Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A scorching legacy of 2008: Media Bias!

During the 2008 election, the media displayed a vacuum of interest regarding the sleazy habits and duplicitous lifestyle John Edwards was living. Despite all of the blunt indications that Edwards was a total fraud. Recall the bogus story about McCain affair that the New York Times didn't hesitate to splash across its front page, yet ended up costing the gray lady serious coin via a defamation settlement and was thoroughly debunked. The contrast in treatment is so shocking it induces a state of speechlessness. Byron York has some thoughts on the issue here. He states:

"An explosive scandal had been kept out of the press for months at a time when the man at the center was an important player in national politics. Why? 

Young thought it was because the Edwards camp so tightly controlled information that journalists weren't able to find sources to corroborate the Enquirer's reporting. While that may have been part of it, the fact was, many editors and reporters just didn't want to tell the story. 

Maybe they admired Edwards' cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth. Maybe they saw no good in exposing Edwards' sordid acts. Maybe they looked down on the National Enquirer. Or maybe they were just biased. "In the case of John Edwards," said Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, "even though it was clearly out there -- everybody in America knew about this well before CNN and the New York Times and the Washington Post got into this game -- there was still a great reluctance." 

Of course, in the end the story came out anyway -- but only after the sheer weight of Edwards' corruption made the facts impossible to ignore, even for sympathetic journalists."

Nothing new is being stated here. There are a multitude of problems that these revelations generate. From a business and ethics perspective the old print media really needs to step up their game in this age of the blogosphere and quick information dissemination to the masses. How can an organization maintain credibility when tales of shameless selective reporting and bias become so transparent? Here's a bold proposition, the New York Times and other print media should assign reporters of the opposite political party to cover candidates during elections. Perhaps this would create an incentive to focus on facts first and downplay the need to cover for a candidate because of sympathy for the causes they champion. Not ever going to happen, but using a metric to maintain an adversarial element could be a healthy incentive. This only goes so far though because we saw how reporters willingly grabbed at strings to try and discredit McCain. Is a further erosion of old media and more segmentation the answer or is it unreasonable to expect a media outlet to strive for semi-objective and straight-forward political coverage? Perhaps the fact that this laundry is being aired at all is a victory unto itself.


  1. Good idea. On the other hand, maybe we're just heading back to the founding-era media where every paper is basically partisan, and that's just how it is. Is that a good thing? I don't know.

    One nit: according to the story you link to, "no money changed hands" in the NYT settlement.

  2. My bad. It should have read "reputational coin" pursuant to NYT component.

    There is something tiresome and venomous about all news being driven by mad partisan allegiance like in the days of yore. The idea of a semi-objective news outlet, like a C-SPAN, but broader would seem to satisfy a consumption demand and allow consumers to decide for themselves. As a consumer of news, I usually don't like partisan hacks screaming at each other gussied up as legit news. Plus, I can usually see when a reporter is trying to spin a bias. I'd just like to consumer news and draw my own conclusions. That seems hard for some of the giants in the industry to get. Maybe it's just me.