Sunday, October 05, 2008

"I've yet to detect a liberal bias in the media"

This observation was made either by a guest or by the host (I think it was George McGovern, but there were several unfamiliar voices on the show last week) on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," a weekly radio show that riffs on current events. I've noticed more Bush-bashing than Democrat-bashing on the show, and tried to ignore it, even when it wasn't particularly witty, because I didn't listen to the show much when Clinton was in power so I couldn't judge whether they were being nicer to him than to his successor, and because Bush does make for an easy target no matter how you slice his rhetoric. I suppose I just got a bit fed up at one more insinuation that conservatives just aren't all that lucid, after all.

Seems a bit rich, coming from the folks who truck with people who believe that truth is personal--relative--before anything else, but...well, maybe I'll answer that attitude another time.

On the very radio network where this denial of visible bias was made, I sometimes catch parts of All Things Considered on my afternoon commute. For most of the first summer after I moved to where I could get NPR on the drive home and little else, they talked about the horrors of the war--dealing with casualties and ruined infrastructure in Iraq, broken veterans' bodies and families in America. For most of the second summer, they gave a pretty round introduction to the person of Barack Obama, which brings us to now.

That kind of programming content isn't liberal, is it? Surely, if it were, it would confirm the trope that reality had a liberal bias, wouldn't it?

No, not exactly; and no, it wouldn't; in that order.

Covering the tragedy of war is a fine thing. Keeping it from getting sanitized helps make us circumspect when we consider waging war. Covering nothing but tragedy, however, is not news. Nothing against human interest stories, but the majority of the stories presented covered nothing but the horrific side effects of war--the collateral damage, not the accomplishment or failure of the war's actual, you know, goals.

What about Obama? He's a relative unknown, so isn't it fitting to do a sort of expose series?

Yes, generally, but it's odd that the few allusions to his dark horse candidacy (three years ago, Illinoisians were expressing surprise at the sudden rise of their now-junior senator, who has now spent half his national career running for president) have a faintly messianic tone to them that goes largely unobserved.

I'm not saying the coverage of Obama has been unfair, either for or against him. I'm just saying that coverage of the presidential race had been largely exclusive of any candidate who didn't have a D after his name.

In journalism, that's technically called slant, so maybe saying "there's no bias" is really a half truth.

Oh, all right. They did talk about Sarah Palin for a few days after her selection, but they didn't seem happy about it.

"Wait, Ed: what about all the NPR you didn't listen to? Surely your drive home isn't that long! Or 'ATC' isn't representative of all their reporting!"

No, it's not a long drive, but do you honestly think that, over two years, I would always and only catch the current-administration-defaming segment on the program?

"Shouldn't the media take a skeptical attitude toward what they're being told?"

Yes, and I would expect them to dig for the truth, rather than assume the guys they don't like are lying and run with whatever facts corroborate that assumption. That's not skepticism. Sometimes good things happen, too, and sometimes bad things happen that don't fit our preconceptions. Question everything, including what you'd like to be true.

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