Sunday, October 05, 2008

media bias

Just last Friday I overheard an argument where someone was arguing that the media is not biased. This bias has been so extensively documented that it would be astonishing to me that anyone can deny it --except for the fact that the people who deny it get all of their information from the mainstream media. Their attitude seems to be: "I get all of my information from the mainstream media, and I have seen no information about mainstream-media bias, therefore it must not exist."

The documentation has been in several forms:

1. Studies showing that the media is predominantly Democrat. This does not prove that they can't be unbiased, but surely it gives weight to the charge that they are biased --especially since Republicans knew about the lopsided party affiliation of the media decades before it was documented. If this were science, we would say that the media-bias hypothesis has predictive power. And besides that, the very lopsidedness of the field is strong evidence of political bias in hiring and promotions. If they would stoop to that, why not to political bias in reporting?

2. Case studies showing a set of similar stories where some of the stories would harm Republicans and some would harm Democrats, along with some sort of measure of how much the press covered each story. They overwhelmingly concentrate on stories that are harmful to Republicans.

3. Case studies like this showing how the press responds to a story that might embarrass a Democrat by presenting only the evidence that tends to exonerate the Democrat and ignoring the rest.

The evidence is overwhelming, yet people continue to be ignorant of the evidence or are deliberately obtuse. In the argument that I overheard, the Republican asked why the press doesn't give quizzes to Democrats like they have done to Republicans (specifically George Bush, and Sarah Palin). The Democrat said that it's because Republicans claim to be the party that's "not smart but moral". When challenged on that ridiculous claim, he backed off to the claim that Republicans act like regular guys instead of like intellectuals, so that provokes reporters into trying to show that they are stupid.

Does that make sense to you? What's more entertaining, embarrassing someone who says that he's just a regular guy or embarrassing someone who thinks that he's smarter than everyone else? If it were really about the candidates self-presentation, then the press would be trying to embarrass the "really, really smart" Democrats with quizzes and they would try to catch the Republicans eating brie at the ballet. But of course, that's not what it is. Reporters think Republicans are stupid because they think anyone who doesn't agree with their political positions is stupid. And that's why they quiz Republicans.

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