Media bias isn’t all about the choice of pundits

Alright, this is subtle, but bear with me. Liberals like to scream that Fox News is “slanted to the right,” because on Fox News you hear a lot of conservative analysts. The thing is, on Fox what you usually hear are both sides. But because the media has for so long only presented the liberal point of view, stories in which conservatives are interviewed feel “unbalanced” because the conservative view is being presented at all.

The other thing is that so much of what Fox does is news analysis rather than straight news delivery. (O’Reilly, Hannity & Colmes, etc.) When I studied journalism in college, in the early 80’s, news analysis – meaning any statement that interpreted an event for readers rather than just reporting the facts – had to either be identified as analysis, or worked into a straight news story as a direct quote attributed to one of the sources interviewed for the story.

Where the liberal media has succeeded in the past 25 years is in sneaking left-friendly analysis into straight news articles, disguised as fact, so that the general public has no idea there’s even a difference anymore.

One very minor proof point of this theory is that “news analysis” in my hometown daily (an award-winning paper, by the way) used to be clearly marked as such. These days, the identifying label is completely gone and the analytical articles share the front page space with the straight news, with nothing to distinguish the opinion from the straight reporting.

Today the Associated Press has a more concrete example of what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of thing that drives conservatives crazy, because it never gets held up for scrutiny. Opinion passes as fact. In this seemingly “straight news item” about Fred Thompson having talks with the Iowa GOP about their traditional “straw poll” event, the reporter notes that both Giuliani and McCain have stated they will not attend the event. Without further set-up, clarification or attribution, the article then states:

“The departure of the two rendered the event all but meaningless and essentially cleared the way for Mitt Romney to win the nonbinding contest. The former Massachusetts governor has focused time and money on the straw poll, traditionally a precursor to the Iowa caucuses in January.”

The problem is, whether the departure of McCain & Giuliani “rendered the event all but meaningless” is entirely an opinion – it’s analysis, because it portrays the subjective impact of the factual events. I’m quite certain that the Iowa GOP does not consider its event “meaningless,” because the event has in fact been a good indicator in the past of who will win the Iowa Caucuses. But the AP has decided that the event is meaningless without McCain & Giuliani, and so they write that into the otherwise factual story as if it were indeed an accepted fact.

This is exactly like Al Gore claiming that “the debate is over” on the science of global warming, as if his team’s analysis of the scientific data is the only possible correct conclusion. It’s a lazy way of freeing oneself from the obligation of having to argue one’s case – you just say, “look, this is a FACT, you can’t dispute it, so I don’t want to talk about it.”

I’m not saying that this article is in itself any kind of smoking gun about media bias. It is just one example, though, of what the traditional media has been doing for years – disguising left-leaning opinion/analysis as “fact,” then slipping it undisputed into news stories so that the reader will be left with a talking point that favors one side of the argument.

Had the reporter attributed this statement to someone interviewed for the article, it would have been fine to include it – unbalanced without a quote from the other side to refute it, of course, but at least the subjective statement would not have been presented as a fact.

This may seem to be a subtle difference, but it’s one of the rules of honest, fair journalism.

At least, it used to be.

Here’s the link to the full story so you can see the context of the quote I pulled.

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on my DMweblife blog in June 2007. The link to the original story used as the example here is unfortunately no longer functioning.

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