This article from The American Prospect demonstrates how, if not why, the structural biases of journalism are more important to consider than temporary, localized, or over-generalized ideological bias. Despite the left-leaning nature of the commentary about the press’ treatment of Al Gore in 2000, I consider this article an excellent example, a case study if you will, of the structural biases trumping simplistic ideological bias. Writer Paul Waldman says in his conclusion:
Reporters’ view of Gore is an exaggerated version of their view of politicians in general: conniving, manipulative, driven by the lust for power, a persona rather than a person, someone from whom nothing can be taken at face value. The lesson of Gore’s press coverage is that reporters’ personal views about candidates matter, but not in the ideological sense of liberal reporters boosting Democrats and conservative reporters boosting Republicans. While it may be true that a majority of reporters vote Democratic, they savaged Gore and continue to give glowing coverage to John McCain, a conservative Republican who treats them like buddies, seldom refuses to go on record and is generally fun to be around. The men seeking the opportunity to face Bush in 2004 might consider this as they prepare their campaigns.
Set aside your thoughts and feelings about Al Gore for a moment. This “case study” offers excellent examples of narrative bias and status quo bias that affect politicians right or left. The effects of narrative bias are evident in the quoted paragraph. In the plot that is American politics, journalists assume that politicians are “conniving, manipulative, driven by the lust for power, a persona rather than a person.” Politicians are characters playing roles. And journalists often treat them in predictable ways based on these characterizations. But those characterizations may be changed–especially if the politician treats the press as John McCain did.
This article raises disturbing questions about the professionalism of political journalists, their abilities to think critically, their understanding of the structure of their own profession, their understanding of interpersonal communication, and their basic understanding of language issues.