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  • Wednesday, December 18, 2002


    Half-assed or half-vast.......it's all the same to Michael Kelly.

    Following last weeks pathetic shot at addressing the serious issue of media bias, Michael Kelly provides us with another half-assed attempt to make his point that the media is "liberal". As I pointed out last week, there is an enormous body of conservative commentators who seem to be making ends meet by explaining all the gory details about us nasty liberals and why we hate America. Being a "word" guy and not a "numbers" guy, Kelly believes that by introducing a bunch of numbers in a column the reader will become so numbed by it all, you can get them to believe anything.

    This week Mr. Kelly introduces us to S. Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs who says:

    "The essential argument by the media is that, yes, most mainstream journalists may be left of center, but they operate in the tradition of objectivity, so this doesn't affect their coverage of the news," notes S. Robert Lichter, president of the independent Center for Media and Public Affairs. "What this argument fails to grasp is the way bias works in people. Yes, journalists tell the truth -- but, like everyone else, they tell the truth as they see it."

    As Lichter has written, "Even the most conscientious journalists cannot overcome the subjectivity inherent in their profession, which is expressed through such everyday decisions as whether a topic is newsworthy or a source trustworthy."

    To which we say, fair enough, even though he seems to disregard the use of editors as well as such mundane journalistic standards like fact checking, multiple verification of sources, and those niggling little libel and slander laws. Anyway, he provides Kelly (ironically an editor himself) with a few choice tidbits:

    As to fact: In 17 years of news content analysis, especially of network evening news broadcasts, Lichter's Center for Media and Public Affairs has consistently found evidence of liberal bias, and this has not changed in the past few years.

    • "Only 43 percent of all on-air evaluations of George W. Bush were favorable" in Bush's first 100 days in office (compared with a similarly negative 40 percent for Clinton in his first 100). In his first 50 days, Bush received 48 percent positive coverage, but only 36 percent was positive in his second 50. Only 29 percent of on-air evaluations from nonpartisan sources (anchors, reporters, experts, citizens) were positive to Bush.

    • Bush did get a terrific bounce from the rallying effect of Sept. 11. From that day through Nov. 19, 2001, Bush "received the most positive coverage ever measured for a president over an extended period of time'' -- 64 percent positive to 36 percent negative. But Bush's high of 77 percent positive that September was down to 59 percent within two months.

    • Coverage of the Bush administration's consideration of a military strike against Iraq, as seen in the network newscasts and in front-page New York Times stories from this July 1 through Aug. 25, was 72 percent negative.

    Please note the selective use of dates as well as random use of specific "media" in order to make his point. No numbers are provided by Kelly for the period during the Clinton administration known as the Great Presidential Fellatio Crisis where the "liberal" media was apparently asleep at the wheel (I know I never heard anything about it until much later...). Kelly & Lichter would have us believe that Bush's decline from a 9/12 high of 77% dropping to 59% in two months is somehow the fault of the media, without noting that Bush's popularity prior to 9/11 was sub-50% when his administration was, admittedly, stumbling around. Perhaps Mr Kelly believes that the 77% was sustainable, in which case we offer our condolences for his blunt head trauma.

    And what is up with this statement by Kelly?:

    Is there nothing at all to the liberal complaint? No, there is something. As the above data suggest, the media are generally more negative toward public figures (including Democratic ones) than they used to be. And while right-leaning media such as talk radio have not, as my colleague E.J. Dionne argues, produced "a media heavily biased toward conservative politics and conservative politicians," they have produced a media universe where anti-establishment right-wingers (and also anti-establishment left-wingers, such as Michael Moore) are able to bypass the establishment media and to create a far more diverse national conversation.

    That may be one of the stupidest statements Kelly has ever made. "right-leaning media such as talk radio" have not produced "a media heavily biased toward conservative politics and conservative politicians" but have produced a "media universe where anti-establishment right-wingers" can "bypass the establishment media". Hunh? All of these people are cheerleaders for the conservative Bush administration. How are they "anti-establishment"?

    And wht are we to make of Kelly's one source for media bias, Dr S. Robert Lichter? Well if you really want to see him in action, why not turn on Fox News.

    Dr. Lichter also directs the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the quality of news involving statistical or scientific information, and he serves on the Statistical Committee of Voter News Service. A regular commentator on the Fox News Channel and co-host of “What’s the Story?,” a nationally syndicated radio show, he has testified before Congress and served as an expert witness on media content and effects.

    I'm sure he has cured himself of all that nasty "subjectivity" that inflicts the common working journalist...at least right after he cashes that check from Fox's Roger Ailes (the evil, bald one).

    After all, he's a doctor.

    (Added: Want to know where Dr. Lichter gets his house payment? Try the Smith Richardson Foundation

    Financed by the Vicks Vaporub fortune, this foundation is estimated to have assets of about $250 million. Became active in supporting conservative caues in 1973 when R. Randolph Richardson became president. Funded the early "supply-side" books of Jude Wanniski and George Gilder. The Richardsons are estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $870 million, making them one of the country's richest families.

    Sounds pretty "non-partisan" to me....

    (Added: See above for more on Dr Lichter)

    posted by tbogg at 12:09 PM



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