Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bias? What bias? 

Lots of good discussion regarding media bias lately; some of it generated by the fourth part of my "Good news from Iraq" segment (see the comments section). Andrew Sullivan points to an interesting recent study by Tim Groseclose of the UCLA and Jeff Milyo of the University of Chicago. The study compared the number of times media outlets cited various think tanks with a number of time members of Congress cited the same think tanks. The result:

"Although we expected to find that most media lean left, we were astounded by the degree. A norm among journalists is to present "both sides of the issue": Consequently, while we expected members of Congress to cite primarily think tanks that are on the same side of the ideological spectrum as they are, we expected journalists to practice a much more balanced citation practice, even if the journalist's own ideology opposed the think tanks that he or she is sometimes citing. This was not always the case. Most of the mainstream media outlets that we examined (ie all those besides Drudge Report and Fox News' Special Report) were closer to the average Democrat in Congress than they were to the median member of the House."
I think I speak for most of us when I say that, again, this won't come as a surprise to us. This is most likely the reason why you're visiting my blog in the first place, or for that matter why you were visiting Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Real Clear Politics or any number of other political blogs and political sites. This is also why so many of you listen to talk radio and watch Fox. Apologies if I offended anyone by stereotyping and generalising.

As far as Iraq is concerned, I see two main reasons why the bad news overwhelms the good:

There is no doubt that a certain proportion of the media (both Iraq-based and back home) - a sizeable minority? a majority? - prefers to focus on the bad news. Because they hate Bush, or hate the Republican administration, or hate the United States, or at least some aspects of it; or because they are pacifists and oppose the use of force internationally, particularly by the United States, or particularly by the Republican administration. This is the political bias aspect.

By the same token it's true that media generally likes bad news (and violent news) whether it's Iraq or Ireland or Idaho. This is the bad news bias. Death, violence, mayhem, injury, disease, disaster, scandal, and corruption always trump good news, because the media think it makes for more exciting stories, with greater "public interest" element, and - let's face it - better visuals. A bleeding soldier led away from the site of a car bomb explosion is so much more dramatic and stimulating than the same soldier cutting the ribbon on a recently renovated preschool in Basra. The bad news bias also plays to the crusader inside a journalist, while reporting good news seems more like PR or marketing then what "real" journalism should be "about."

The bad news bias, while absolutely valid, explains the preponderance of bad (and violent) news, but it doesn't explain the sheer quantity and the sheer negativity of reporting - that's where the political bias hits with a double whammy. Unfortunately I can't see the situation changing any time soon, which means I'll have to keep going with my "Good news from Iraq" segment.

And while I believe that the assumptions behind free market are generally correct, the media and the entertainment industry are a case where at least one such assumption - the economic man - doesn't quite work. It's true that human beings are in large part rational and calculating individuals who because of self-interest seek to maximise benefits for the selves. But it's clear that in the mainstream media and in Hollywood ideological commitment trumps economic benefit. That's why the movie industry keeps churning out R-rated movies that shit from a great height on middle class values and sensibilities, despite the fact that it's the G-rated entertainment that provides the best return on investment. And it's also the reason why the media stays liberal even if it means loss of audience to other news and commentary outlets. At least you have to give it to the media/entertainment homo politicus - he (in a gender-neutral way) is always willing to put the investors' money where his mouth is.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?