coverage toward this or that.

I don’t, for example, think I ever saw a television network or mass-media publication provide a cogent explanation of the differences between Barack Obama’s climate change proposal and John McCain’s climate change proposal even though the proposals contained some important differences. I have no idea whether this was attributable to “bias” or even how I would know. Nor am I sure which candidate would benefit from exploring this question. I am, however, sure that I’ve several times seen their plans described as being the same on the grounds that they’re both “cap and trade” plans. That’s false. Does the habit of saying it reflect bias? And bias toward whom? Who knows and who cares? What matters is the information — accurate information about important topics should be conveyed in a clear manner.

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