November 6, 2002

To the victors go the media spoils…

If there were ever a time for liberal bias in the news media, this is it. But, as I have long argued, such ideological bias is largely a fiction. Instead, certain structural biases of journalistic practice create the illusion of ideological bias (that is NOT to say that there are no local instances of ideological bias). Steven Rosenfeld predicts an interesting phenomenon: a second media honeymoon for President Bush and the new Republican Congress. Rosenfeld did not use the term “honeymoon,” but his prediction that the press will give Bush and the Republicans plenty of leeway in the coming weeks is a sound one. Here’s how it happens:

Political reporting often works like this: A top legislator makes some pronouncement. The fact that the president or a senator or congressman speaks out needs to be reported, journalists will say, to establish ‘the record.’ That’s the top half of a typical wire-service story, which is what most Americans read in newspapers, or see as headlines on CNN or Internet Web sites flashing the latest developments.

But this also is how the ‘reporting-as-stenography’ cycle begins, because the quoted politician has just dictated the topic of the article. Most reporters, seeking ‘balance’ and working on deadline, will then look for an opposing quote, find a quick retort, and then write it all up.

That’s the way most political reporting is done. Analysis or actually checking the facts behind spins, or historical contextualization, is often left for subsequent pieces, or the editorial pages

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