Saturday, June 19, 2010

Media Bias

NYU's Jay Rosen has an excellent post about bias in the media:

In political journalism there are almost always two sides, not two-and-a-half, three or four. Inhabitants of the “it’s complicated” camp place a good deal of importance on this maniacal two-ness. The two party system and the journalist’s method of pushing off from both sides to generate authority fit perfectly together. That’s ideological.

His analysis is extremely interesting. He says that the doggedly unbiased style of reporting and analysis practiced by most political reporters is itself a form of radical ideology. Dana Milbank is his example of one of the most radically ideological members of the press. He also points out several aspects of this ideology, including my favorite, "he said, she said journalism":

“He said, she said” journalism means…
- There’s a public dispute.
- The dispute makes news.
- No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
- The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
- The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.

When these five conditions are met, the genre is in gear.

Rosen has the same solution I do for this: more fact checking! I love PolitiFact, but reporters need to get better at doing these things themselves. It's frustrating when politicians roll out talking points that are deliberate misinterpretations at best and outright lies at worst but reporters refuse to call them on it.

It's one of the best theories of political journalism I've seen, and it's well worth reading.

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