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I've been thinking about the media lately.  It's such an easy target from both sides of the political spectrum to complain about how the media gets the story wrong.  Everyone knows how biased and clueless the mainstream media is.  Actually it always seems a bit goofy to me to hear someone complain about a story not being reported in the "mainstream media" - somehow the complainer managed to hear about the story despite the media, right?  Somehow the news seems to be getting out.

Is there such a thing as "mainstream media" anymore?  Does it matter?  These days there are a multitude of news sources available that cater to whatever point of view you like.  On top of that, there are even outfits that keep a sharp eye on the media and point out every hint of bias in its coverage of the other side...for example, Media Matters and News Hounds for the left and NewsBusters on the right.  I think those sites are definitely useful, but sometimes they verge on ridiculous.  NewsBusters, for example, doesn't just report on factual errors or clear examples of bias.  They seem to get cheesed off at each and every positive mention of Obama in the media (understandable, I guess, if you start from the assumption that anything positive about Obama surely must be off-base).  They even report on the goings-on in the comment section at The Washington Post.  The comments!  Web site comments!  Where you find almost exclusively garbage, almost by definition.

I think having all of the sources of news and information is a good thing.  I don't really care that much that most sources don't just report the facts.  Typically the facts are easy to come by, but what do the facts mean?  Which facts are important?  Which ones aren't?  What should I expect next?  That's the valuable/useful stuff.  That requires more than just the facts.  It requires a perspective, maybe even a bias.  The trouble with sites like NewsBusters and News Hounds (and to a lesser extent Fox News and MSNBC) isn't that they have a bias or a certain perspective.  It's that they are ALL from one perspective.  As far as you would know from Newsbusters/News Hounds, there is only one side that is biased and it's the liberal media/Fox News.  Basically, this shows you can't trust them, and therefore you don't know if you can trust their interpretation of the facts because you already know that they are extremely biased.  So you find sources that you both like and trust, that you feel like you can count on to tell you the truth about your guy, even when it hurts.  For me, it's people like John Dickerson, Matt Miller, maybe even Tony Blankley (whose columns I don't really find useful but who often seems like a reasonable observer from the right on Left, Right, and Center).

While thinking about this stuff, I came across a recent NY Times Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof titled "The Daily Me."  He explores similar themes and highlights how we tend to search out information that supports our own biases rather than actually educating ourselves:

...there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

One classic study sent mailings to Republicans and Democrats, offering them various kinds of political research, ostensibly from a neutral source. Both groups were most eager to receive intelligent arguments that strongly corroborated their pre-existing views.

There was also modest interest in receiving manifestly silly arguments for the other party’s views (we feel good when we can caricature the other guys as dunces). But there was little interest in encountering solid arguments that might undermine one’s own position.

At a time when so many news sources and perspectives are available, we're apparently using them mostly to confirm what we already "know."

Kristof goes on to describe this political segregation:

Almost half of Americans now live in counties that vote in landslides either for Democrats or for Republicans, he said. In the 1960s and 1970s, in similarly competitive national elections, only about one-third lived in landslide counties.

“The nation grows more politically segregated — and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups,” Mr. Bishop writes.

One 12-nation study found Americans the least likely to discuss politics with people of different views, and this was particularly true of the well educated. High school dropouts had the most diverse group of discussion-mates, while college graduates managed to shelter themselves from uncomfortable perspectives.

The result is polarization and intolerance. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor now working for President Obama, has conducted research showing that when liberals or conservatives discuss issues such as affirmative action or climate change with like-minded people, their views quickly become more homogeneous and more extreme than before the discussion. For example, some liberals in one study initially worried that action on climate change might hurt the poor, while some conservatives were sympathetic to affirmative action. But after discussing the issue with like-minded people for only 15 minutes, liberals became more liberal and conservatives more conservative.

His prescription:

So what’s the solution? Tax breaks for liberals who watch Bill O’Reilly or conservatives who watch Keith Olbermann? No, until President Obama brings us universal health care, we can’t risk the surge in heart attacks.

So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.

Now excuse me while I go and read The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.

I think he's got great points about the dangers of the echo chamber and the benefits of discussing issues with people of differing perspectives.  I completely agree.  I actually enjoy those kinds of discussions on the very rare occasion that I have a real discussion partner.  It's useful to think about how to explain my perspective to someone else.  It's useful to hear other perspectives.  How can you claim to have a reasoned view if you haven't seriously considered both sides?  However, in my experience it doesn't work out most of the time.  On blogs, Facebook, and message boards I try to "spar," but I usually don't find what I would call a partner.  A sparring partner wouldn't just focus on disagreement.  A sparring partner would demonstrate an open mind and communication by also admitting when I make a good point, by highlighting where we agree, by admitting when he is shown to be wrong, and by acknowledging when I say something reasonable even if the partner doesn't agree.  A partner would treat me with respect and not attack my character or my motives.  A sparring partner won't see the world as purely black or white, red or blue, donkey or elephant.  I KNOW those are not fair descriptions of the world I live in; if you THINK or PRETEND it is then it becomes obvious pretty quickly what the sparring is accomplishing...nothing.  Even in these circumstances there is still some small value in formulating an explanation of my view, but that's usually not enough incentive to sustain the dialogue when it becomes obvious that it's just falling on deaf ears.

Anyway, I admit there is a liberal media bias, but come on.  There's plenty of bias on both sides.  Give it a rest.  No?  You don't see it? Well, how about these recent classics:

For example, there was the recent quote from Coach K.  As Media Matters reported, Fox News and the AP reported this from Coach K:

"Somebody said that we're not in President Obama's Final Four, and as much as I respect what he's doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said from the Blue Devils' first-round site in Greensboro, N.C.

Not surprisingly, you started seeing references to this showing up on Facebook.  However, turns out that wasn't all Coach K said:

But Krzyzewski was smiling as he said that, and his very next words -- not reported by the AP or Fox -- were "Why would I care about that? I love the guy, and I think he's gonna be great."

Fair and balanced?   Right.

Then there's Biden's "fundamentals of the economy are strong" quote.  As reported by Think Progress:

...Fox News’s Martha MacCallum introduced a segment highlighting Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina Romer’s claim yesterday that the “fundamentals of the economy are sound.” “After weeks of economic doom and gloom, the Obama administration is now singing a slightly different tune,” MacCallum said.

She then played clips of Romer and other administration officials making seemingly positive comments about the current state of the economy. One of the clips was of Vice President Biden saying, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong!” After the segment, MacCallum said, “All right, well the mantra for the weekend is clear, looking at what was said over the course of the shows on Sunday.”

But the clip of Biden seemingly making a recent remark about the strength of the economy is grossly inaccurate. The Biden statement was actually from last September — during the presidential campaign — when he was quoting Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Not only are they super fair and balanced, but they sniff out bias in places you might not expect.  As summarized by Crooks and Liars:

[Bernie] Goldberg, on Bill O'Reilly's show Wednesday, started out claiming, like Angela McGlowan, that Jackie Mason's use of the racial slur "schvartze" isn't "a bad word." Then Bill O'Reilly noted that his dictionary, quite accurately, notes that the word is frequently used as a pejorative:

O'Reilly: OK, but here's what the dictionary says. The dictionary says the word s-c-h-v-a-r-t-z-e -- "often disparaging and offensive."

Goldberg: Forgive my arrogance. The dictionary is written by some liberal person.

See, in Bernie Goldberg's world, even the dictionaries have a liberal bias.

Wouldn't you know it?  Fox News is so fair and balanced that their senior Vice President for Programming, Bill Shine, admitted the following:

With this particular group of people in power right now, and the honeymoon they’ve had from other members of the media, does it make it a little bit easier for us to be the voice of opposition on some issues?

No, I don't think Fox is uniquely biased, but it is biased.  If you only get your news from Fox News yet complain about liberal media bias...then something is amiss.

Before wrapping this up, a couple more things to add.  The following videos aren't particularly related but are interesting to watch for someone like me who doesn't normally watch Fox News:

Beck weeps

Smith vs. Beck



Interesting post. I tend to avoid both the Bill O'Reilly's and the Keith Olbermann's of media, although you can't argue with Fox's ratings, so maybe Americans are getting the kind of media they want. Or maybe the rest of the "mainstream media" has displayed a liberal bias for so long that many Americans may feel like they might as well get news that reflects their own personal worldview.

I worked at The Associated Press in Dallas and Nashville for three years and was never asked to push any kind of agenda. In all but a few rare cases, I was able to report the news right down the middle, attempting to be fair to all sides. Still, I'd say that AP news in general is a bit liberally biased just because of the backgrounds (worldviews) of the types of people who tend to go into mainstream journalism. As a conservative Christian who attended church every Sunday, I certainly was in the minority of journalists in my newsroom. If, hypothetically, I voted for Bush twice, I was also in the minority in my newsroom.

Since I now cover religion news, I enjoy and its effort to keep the media honest on religion reporting.

Now we know what Goldberg has against the dictionary.

From Fox News about Merriam-Webster:

But in a nod to evolving ideas of love and English usage, the Springfield, Mass.-based company in 2003 added a secondary meaning for "marriage" as "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage."

Merriam-Webster said in a statement Wednesday that the edited entry merely reflected the frequency with which the term "same-sex marriage" had popped up in print and become part of the general lexicon.

"Its inclusion was a simple matter of providing dictionary users with accurate information about all of the word's current uses," the company said, adding that it was surprised by the recent attention because it was "neither news nor unusual."

"We were one of the last ones among the major dictionary publishers to do this," said Merriam-Webster spokesman Arthur Bicknell.

(h/t Colbert)

More from Goldberg:

If NY Times attacked me like it attacks O'Reilly, "I probably would have gotten a baseball bat and gone down to the New York Times with it and found the person that wrote the editorial, but that's me."

(h/t Media Matters)

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