The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Notes from the NPR underground

I caught some shows today, and I was struck by a couple of things. One was a report on bias in the news during the show On the Media called "I Know You Are But What Am I?" While the host acknowledged that any reporter is susceptible to slanting news coverage, unwittingly or not, readers/listeners/viewers are, too. Hardly a surprise. But to prove the point, they cited a study that showed the more informed news consumers were on the Israel-Lebanon conflagration, the more likely they were to see bias against their own side. Sorry, but I'm still not feeling embarrassed about my criticism of the mainstream press.

The issue of bias in the news has been a serious bone of contention for liberals and conservatives in recent years (although for much longer with conservatives), and media outlets have largely gone on the defensive-- although they've shifted heavily toward the right while doing so. Of course, I only think that way because I'm a liberal. And that isn't what I'm getting at here.

My point is this: you'd have to be a total idiot to think that the current turmoil in the Middle East would provide a fair assessment of people's ability to assess the news objectively. The conflict between Israel and its neighbors has lasted for decades, and it's a religious conflict-- hardly a laboratory for cool logic and level-headed analysis. The host spoke with a man involved with a study that found pro-Israeli news consumers thought coverage was anti-Israeli. Can you guess what pro-Lebanon news consumers thought?

This isn't surprising news, it's stupefyingly obvious given the nature of the conflict. Permit me to point it out anyway-- a religious war isn't the same thing as a politician's public statement on, say, tax policy. One is about ideology, the other is about simple facts. Using it as the basis for criticizing the public's response to the mass media is hopelessly simplistic, and borderline offensive. Unfortunately, that fits right in with a major criticism from the left-- that the pundit class is more invested in proclaiming their superiority than doing their job. Seriously, wouldn't anyone who'd taken a journalism class expect a difference in public perception of religious issues and something like the defense budget?