Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Imagine that a man who has brutally murdered several people, including children, is testifying at his own trial. Cameras are allowed in the courtroom and a television network is taping his testimony. The tape is played on the evening news.

When he see the news the murderer is incensed. The network, he claims, played only the part of the tape that showed him confessing to the killings. It edited out the part of the tape where he explained his very good reasons for doing so. The network, he claims, has materially misrepresented him.

I would not see media malpractice here. What the man did is so utterly unacceptable that his reasons for doing so are irrelevant. There is literally no reason for the network to broadcast them.

Now imagine that a major newspaper prints an article on child sexual abuse. The article praises the social workers who identify the abused children; the police and prosecutors who work to put the abusers in prison; and the counselors who help the victims have a chance at a normal life. They barely mention the abusers, except to express disgust that anyone would commit such an act.

After the article comes out, a pedophile advocacy organization protests that their side of the issue was not considered. No one interviewed them; the article’s author doesn’t even mention that such organizations exist. Perhaps, they acknowledge, the author of the article doesn’t agree with their position but he has an obligation to at least know what their arguments are, explain them honestly, and rebut them if he can.

I would not see media bias here. The advocacy organizations are not legitimate players in any public discourse. There is no need to take their views into account or even to acknowledge that anyone holds those views. They exist outside the realm of decent, serious society.

Perhaps what look like media malpractice and media bias to people on the Right; what look like deliberate decisions to deceptively edit and knowingly omit; what look like actions in service of an ideology and a goal; perhaps all that is simply a result of a mindset that defines certain people as existing outside the realm of decent, serious society and that believes no reason is sufficient to explain their utterly unacceptable ideas and policies.


Related reading:

If It Will Save a Single Life, We Must Get Piers Morgan's Stupid Fat Face off the Television - The idea for this post has been running around my head for a while. Reading this over at Ace of Spades made me decide to write it:

This is the underlying assumption that they simply will not confess, for if they did confess it, it would be game over for them. All of their conclusions -- all of their bias, all of their double-standards -- flow from this premise, which they will not admit, but will only dance around.

The premise is simply that liberal speech is much more valuable than conservative speech and this is of course because liberal politics are much more valuable than conservative ones.
Perhaps it’s not that they “will not confess” so much as that they do not realize there is anything to confess.

Conservatives need to create powerful, “sticky” messages that lead the electorate to a tipping point - From Bookworm:

... for decades the Left had created an intellectual atmosphere in which it was easy for people to believe, all evidence to the contrary, that Romney was an evil, soulless man, and that a Republican America would be, as Ted Kennedy so memorably said about Robert Bork,
a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….
That none of this came to pass during any Republican ascendency is irrelevant. 

Obama’s Thunderdome - From the Wall Street Journal:

What is striking about the Obama technique is that it's not so much criticism as something closer to political obliteration, driving his opposition out of the political arena altogether.
After the inaugural speech, Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer said that Democrats don't have "an opposition party worthy of the opportunity."

The problem with starting an alternative media on the right - From Neoneocon:

The much more basic problem with an alternative conservative media is that the media on the right has been so demonized—and any alternative media would be equally demonized—that Democrats and even many of those in the middle have been taught that it’s unreliable and will not watch it, and/or they automatically discount what it says.

So God Made a Fawner - Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. At the end of this piece, she writes:

... Mr. Kroft is a reporter whose job it is to be impartial and nonpartisan, and who works for a towering journalistic institution, "60 Minutes."

People like him are supposed to approach political figures with no fear or favor.

Their job is to grill. What are they afraid of?
I suspect the answer to that question can be found here:
In response to: The left is quite open about its intentions - From Breitbart (via Ace who is doing some interesting writing on media bias):

People don't want to be thought of as "extremist". No one wants to think their opinions are stupid, hateful or unpopular.


E Hines said...

I would not see media malpractice here. What the man did is so utterly unacceptable that his reasons for doing so are irrelevant. There is literally no reason for the network to broadcast them.

That's your own bias. I see no media bias here, either, but for a different reason--they simply chose not to tell the whole story (reasons for that deliberately unstated by me). What the man did seems so utterly unacceptable. But without knowing the facts of the matter, we cannot say they are unacceptable in this case. Not being able to think of any reasons for acceptability is not proof of unacceptability.

The advocacy organizations are not legitimate players...[t]hey exist outside the realm of decent, serious society.

This gets at the whole moral equivalency--some moral sets are better than others dichotomy. You and I don't buy moral equivalency, but that doesn't mean others don't--and one of the failures of moral equivalency IMO is that this stance blinds the holder to other points of view. If all morals are equal, then there's no way to distinguish among them--and there are no morals at all.

As for the "Right's" alternative media, this also presumes that they have anything to say. Republicans and conservatives both have been utterly incompetent communicators for far too long. Nobody listens because they're not talking to anybody. They only go on the existing media (sometimes) and blather or whine about how they're mistreated by that media or by the Left.

What is striking about the Obama technique.... from WSJ: this is just typical Chicago politics. I grew up in Kankakee; Obama's technique has been obvious from the jump. What's been striking to me--what's truly appalled me--is the timidity with which Republicans--and far too many conservatives--respond to this warfare.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elise said...

Eric, your first paragraph is half my point.

E Hines said...

What the man did is so utterly unacceptable that his reasons for doing so are irrelevant.

This is what I was responding to with my first para. This sounded like your reason for not seeing bias.

Eric Hines

Cass said...

There may be a couple of things going on here: media bias, but also perhaps media focus.

We tend to focus on what seems significant to us. Ideas we disagree with don't appeal to us as much as ones we share. We have no particular interest in being fair to them, or giving them equal time.

The list of things I choose not to write about has always interested me. I see a lot of conservative bloggers (I mention conservatives only b/c presumably they're "more like me" than liberal bloggers) latch onto particular stories, and often my take on "what's significant" in the day's news is so different from theirs.

I think your notion that the media don't bother to cover certain viewpoints because they dismiss them out of hand is a valid one because they occasionally come right out and admit that they do this!

I think conservatives do the same thing. It's just that there aren't so many of us in the media.

Elise said...

"What the man did is so utterly unacceptable that his reasons for doing so are irrelevant."

This is what I was responding to with my first para. This sounded like your reason for not seeing bias.

It was. But half the point I was making is that everyone sees some things as invalid: multiple murder; pedophilia; gender studies. We can't accept all modes of behavior as worthy of equal respect and consideration.

And I no longer believe that anyone practices universal moral equivalency. Everyone believes "some moral sets are better than others". What is happening is that there are two groups of people (call them Left and Right for convenience) whose views of which moral sets are better have less and less overlap.

The Right thinks the Left practices moral equivalency because the Left condemns different things than the Right. One of the things the Left condemns is the Right. In other words, think of an extreme situation where you believe one moral set is better than the other. Now think about how you view those who practice the moral set you think is worse. That's how the Left thinks of the Right.

Elise said...

After(!) posting that last comment, I went and looked up “moral equivalence” and I suspect what I was actually writing about was “moral relativism”. Wikipedia describes “moral equivalence” as:

The purveyors of the device usually start by believing their side is morally superior. They use history, possibly selectively, to cast the situation as a big-picture struggle against an evil power. This evil could be totalitarianism or genocidal policies or some other ostentatious villainy. They then justify the atrocities of their own side by claiming it to be a lesser evil compared with allowing the evil power to have its own way. These atrocities in this way become acts of good, not evil.

Wikipedia describes “moral relativism” as:

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

I think the idea that “some moral sets are better than others” is about moral relativism, not moral equivalence.