Americans distrust their news media as much as they distrust their politicians. The word associated with this mistrust is "bias." Bias usually means favoring one point of view over another. I would argue that the greatest bias in media is the authority bias which predisposes journalists to seek out the opinions of authorities and experts. Now, there is nothing wrong with expertise, but authority must be earned. Despite this, "experts" proliferate in news organizations, usually because they're been considered an expert for so long that their authority is rarely questioned. This also means they can lie, exaggerate and otherwise insult our intelligence while journalists merely nod and offer, "well, that's interesting." Now, there are real journalists that ask tough questions and there are real experts whose advice we should seek, but the problem is not with charlatans posing as experts--the problem is the journalists that let them on the air in the first place. Journalists are supposed to be gatekeepers, that is, they adhere to some minimal professional standard of conduct that vets who gets to talk on the air as an expert. Editors work in the same fashion, correcting journalists under their tutelage. Unfortunately this gatekeeper system has broken down entirely, it would seem.
My victim today is the idiot Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News and recent author (with John F. Harris) of The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008. This is not advice explicitly aimed at Democrats, but clearly their arguments are designed to show how Democrats have fucked up in the last two presidential elections. Fair enough. We should expect these two men to have some insight into the political process, right? Here's Halperin talking with Bill O'Reilly. We report, you decide:
O’REILLY: “Factor follow-up” segment tonight, a somewhat surprising ABC News Internet posting. It’s entitled “How the Liberal Old Media Plans to Cover the Last Two Weeks of the Election.”
The article was written by Mark Halperin, the political director of ABC News, and also the co-author of a brand new book called “The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008.” Mr. Halperin joins us from New York.
This is a very tough piece of analysis that you wrote. I’m surprised. I’m not stunned, because you are a gutsy guy. You have done this before. But let’s walk through it. Who is the liberal old media?
MARK HALPERIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, ABC NEWS: Well, Bill, as you know in this country, we’ve got these old news organizations. The major networks, ABC, where you used to work, The New York Times, The Washington Post.
These organizations have been around a long time. And for 40 years, conservatives have looked with suspicion at them. I think we’ve got a chance in these last two weeks to prove to conservatives that we understand their grievances. We’re going to try to do better, but these organizations still have incredible sway. And conservatives are certain that we’re going to be out to get them. We’ve got to fix that.
O’REILLY: All right, so you’re actually admitting, you the political director of ABC News, that CBS News, maybe your own network tilts left?
HALPERIN: We write in the way to win (INAUDIBLE) that over the years, there a lot of examples. What CBS News did in the 2004 election with the president’s National Guard record. Lots of examples.
If I were a conservative, I understand why I would feel suspicious that I was not going to get a fair break at the end of an election. We’ve got to make sure we do better, so conservatives don’t have to be concerned about that. It’s just - it’s not fair. (emphasis mine, garbled text formatting the fault of lousy text editors)
Regardless of the grievances of conservatives, is there any shortage of national outlets for them? What liberal bias is Halperin talking about? As near as I can tell, these days conservatives scream bias when the facts don't suit them. Has liberal bias simply become another way of saying, factuality bias?
To really make my case I would cut-and-paste numerous examples of this. There are plenty of web sites and books that can give you that information. I'll give you one example, since I actually saw it on television (I rarely watch televised news). Former White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace in the "Free Speech" segment of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric claimed that "no matter how discontent some voters are, they really don't want to see Democrats in control of the Congress." No comment from Katie. "Really," I said out loud while watching this. Every poll I can think of for the past several months that ask generic preference for Democrats or Republicans in control of Congress has been on the side of Democrats. So what is Wallace basing her assertion on? Obviously she's just being a political hack, making shit up on the air to benefit her party. So why then is she listed as a "CBS News political analyst?" There's no analysis going on here. Just wishful thinking. And why isn't Katie challenging Wallace's assertion? Surely she's seen the same polls as me, right? And if she has, and hasn't challenged Wallace, then am I supposed to believe this is "liberal bias?"
Give me a fucking break.
That is why Halperin is such a hack. Only one example, yes, but this kind of shit happens all the time. Maybe 40 years ago, when conservatives actually were considered pariahs by the national news media you could credibly claim liberal bias. But today?
Give me a fucking break.
If anything, there is a conservative bias. But its not because journalists have become more conservative. Its because of the authority bias. When conservative Republicans have been in control of Congress for the past 12 years and held the presidency for the last 6, journalists are going to gravitate towards them because they are the ones in power. And when conservatives have organized themselves in non-governmental organizations--think tanks, alternative media, PACs and lobbying coalitions--is it any wonder that they are turned to as experts? That fact that idiots like Halperin and Couric don't (or won't) recognize this is pathetic. But the one-sided conversation that results is all the more ominous because of the conspicuous lack of factuality.
Journalists need to become referees. Arbiters of fact. Couric should have immediately challenged Wallace with polls that directly contradict her claim that most Americans don't want Democrats in control of Congress. Conservatives would have screamed bias but there is no bias at work, just getting to the facts. People like Wallace shouldn't even be on news shows since they are offering no intelligent analysis, just political talking points. But that doesn't mean you can't have spirited debate between two sides on an issue (not any and every issue, mind you, which is a separate problem in the news today). Let the two sides argue. But when one of them lies, distorts the facts or misinterprets reality, the journalist-as-referee steps in and corrects them. What's so hard about that? The problem is the pressure that is placed on news organizations by conservative activists, the kind Halperin was talking about. But this isn't about bias, its about the fucking facts. If journalists don't have the cajones to challenge lies and stand for the truth, then they have no business being journalists. I know Couric is just reading the news from a teleprompter, but shouldn't she at least bring the basics of journalism 101 to her program?
I've never claimed that this site is nonpartisan, because it isn't. But I believe in the truth. If I pick on conservatives more than liberals it is because the former have adopted fantasy more readily than the latter. I believe this is because their ideology has failed and they have no where else to go. That doesn't mean news has to devote time to their pathetic display.