News Bias?

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Last night I was listening to what I think must have been the BBC news feed on the local NPR station. (At first I was remembering it as the Canadian show "As It Happens", which is on just before it, but I just listened to the end of their show online, and it's not there. So it must have been the beginning of the BBC news.) They were reporting what they seemed to consider Secretary of Defense nominee pulling a fast one on President Bush. They reported him as having said that we are not winning in Iraq in response to a question from a senator on the Armed Services Committee. I remember wondering if that amounted to an admission that we were losing, because I thought someone could think exactly that without thinking that we were losing. In fact that seems to me to be the most honest view of the situation at the moment. But they immediately changed the subject without addressing the issue. (It also struck me as a rather gleeful announcement of something that can't by any morally healthy person be judged as a good thing.)

This morning NPR was reporting on the same event. They reported it a little differently, however. They said the same thing, pretty much, but then they added something that I think is pretty crucial to honest reporting (given what I now know because of the NPR report). Without pausing, the reporter followed with something like "but immediately added that he did not think we were losing either". I mentioned this to Sam, and she said the BBC feed that NPR was playing last night had at least three times repeated that clip about not winning without even bothering to mention that Gates didn't think we weren't losing either. This is three times repeated in just an hour-long broadcast. This is also despite their obviously being aware of his full statement, since they have it on their website.

But then I guess this is just the more balanced news media that you get outside the U.S. where the media aren't beholden to the Bush Administration the way a lot of the lefty blogs are telling us the U.S. media are. I guess if you're not beholden to the Bush Administration, you can ignore any facts that are inconvenient to report. I'm having trouble thinking of any excusable reason, never mind a justifiable one, not to report such an important qualification by the nominee. It strikes me pretty obvious evidence of an agenda in news reporting. It was just this kind of thing on CNN (as compared with MSNBC and Fox News) during the original Iraq invasion that led me to stop watching that network. They would report American soldiers shooting on civilians without reporting that most of those disguised as civilians at roadblocks were getting up to the roadblock and then blowing up their vehicles. They so clearly wanted to show anything bad about the war and refused to report facts that both the other networks were including that would mitigate the negative appearance.

2 Comments

I assume this is the single swallow that is required to declare it officially summer in your part of the world? Seriously which side of this do you REALLY think has more often and more seriously "massaged" the truth?

Actually, it was sort of summerish last week, but you're about four or five days late for that. It's very clearly winter at this point, none of which is relevant to the fact that the BBC regularly spins things against the allied effort in Iraq, in some ways unconscionably.

I don't actually know of any instances when the U.S. media have as a group massaged the truth about Iraq in any way that is comparable. They paint a much bleaker picture of how things are going than many of the people who are actually there fighting would consider accurate. On the individual level, you might get bias, but it's more often against the war rather than for it. Particular outlets often enough do not report something prominently if it's in Bush's favor while reporting something prominently that isn't in his favor. They report leaks because they can, without concern for how many lives are at stake. There's been quite a lot of this lately. But if we're comparing U.S. vs. other countries, the U.S. media pales in comparison to media in other countries.

As I've said many times on this blog, I have no problems if a particular individual acknowledges a political orientation and takes delight in reporting things favorable to their own side. Media organizations are private organizations, and they can do what they want. I do think it's immoral to pretend you are neutrally reporting when your political views are noticeably influencing how your report and what you report, and that is so obviously the case in this example. The refreshing thing about Fox News is that they distinguish between being fair and balanced (which is to include both sides on an issue) and being neutral (which is not to have a view). I don't see that distinction being made on other networks, because they would then have to admit that their entire programming staff is a good deal to the left of the center of the country's voters.

MSNBC does this often enough that I have patience with them when they pretend neutrality. Many other media outlets refuse to admit that they aren't neutral. I heard a discussion shortly before Peter Jennings died between him, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw, and all three of them insisted that there is no way that their political views affect their reporting, and that's just nonsense. All three are quite left of center, and there are plenty of ways that affects how they select and present the news. They ought to admit it.

I freely admit that the larger presence of conservatives in the Fox News programming affects some of what they do. I happen to think it means they include what the others include but aren't so slanted. Sometimes they will present something in a way that's slanted conservative, but that seems to me just to provide a balance to the overwhelming presence of left-leaning news programming in other outlets.

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