12 October 2016

Neither balanced nor biased

Nation magazine columnist Eric Alterman is sick and tired of hearing about liberal media bias. He also rejects the idea that the media should be evenhanded in its treatment of the two major parties. Objectivity, he insists, is not the same as evenhandedness or neutrality. "Simple accuracy is what annoys so many conservative complainers," he writes. He concedes, however, that "from a social-science standpoint this assertion is almost impossible to prove." Without sympathy for Republicans, I'd think it impossible to prove by any standard. All media are physically limited and all decisions on how to fill limited space with information are subjective. Editors make personal choices on what's newsworthy that can't be described as objective. The most obvious example from this election cycle is the question of Hillary Clinton's e-mail. For Republicans and Trump supporters the irrefutable proof of media bias is the perceived refusal by the "mainstream" media to pay adequate attention to the email controversy,  much less attention equal to that paid to the Trump scandals his supporters deem irrelevant to the issues of this campaign. Could Alterman claim that the email scandal has received an objectively appropriate amount of coverage, or that it can be determined objectively to be less relevant than Trump's taxes or his fantasies of sexual conquest? In reality he shouldn't have to. It should not be a scandal that media entities, being private,  have self-interested, subjective agendas and are not public utilities with some statutory obligation to treat all political parties equally -- despite the occasional liberal Democratic call for the revival of the Fairness Doctrine. The news media has been partisan practically from the beginning and the public should accept this and act accordingly in the marketplace. If the media seems especially biased against Trump it may be because they fear that he or his supporters do see media as a public utility, the content of which should be determined by the electoral majority and its representatives, and are less concerned about fairness than with turning it into a propaganda tool for Trumpism. In that context private bias might be preferable.


Anonymous said...

""Objectivity, he insists, is not the same as evenhandedness or neutrality. "Simple accuracy is what annoys so many conservative complainers,""

The problem isn't so much "objectivity", but the fact that that objectivity is ONLY shown towards the right. Where is the objectivity when speaking about Clinton's many, many, many failures as the Secretary of State, or her completely do-nothing attitude as NY's junior Senator? Where is the objectivity towards the Clinton Foundation?

It isn't the objectivity those on the right complain of, its the hypocrisy. Which is ironic, considering that the bastion of conservatism - Fox News - does the exact same thing towards the left and no conservatives complain about that.

Samuel Wilson said...

Alterman's complaint is that conservatives call it bias when reporters show them to be wrong on the facts. His longterm complaint is that too many news entities bend over backwards, out of a misguided sense of bipartisan fairness, not to call out Republicans when they seem self-evidently wrong. He would no doubt say that Clinton's policy failings pale in comparison to the more fundamental inadequacies of Trump in particular and Republicans in general -- but there is no way that can be described as an "objective" appraisal unless you agree with the premises behind it, which aren't necessarily self-evident.

Anonymous said...

"Alterman's complaint is that conservatives call it bias when reporters show them to be wrong on the facts."

Liberals are just as guilty of that. Consider the current feminist-led "gamer-gate". Making the exact same arguments politicians on the right made back in the 90s about how video games make players violent, desensitized to the pain of others, objectify women, etc., etc., etc. Even though those charges were proved false back in the 90s through a number of scientifically-based studies. Yet the feminists refuse to accept that those facts have already proven their accusations false.

I cannot take any of these people seriously when they are all guilty of the same behaviors they denounce in others.