February 19, 2003

Readers speak out on media bias…

Jack Shafer’s third article in his series on media bias offers a compendium of reader comments. He’s planning more articles in this series, and I will continue to cover them here.

I’m going to let this installment stand without comment for now, except to say that his responses point out how complex this issue truly is compared to the simplistic, dichotomous treatment it usually gets. And I found this quote interesting, from a professor who thinks the press has a new set of Ws (i.e. the standard reporter’s questions):

Who cares about a particular piece of information? What are they willing to pay to find it, or what are others willing to pay to reach them? Where can media outlets or advertisers reach these people? When is it profitable to provide the information? Why is this profitable? The answers to these questions drive story selections, generate careers for celebrity reporters, and often leave a set of citizens dissatisfied with the way that the media cover politics and society.

This is an excellent example of the commercial bias.

February 12, 2003

How to sell books…

Dr. Eric Alterman should adopt a more academic tone in his public conversations about bias in the news media. Oh…wait…he’s trying to sell books–not to a captive audience of college students but to the general public. And, apparently, he believes it’s necessary to engage in exactly the kind of mindless ranting that is the hallmark of public flamers such as Ann Coulter.

On FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, Alterman equates the beliefs of conservatives with the fanaticism of suicide bombers. In Esquire, he says he wishes Rush Limbaugh had “gone deaf”–reference to a recent medical condition.

MediaMinded has the details. Check it out.

The topic of bias in the news media is far too important to be left to flamers. Dr. Alterman appears to be entering that camp. To my way of thinking, such rhetoric could (and, perhaps, should) quickly eliminate him from serious consideration.

UPDATE (11:35 a.m.): MediaBistro runs a Q&A interview with Alterman today.

February 12, 2003

Selective attention…

Howard Kurtz considers the way the press is treating Sen. John Kerry after his recent announcement that he’ll undergo surgery today for prostate cancer. According to Kurtz, the press is hot about the supposedly untimely disclosure because “medical problems can make voters uneasy.” Wait a minute. You said the voters aren’t paying any attention to the campaign yet. Which is it Howard?

Kurtz says the press is also upset that Kerry did not tell them about the his condition as soon as he discovered it. This situation is not about a man’s health; it is actually all about the press and the way they feel they are treated.

February 11, 2003

Coloring journalism education…

An NYU journalism professor is taking fire for his plan to assign William McGowan’s Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism to a graduate seminar on the First Amendment. Here’s the crux of the problem:

“I think it’s inappropriate as a teaching tool, unless you were going to teach skewed journalism,” [National Association of Black Journalists official Richard] Prince said. “The problem with the book is that it’s a polemic, and the facts are twisted to fit the argument that [McGowan] is trying to make. And that’s not journalism. It’s not objective.”

…and…

“I can’t believe that [professor] Nat Hentoff turned out this way,” Prince said. “He used to be someone you could look up to. Why isn’t he assigning books on white journalists and how they bring their own points of view and write their own biases to the media? Who writes the media after all?”

This is an example of the exceedingly silly notion that a professor’s choice of books equals promotion of said book’s ideas. We professors, good ones anyway, often assign challenging material precisely to challenge our students. No matter what you may think of McGowan’s argument, the use of his book in a class does not equal acceptance or promotion of that argument. Especially in a graduate seminar, the book will get a critical examination.

Oh, and then there’s the whole freedom of thought thing. These students have every right to consider this book and be persuaded by its argument if they so choose. It’s called academic freedom. It’s called freedom of association. It’s called freedom of speech.

February 10, 2003

Make it interesting…

I double-majored in journalism and political science as an undergraduate. The professor who taught me the most about being a reporter often said that it is the duty of a good journalist to make the news interesting–especially the important issues.

Is the 2004 presidential campaign interesting now?

Howard Kurtz considers the early press coverage. He buys into the conventional wisdom that citizens don’t care this far in advance of the primaries. I would contend that this lack of interest, if it actually exists, derives from poor coverage.

The press may certainly attempt to spice up the coverage with non-political fluff, e.g. the heritage of Sen. John Kerry’s grandfather. Or, the press could choose to take in-depth looks into the crucial issues of the day, demonstrate what they mean in human terms, and explore how the clash of ideology and policy affects the socio-political experiences of Americans.

Naaaahhh…too much work.

UPDATE (10:45 a.m.): More Kurtz commentary today–he says this about FOX’s Bill O’Reilly: “O’Reilly is a talented performer who loves the thumb-in-the-eye approach…” Note that “performer” is not a synonym for “journalist.”

January 31, 2003

Conflict of interest has no meaning…

President Bush has appointed ABC news political commentator Cokie Roberts to the Council on Service and Civic Participation. Is this a conflict of interest? According to the article:

Though ABC’s Roberts provides analysis on subjects including Bush, an ABC News spokeswoman said the network gave its approval and saw no conflict of interest in her serving on the president’s council.

“Not only does she have a family with a long history of commitment to public service and she herself has a personal commitment to public service, but she also has a very strong and distinguished track record of being an absolutely fair and objective observer and analyst,” said network spokeswoman Su-Lin Nichols.

Black is white. Night is day. War is peace. (via Media News)

January 30, 2003

This is important…

Do professors try to indoctrinate students? Do professors impose their biases in class?

Yes.

But not in the way this student believes. Sure, there are rotten teachers out there. Lots of them. With a little digging you can come up with all kinds of horror stories about students who have been abused for their beliefs by professors (by rotten professors of the left and the right…so much of this kind of criticism ignores that little fact). I condemn these teachers.

A warning to students attending, or thinking of attending, Park University: If you take my rhetoric class, prepare to be challenged. I don’t care what your beliefs are. You go right, I go left. You go left, I go right. You go some other direction, and I’ll find its opposite and go that way. I will do all that I can to shake up your world view, to get you to question your values, your knowledge–everything you’ve been taught so far. That, dear student, is one huge part of what education is all about. That’s also a big clue about why there are so many liberals in the humanities and social sciences. Shaking up world views, questioning authority and received wisdom, is not a (classically) conservative endeavor.

January 29, 2003

Analysis of State of the Union address…

I have posted my analysis of the State of the Union address to Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004.

Highlights: More sophisticated use of schemes and fallacies. Personal transformation or a new delivery style? Dearth of metaphors. Two for the price of one–DICTION 5.0 shows how. Best speech yet.

UPDATE (7:00 p.m.): Here are early poll numbers from ABC. Should we judge the persuasiveness of a speech by its polling number less than 24 hours after the event? I wonder. (via Thinking It Through)

January 28, 2003

Sticky position…

Howard Kurtz does a good job outlining the trouble some Democrat presidential candidates may have with their votes in support of Bush’s position on Iraq. This situation is similar to one I discussed recently–a truism of presidential campaigning–that you win primaries on the wings and the general election in the middle. This might present one of the Democrats with a good opportunity to forego prognosticating and maneuvering based on an imperfect understanding of a war’s potential effects and stick to principle (whatever that may be).

January 24, 2003

The IQ of spin…

Bob Somerby suggests an interesting theory of political discourse: “To survive, spin has to get stupider.”

I take this to mean that spin points must evolve with the situation in order to remain persuasive. A spin point that does not evolve may be successfully challenged with another spin point or an honest account of the facts. The evolution of a spin point must continue to bolster the original argument while continuing to obscure the facts. This “works” by keeping the spin fresh and requiring the opposition to constantly refute an ever-changing, ever-shifting set of selective facts and/or outright lies. Any political faction may practice this theory.

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