Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dedman Balking

Bill Dedman over at MSNBC has a report up that's going to get misused as proof the media is a huge leftwing tool, so it's time to consider the problems with his article that says:

MSNBC.com identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.

There are three assumptions one would have to make to connect this evidence to a claim of leftwing media bias.

1) This assumes journalists aren't professionals.

If you drop off your car at the mechanic and have a political bumper sticker on your car, do you have to worry the shop will prefer a different candidate and sabotage your auto? If you don the cap of your favorite baseball team and order that lunch to go, do you have to worry a fan of another team will spit in your soda? If you wear a yarmulke to your universty class taught by a Baptist, do you think you'll get a lower grade?

No. So why is it we believe journalists, whose very job it is to tell the truth, will slant things to their liking? Actually, my guess is if someone knows their beliefs to the point that they're willing to back them up with a donation, then they know them enough to be sure they don't color what they write. In fact, you could argue that trying so hard not to appear liberal has made the press even more aggressive towards Democrats--see Cookie Roberts' indignation when the American public didn't seem as interested as she did in impeaching Clinton--and defensive for Republicans--see Richard Cohen's lame rant about how Scooter Libby got railroaded.

It's possible that some rightwingers simply cannot see beyond their own, reductive us v. them world view about everything. Anyone not us is them and can't be trusted in any way. This leads to everything from sexism to homophobia to xenophobia. And it also leads to hatred of those from the land of the news media, who, like any terrorist, or person who doesn't agree with you, simply can't be trusted. Indeed, consider how quickly the right likes to throw about the treason tag and you'll see exactly what I mean. It's also possible that rightwingers can't but imagine they would slant things their way if there were more of them in journalism (for proof, see Fox News), so therefore lefties must do the same.

(And I know there are people out there who want to hurt us, yes. But for some reason that doesn't make me assume everyone out there wants to hurts us. And that even goes for everyone who is Muslim.)

2) This assumes the number's are significant.

As Dedman admits--in paragraph 14--"The pattern of donations, with nearly nine out of 10 giving to Democratic candidates and causes, appears to confirm a leftward tilt in newsrooms — at least among the donors, who are a tiny fraction of the roughly 100,000 staffers in newsrooms across the nation."

To make clear, that's among the 144 donors, who are a tiny fraction of 100,000 staffers. That's not even 1% of the journalists giving to liberal causes. I'm pretty sure 1% of something is an insignificant amount.

3) This assumes that newsroom staffers drive coverage decisions.

Eric Alterman is all over this one, partially saying:

Dedman's story is misleading because its primary assumption is that journalists determine the content of the news. I think it would be a lot more useful for him to report on, say, the political contributions of the General Electric Co. that owns NBC and MSNBC, which, I would argue, is a great deal more influential than any journalist's particular feeling. Ditto the Walt Disney Company, Viacom, and of course Fox. (Rupert Murdoch has admitted, publicly, that he deployed Fox, et al, in support of Bush's war in Iraq.)

But Alterman also misses that Dedman's list of donors includes paper librarians, graphic artists, copy editors--all sorts of people who really really run news organizations.

Ultimately, however, the rightwing just has to give up on this argument. For let's say the right is right, and the media is a cabal of leftwingers funded by George Soros and doing all it can to promote feminism, homosexuality, gun control, wealth redistribution, etc. If that's true, how has it been that the Republicans, until the 2006 election, for 6 years had complete control of all three branches of government? If the answer is, "well, the people are smart enough to see around the media and make the correct choices and vote Republican," then why does it bother the rightwing that the media is saturated by lefties? They're ineffectual anyway.

Instead, it's the usual rightwing move that parallels calling folks like the Clintons extreme liberals. Then those of us actually hoping for something progressive get blanded out national campaigns by Kerry and Gore completely characterized by runs to the center, which is really center right. What the rightwing manages to do is narrow what's considered proper in politics, and validate their own truly extreme faction as something actually within the parameters of normal. They might be cynical bastards, but they sure know how to work the system.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

It would also assume that Democrat=Left, which is the most dangerous assumption of all.

4:09 AM  
Blogger Smitty said...

Great article, george.

Your point It's also possible that rightwingers can't but imagine they would slant things their way if there were more of them in journalism (for proof, see Fox News), so therefore lefties must do the same is well-taken, and I think it's at the center of the problem. One group sees a significant bias, which is, as you point out, largely unfounded.

But that doesn't mean it is biased. It means they are reading the news through their lens, which we all do. But since they don't agree with it, then it must be wrong and a subversive attempt to scew public opinion, and not simply just different from what they believe.

Paranoid schizophrenics think the same way.

6:27 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

Of course you guys knew I'd have to chime in on this one. I personally put very little stock in this msnbc article, just by virtue of the 144 journalists out of 10000. It is interesting, though, that you'd be quick to put the spin machine on it. Even though it is such a small sample, can you really discredit the whole report, George? I mean, don't these Zogby polls and other institutions that poll use relatively miniscule samples, like 1500 voters polled said.... whatever? 1500 out of 200 million is pretty small too; it's the percentage that tells the story.

Anyway, I wouldn't put too much stock in this article, there's not alot of beef to it. But good defense, George. You were right there in the net to stop the puck, but this is a shot directly into your chest... an easy save.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Smitty said...

You were right there in the net to stop the puck, but this is a shot directly into your chest... an easy save

Hey...gotta excercise the moves even with the easy stuff so you don't get sloppy.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous jqb said...

The most critical point is #3. Other surveys show that editors have rightward leanings, and FAIR and Media Matters have proven considerable rightward leaning in content.

Mcconfrontation: give it up; everyone knows you're an asshole, and your every utterance just hardens people in their opposition to whatever view you hold.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous jqb said...

P.S.

" George? I mean, don't these Zogby polls and other institutions that poll use relatively miniscule samples, like 1500 voters polled said.... whatever? 1500 out of 200 million is pretty small too; it's the percentage that tells the story."

On top of being an asshole, Mcc, you're an idiot (which is key to being a rightwinger, it seems). The samples that Zogby et. al. use are carefully selected to be *representative*. But journalists who make donations are obviously not representative of journalists who don't. Sheesh.

11:49 AM  
Blogger MCConfrontation said...

jqb... are you so defensive because you feel cornered? please tell. asshole (x2), idiot, it's all good. i decline to take your labels personally. and i'm sure you've got even more profane vulgarities to throw my way. knock yourself out, it doesn't hurt my feelings.

1:34 PM  

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