Monday, May 06, 2002

comAs simple-minded debate barrels on about the success of Bernard Goldberg's "Bias," I still don't think I'll read it, since I despair that either Goldberg, his critics, or his supporters fully understand the following:

A) any professional organization has its subculture and social norms, so the presence of unspoken assumptions and political correctness (partisan, class-wise, or otherwise) makes the media elite a normal organization (as much as they brag to have superhuman powers of objectivity), not a sinister conspiracy. No organization is as good as it needs to be at overcoming its institutional routines and worldview to empathize with as many people as it needs to. The problem is the media's flaws are most visible, since their job is to communicate to us about how they see the world. In the case of the media elite, the norms are the product of homogenous educational background, unimaginative professional routines, self-censorship, etc. Yes, the norms do include Democratic voting. But that is not the full story of what is going on here.

Conservative inconsistencies:

- Most conservative critics refuse to demonstrate noble objectivity or even balance in their critiques. They slap the liberal label on everyone who isn't them, even though profound political differences exist across the left half of the political spectrum. I'm saying this as a Nader voter, but I can make a good case that Al Gore does not equal Al Sharpton; the difference between these men, though, is negligible to most conservatives. Meanwhile, conservatives disallow liberal complaints about the media--its corporate homogenization, its reinforcement of old-fashioned gender and family norms, its pre- and probably post-Enron under-covering of corporate crime, etc., etc. To say that only conservative critiques of the media are valied is simple-minded and, yup, biased.

Stephanie Salter puts it well in the SF Chronicle:

From where I sit -- a grouchy member of mainstream journalism for 30 years - - it looks like a dozen giant, for-profit conglomerates now own most major print and electronic news outlets. The day that their agenda is to pander to welfare moms, labor unions, peace and affirmative action advocates, environmentalists and enemies of unbridled capitalism -- well, that's the day I'll be the happiest damned liberal in the whole global village.

- Second, conservatives can't gush enough about the human capacity to overcome social environment when it comes to poverty and crime, affirmative action (which I actually oppose), and so forth. And yet they so broadly deny most reporters' capability to do just that--to overcome certain supposed social influences to be liberal and slanted and instead do a professional, balanced job. The vast majority of reporters are far more interested in doing a professional, balanced job than they are in political activism. When they fail, the possibility that they are bloodthirsty party hacks is only one among several more likely explanations.

In my humble opinion, the most important problems in the media are 1) overall dumbing down and poor writing quality of news stories, 2) the warped interest in entertainment stories as actual news, 3) presenting almost all political news as a jockeying of runaway egos, not discourse about policy (which politics, defying the odds, sometimes actually is), 4) presenting foreign and urban news as little more than a record of violent events void of context... and then maybe political slant. If political slant were the biggest problem in the media, the media would be a heck of lot better.

Below is the useful point-counterpoint in the SF Chronicle, followed by a thorough critique of bias-crying columnist John Leo in the, yes, liberal Daily Howler:

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