Monday, October 31, 2005

Bias in the Media? Yes, No & Maybe

Next to religion, politics and the BCS standings, the best way to provoke a hyperventilated rant is to bring up the topic of bias in the media. Eric Deggans (St. Pete Times) did just that in an Oct. 30th piece headlined Media Bias In the Eye of the Beholder on his Media in the Mirror blog.

TBM shares what it feels are Deggans’ pivotal paragraphs:

“I think people are confusing the (Main Stream Media’s) focus on pursuing social justice, which is an important part of our journalism DNA, with rampant liberalism.

“We focus on social justice issues in our work, which means reporting on civil rights issues, worker's rights issues, government waste issues, government effectiveness issues, poverty, crime, police brutality and much more. John Roberts, CBS correspondent and weekend anchor, described it to me simply: standing up for the little guy.

“But to an anti-affirmative action, pro-business, anti-welfare, law and order conservative, that kind of reporting might feel an awful lot like liberal bias.”

That may be part of it, but TBM suspects there is more.

For one thing, other than news junkies, few people understand the complexity or subtlety of the pecking order and division of labor within a modern media outlet.

A simplistic example: Reporters don’t write headlines.

A reporter may do a fine job telling a story and then fall prey to a distracted, sloppy or lazy editor who slaps on a headline that does not accurately reflect the story, but it’s the reporter – not the nameless editor – who gets the grief.
See “Sober & Similar: Journalists a Political Monolith,” TBM, Oct. 2.

Another example: Reporters, columnists, editorial writers and editors are not all the same thing.

Some people at newspapers are paid to have an opinion; some are not: Eric Deggans is, as is Walt Belcher of The Tampa Tribune. Both are media critics. Both have a wide latitude as to what they can say. They are not, however, the “voice” of the paper. That task falls to the editorial department. When each paper endorses political candidates, each editorial board makes that assessment, independent of its respective newsroom. (They might agree; they might not.)

Do such assessments constitute a “bias” per se? No, they represent a viewpoint; though, human nature being what it is, a bias or two can certainly enter the mix.

Finally, individuals and groups within a free society can feel slighted, get upset, and generally be agitated, outraged or aggravated for any and all reasons.

The media can be a target. So can the government. As can political parties, celebrities, talk show hosts and even bloggers.

Free speech is for everybody – and, sometimes, it's a free-for-all.

Here's what the First Amendment says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Note that the phrase “the press” falls about in the middle of the amendment, almost as an aside.

So, is there “Bias in the Media”? There is if you say there is. It’s your opinion. Now, about those BCS standings . . .


Anonymous Tom said...

The St. Petersburg Times bias toward St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker goes back many years and continues with the current election. Read this Weekly Planet article for a detailed look at their reporting during the last election for Mayor.
That story came out after the election. The Planet appears to be the only publication that has told readers about the business connections between Baker and the Times. And the Planet asked Rick Baker about his connection to a family business that defrauded the military through the sale of substandard material. I have not seen any other media follow up on these unanswered questions.
Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Russ Baker wrote "In May the Times came under criticism from the local alternative paper, The Weekly Planet, which criticized the Times for tilting in this spring's mayoral race toward Rick Baker, the eventual winner, whose law firm has business connections to Poynter. The Planet, which landed a cjr Laurel (July/August) for covering the apparent conflict, noted that the Times failed to remind readers of a 1990 federal case against Baker's aircraft-parts business, in which two of his brothers went to jail for, among other things, defrauding the military."

While there may be good answers our local media has just ignored these questions.

Civil rights lawyer Ed Helm is the only challenger in this election and the Times went negative from the start.

This past Sunday's story on developer Mel Sembler makes the point that he does not get favors for his heavy spending to support Rick Baker and other incumbents. Left out was mention of city funding for his Bay Plaza/Baywalk and the Midtown Sweetbay. How many police protect Baywalk against anti-war protestors? How much tax money is at risk if Sweetbay closes?

The Times doesn't mention that to accommodate Sembler the city forced the unwanted Sweetbay liquor store on Midtown and that the nearby Winn Dixie just closed, leaving no real job growth. And the story didn't mention his donations and fundraising for the Bush family and his appointment as ambassador.

Last weekend the Times featured Baker and his ally Jeb Bush in the debut of "Political Connections" on Bay News 9. This new cable TV show promises to give viewers a lot more political news, but conveniently they helped their candidate with the first show.

The Times is one of the better newspapers and sponsors a national education program for journalists at the Poynter Institute (which owns the Times). Ethics are a key element of their curriculum.

Times media critic Eric Deggans has an excellent blog that looks at other media. But the paper doesn't acknowledge any conflicts in their coverage of city hall.

I encourage you to check out
the Planet web page for articles on Ed Helm and Rick Baker.

Friday, November 04, 2005 2:16:00 AM  

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