Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How The New York Times is destroying the nation, with no help from Fox News (Charles)

"Accuracy In Media is a non-profit, grassroots citizens watchdog of the news media that critiques botched and bungled news stories and sets the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage. We encourage members of the media to report the news fairly and objectively--without resorting to bias or partisanship...By advising them of their responsibility to the public, whom they claim to serve, AIM helps to nudge the members of the news media into greater accountability for their actions."

Does anything in that mission statement tell you that Accuracy In Media is really a right-wing organization concerned only with promoting conservative news stories, even at the expense of truly fair media?

This afternoon, we made a site visit to Accuracy In Media, which bills itself as a media watchdog group. AIM's executive secretary, Roger Aronoff gave us a presentation about the organization's history and purpose. According to him, AIM exists to promote an un-biased media. They follow the major news organizations' coverage and do fact checking to ensure that the stories are as accurate as possible. They also stay on the lookout for bias on a grander scale--overtly positive or negative coverage of certain candidates, excessive time given to some issues over others, or a general loss of objectivity. This all sounds pretty straightforward. After all, one of the foundations of democracy is an informed citizenry, and the media plays an important part in achieving that goal.

However, as Aronoff's talk wore on, it became clear that Accuracy in Media was in fact biased in their search for bias. In other words, they were wildly hypocritical. He spent quite some time discussing the leftward tilt of MSNBC with nary a mention of Fox News Channel. He was extremely concerned with the proliferation of coverage of Barack Obama over John McCain, but didn't seem to mind that Joe Biden was essentially ignored at the expense of Sarah Palin. Media reports that President Bush invaded Iraq under false pretenses were out of line, but stories that President Clinton's bombing of Baghdad in 1998 was designed to be a distraction from his impeachment trial were fair game. He asserted that the "liberal mainstream media" could have cost John McCain as much as 20 points in the 2008 election. Note that Barack Obama won the election by 7 points. So McCain would have won by 13 without the media distorting everything? Unlikely.

I don't have a problem with AIM promoting conservative causes through media intervention. They just shouldn't have "accuracy" in their name. Nor should they act as if they are oh-so-offended by the idea of bias in the news. They are fine with bias so long as it benefits their preferred candidates and causes.

Before I had quite realized how in the tank the organization was for the right, I asked a question about how they define a news story as positive or negative. For instance, I had read a study recently that flagged articles with assertions such as "Some conservatives believe that Sarah Palin hurt the Republican ticket" and "Barack Obama ran an extremely effective grassroots campaign" as pro-Obama stories. To me, neither of these show bias. I asked Aronoff how they qualify stories in which the facts seem biased and offered the example that Obama ran a better political campaign than McCain did, regardless of how you feel about their respective ideologies. He went off on a tangent about Obama's campaign finance and his relationship with William Ayers. Later, the Quinnipiac professor at the session tried again by asking how they would asses stories on global warming--some 90% of scientists believe that it is a man-made and dangerous phenomenon, so should journalists be required to present the remaining 10% as an equal opponent? Aronhoff pronounced AIM as "global warming skeptics" and went on to talk about why that was the case. This was too much for me. How on earth could they claim to mediate fair and balanced coverage when they were clearly supportive of a certain position? I asked, and he said they make no effort to remove their biases. Anyone who disagrees with them is biased; anyone who agrees is not. Autumn asked if they even bother to investigate the conservative bastion Fox News. He said yes--if Fox ran a story that seemed pro-global warming, then they would be all over it.

What a crock of shit.

If Accuracy In Media wants to purport themselves as a media watchdog (a truly noble mission), they need to get rid of their own biases. Until that point, they will lack credibility except as a minion of the radical right which exists only to silence critics of their politics.

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