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Shocking True Tales of Media Bias

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Shocking True Tales of Media Bias"

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I don’t begrudge anyone their living, so if people get attractive job offers to go work at Pete Peterson’s new Fiscal Times more power to them. But as we move into a world where more-and-more journalism will be financed on a non-profit basis, I think we could use less of this kind of unconvincing defensiveness from Stan Collender:

At least as far as I can tell, TFT is going to try to be a legitimate and unbiased fiscal news reporting organization. The reporters on the team all have outstanding reputations for objective writing. More important, those that I know would sooner sell apples on the street corner than have their integrity questioned by writing for a biased source.

In addition, I can say from personal experience that in the two blogs posts I’ve done for TFT (one already published; the other submitted about 20 minutes ago), as well as the organizational meetings, e-mails, and phone calls I’ve had with the editor and publisher, no one has ever told me what to write or what position to take.

I worked for the American Prospect full-time for about three years and have written a column for TAP Online ever since leaving. And in all that time, no one has ever told me what to write or what position to take. But nobody thinks The American Prospect is an “unbiased” news source. It’s very biased! The thing is that if you staff your publication with reasonably intelligent people you don’t need to give them explicit orders to conform to the line. Nor does producing a coherent “line” require writers to sell out their integrity. I have a lot of views on a lot of things. When I was at TAP, most of my opinions were either in line with my editors or else were on subjects where the bosses didn’t have strong feelings. But there were also issues where my editors did have very strong feelings and I didn’t agree with their take, and so to make my life easier I tended not to focus on those issues.

That’s just how life works, and since media is heading in this direction I think we may as well get used to it. The real issue with a news source isn’t whether it’s “unbiased” but whether or not it in some way enhances your understanding of the issues. The Peterson Foundation seems to have decided it wants to hire smart, capable people so I assume they’ll do smart, capable work. But obviously the very notion that the country needs smart, capable people working at a well-financed Fiscal Times rather than a Poverty Times or an Infrastructure Investment Times or a Tax Cut Times or a Climate Times reflects Peterson’s distinctive and contestable worldview. Unfortunately, by definition nobody who depends on food stamps to feed her family is simultaneously a billionaire capable of financing lots of food stamp advocacy.

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