Editorials say a lot

In this article in Forbes magazine, the owner of 13 “hyperlocal” newspapers in Texas, John  Garrett, tells us that his local editions serve a niche because “everybody is interested in roads and taxes.”

Garrett also said something that complemented my thought about bad journalism in this post:

We don’t editorialize. We lose all credibility when we take one side of an issue.

I wish I would have written that. Of course. How dumb are we?

It makes me laugh when I hear folks who believe media bias only exists on Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal. Not I that I don’t think those sources are biased. Of course they are.

What makes me laugh is that many of these same folks don’t see the bias in their preferred media outlets.

But, here Garrett gives us such a simple and obvious test for that bias. Just look at which sides of the issues they come down on in their editorials.

If they consistently come down on one particular side, how can you trust their reporting to be objective?

Media Bias

Here’s an interesting real story of media bias from David Henderson of EconLog.  Thanks to Megan McArdle for the link.

The issue:  Mainstream media typically attaches ideological labels to conservative sources, but not to liberal sources.

David Henderson wrote about when this happened to him in the L.A. Times and how he confronted the reporter.  Not only did the reporter ascribe an incorrect ideology to Henderson, he didn’t subscribe an ideology to the liberal sources in the same article.

I persisted and asked him why he didn’t ascribe an ideology to the other economists quoted, who clearly had ideologies. He explained that I was the only one quoted who was critical of the Obama team.
“Did you hear what you just said?” I asked. “Only those who are critical are given ideologies.”

We can talk about media bias, but it’s always good to have specific things to point to.  This is one. There’s no reason not to be fair and consistent and ideological labeling.  Either label everyone or don’t.

I think we all tend to do that in our own minds as well.  Those who agree with us get no labels.  Those who disagree are labeled to explain away the disagreement.  Much easier to do that than to actually think about the disagreement.

Media Bias

At the end of his book, The Vision of the Anointed, Thomas Sowell zeroes in on a form of media bias that’s different than simply the bias that derives from the personal philosophies of the members of media.

The prevailing vision of the anointed is particularly well adapted to politics and the tragic vision particularly ill-suited.  Politicians can more readily reduce it [vision of the anointed] to slogans and images, and the media can more readily dramatize it.

For example, the media cannot identify, much less dramatize, all those individuals who would have come down with some deadly disease if it were not for their being vaccinated.  But nothing is easier to dramatize than the rare individual who caught the disease from the vaccine itself and is now devastated by illness, physically or mentally crippled, or dying.

When the government creates some new program, nothing is easier than to show whatever benefits the program produces. Indeed, those who run the program will be more than cooperative in bringing those benefits to the attention of the media.  But it is virtually impossible to trace the taxes that paid for the program back to their sources and to show the alternative uses of that same money that could have been far more beneficial.

There is likewise no way the television camera can show which unemployed people would have had jobs, if the minimum wage laws had not made them too expensive to hire at their current levels of skills and experience–and thereby cut them off from acquiring the additional skills and experience they need.

To further his last point, a recent study showed that minimum wage laws can also hurt the people with jobs. Entry level workers have less power at work because they have fewer opportunities for other employment and more people willing to take their job if it comes open.  This gives the employers more bargaining power that may result in worse treatment of the employees.

As Mike Munger said in an October 2009 EconTalk podcast, putting a floor on wages just pushed bargaining power to other margins.  This can show up in a number of ways.  Maybe employers take less care in setting work schedules to meet the workers’ needs or are more willing to violate labor laws, like having employees work off the clock, because the workers don’t want to risk losing the jobs by filing a complaint.

Sowell included this quote from Paul Weaver:

The media are less a window on reality than a stage on which officials and journalists perform self-scripted, self serving fictions.

Keep that in mind as you watch the window on the world.  In many cases they’re telling you the story they want you to hear.