Question: How Do You Spot A Biased Newspaper?

Slanted? Waddya mean "slanted"?

Slanted? Waddya mean “slanted”?

Answer: Read the Letters to the Editor.

I now subscribe to the New York Times, and the uniform one-way slant of the Letters to the Editor is palpable and fascinating. I’ve been tempted many times, including today, to do a post critiquing the biases in all the Times letters in a single edition. Maybe some day.

80% of the letters list progressive or Democratic talking points, either because that’s the approximate proportion of liberals among the Times readership, or because that percentage (it is remarkably consistent, day to day, paper to paper) reflects the bias of the editors choosing which letters to print.  I have concluded that the letters are probably even more weighted to the left than the reader opinions published reflect. The Times just feels obligated to include a non-conforming, aka “conservative,”  view here and there so its bias won’t be screamingly obvious. It’s an objective paper, after all.

Today’s mail call was dominated by one letter after another excoriating Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments, which was also the theme of today’s Times editorial. In particular, the appointment of Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State was a target of the correspondents’ disgust.  The majority view was stated in one letter this way:

“Like Donald Trump, Mr. Tillerson has no experience in the delicate and sensitive art of diplomacy.”

It wasn’t until the fourth letter (out of five: 80%!) that a commenter mentioned the obvious, and exactly what I was thinking as I read all the expressions of  horror:

“As to Mr. Tillerson’s experience, how much diplomatic experience did Hillary Clinton have?”

Before being appointed Secretary of State? Virtually none, except for a smidgen as First Lady. How much diplomatic experience did Barack Obama have? Less. Trump and Tillerson have far more practical experience in negotiation abroad than either Clinton or Obama in 2009, and yet Hillary and Barack’s  deficiency didn’t spark anguished editorials and letters to the editor then. Go figure.

This is the dominant pattern in the mainstream media, and on particularly ugly display right now. (Naturally, I’m a partisan shill for having the bad manners to mention it.) Another example: when the Democrats in the Senate were blocking Bush appointments, the Times defended, vigorously, the Senate filibuster. When Obama’s legislative agenda was stalled before a Republican Senate majority, the Times called for an end to the filibuster as an outdated and destructive maneuver. Soon, if the Republicans do as outgoing Democratic Party Senate leader Harry Reid threatened to do when he thought a Senate majority would follow President Hillary into the White House and gut the device, the Times can be counted on to wax patriotic about the value of this weapon against an oppressive majority. (The Republican would be fools to kill the filibuster, just as Democrats were fools in 2013 to employ the so-called “nuclear option,” as if the Republicans would never be in a position to nuke them. But then, Republicans are often fools….)

Is it too much to ask for the news media to apply a single standard consistently and fairly?

Apparently so. To be fair to the Times, however, that’s not what its readers want. They want bias their way.

24 Comments

Filed under Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

24 responses to “Question: How Do You Spot A Biased Newspaper?

  1. Steve-O-in-NJ

    I’m sure the Times is also calling for the end of, or at least the reexamination of, the electoral college as well, just as they published an article advocating for the elimination of mid-term elections two years ago just as they were about to get creamed in the 2014 Senate races.

    Increasingly the leftist way is “if you can’t win, change the rules so that you can.”

      • Steve-O-in-NJ

        One could write a whole book about the left’s long, slow slide down into soft totalitarianism, but I think it all boils down to the left’s innate closed-mindedness, statism, and elitism. There’s not a single leftist tyrant who didn’t come to power believing he (or rarely she) hadn’t found the perfect way, from Marat to Pol Pot, and that, for the greater good, everything else had to give way. As often as not they had and did not hesitate to use the power of the state to force compliance, at the blade of a guillotine or the point of a gun, until they so crushed the subject people that they were without hope, and therefore without anything to lose by rising up.

        The left here in the US isn’t at that point yet, but they got to run rampant for 2 years and had a pretty free hand for 6 to advance their agenda within the law when possible, around it when necessary. As we’ve discussed at length it finally got to the point where the American people decided we’d had enough and threw them out of power. Now they face the depressing reality of seeing everything done over the last 8 years, or a good chunk of it, being undone. When you believe you were right and spent 8 years doing the right thing, that prospect simply does not compute, and perhaps you come to believe that the franchise or the system as it stands has been abused to deprive you of your rightful place at its head. It’s not that far to arrive at the thinking that says that, like a parent taking away a toy from a child who won’t play with it the way you want him to, you would be doing the right thing to take the right to a meaningful vote or even a vote at all, away from a populace that clearly didn’t know better, because it didn’t elect you.

      • I think it stems from a belief that their beliefs, morals and experience are the only correct ones, and that every failure is not only devastating, but the result of an external problem; the ignorance of the population, the system as operated… Whatever the cause, they’ll never be introspective enough to admit they might have contributed, and at the end of the day, because the system produced the Wrong result, it must be fixed.

    • Steve-O-in-NJ said, “Increasingly the leftist way is “if you can’t win, change the rules so that you can.” “

      I heard the similar statements about the redistricting gerrymandering on both sides of the political aisle; change the district lines so it’s impossible for “them” to win anything but a few token districts.

  2. Al Veerhoff

    Is that approach limited to only one side of the political spectrum?

    What bothers me more is how much time a representative has to spend raising money for his next election. Campaign financing can consume about as much energy and effort as lawmaking. And of course any donor ready to make a large enough contribution to ease the burden is certain to capture the congressman’s ear.

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      The approach, no, the right usually relies on gerrymandering. The attitude, yes.

    • No, but since the vast majority of print and broadcast news media slants left, that approach does the most damage from that direction.

    • brian

      I never found the amount of money in politics currently to be that worrisome, American’s spend more on Gum every year than they do on a Presidential election every 4.

      But for those that are concerned, if you want money out of politics than get the politics out of money. Cut down on the value of donating money by decreasing the ability of politicians to harm/benefit moneyed interests. If regulation and laws were designed to benefit the American economy as a whole, there would be little value in rich people making contributions. But as it stands now I view regulation as mostly an exercise in raising the bar of entry into a business to protect existing stakeholders, and then bribing existing stakeholders with the threat of loosening those regulations in the future.

  3. Al Veerhoff

    Reluctantly I agree. But the right’s response to this slant is to overwhelm readers with half truths, conspiracy theories and cries of impending doom.
    Wouldn’t it be nice sometimes to see an honest debate about a major issue? (Present company excepted)

    • brian

      When did the right start reporting on Russian election hacking?

      • Matthew B

        I’m not sure I understand the premise of the “hacking” of the election… The concern is that the Russians / Putin leaked the truth about Hillary and that swayed the election?

        • I thought I saw some references to hacking the electoral system. Though I can’t find those references anymore. So maybe some hysterics that were rapidly withdrawn.

          • Matthew B

            There was some talk right after the election along the lines that perhaps it was hacked. Just like 2004, the polls were off in the swing states. To die hard democrats, that must mean the election was hacked instead of the polls being incorrect.

            But the people making those claims are on the fringe. Among the main stream media and Democrat party insiders, the claim is that the trickle of hacked emails was the “hacked” election.

            At no point is anyone attacking the accuracy of the leaks. That right there should be pretty telling – those upset are claiming that the truth is damaging and democracy would have been better served to have the truth buried. In my not so humble opinion, that’s a pretty dangerous position.

        • That’s it, essentially. Oddly, the Times et al. did not take the same view toward the Pentagon Papers…

    • I would, yes. I would say that at this moment, at least regarding Trump, the conspiracy theories and cries of impending doom are mostly blowing in from the Left.

  4. “Is it too much to ask for the news media to apply a single standard consistently and fairly?”

    In today’s world I think the answer is a very solid yes, because it’s popular to be extremely partisan, it’s been pushed to the brink the last eight years and it’s not gonna stop anytime soon.

  5. luckyesteeyoreman

    “Answer: Read the Letters to the Editor.”

    I don’t think I can agree with that, for all newspapers. I subscribe to the Houston Chronicle. Headlines, articles, editorial cartoons, “in-paper” editorials, and regular columnists off the op-ed page are quite clearly, even too cleverly, left-biased. But whoever decides on the letters that are printed, seems careful (at least, on some days, many days) to publish diverse points of view. The Chronicle runs opinion pieces by Krauthammer (right-leaning) and Krugman (leftist), plus by many others who seem to span a spectrum of political thought and orientations.

    My impression (or suspicion) is that the Chronicle, in a securely blue big city, does not want to completely blow off and alienate readers (thus losing advertisers) in Houston’s surrounding, mostly-red-today-but-evolving-bluer exurbs. So the leftist editors reluctantly and strugglingly include some non-leftist and anti-leftist expression – but they won’t continue doing so forever, and I expect that they will make the Chronicle’s opinion pages a leftist daily echo chamber soon enough. I agree with what Zoltar said at 4:49 pm.

  6. Wayne

    New Hampshire’s Union Leader seems to be the only big city newspaper around that has a rightist slant. Unfortunately it may be in financial trouble. So like the Universities, it’s difficult to find one that has a conservative POV.

  7. http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/289719/nyt-goes-full-circle-filibusters-ed-whelan

    NYT Goes Full Circle on Filibusters SHARE ARTICLE ON FACEBOOKSHARE TWEET ARTICLETWEET PLUS ONE ARTICLE ON GOOGLE PLUS+1 PRINT ARTICLE ADJUST FONT SIZEAA by ED WHELAN January 31, 2012 9:48 AM @EDWHELANEPPC On Sunday, the New York Times, in a house editorial entitled “Filibustering Nominees Must End,” embraced President Obama’s call, in his State of the Union address last week, for the Senate to change its rules to require votes on judicial (and executive) nominees within 90 days. In its editorial, the NYT admits that its stance against the judicial filibuster “is a major change of position for us.” Actually, it’s the NYT’s second 180-degree reversal on filibusters. See if you can detect a pattern: In 1995, when Bill Clinton was president and the filibuster was being used only against legislation and executive-branch nominees, the NYT (in “Time to Retire the Filibuster”) called for the Senate “to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no purpose.” But in a dozen or so editorials between 2003 and 2006 (gee, who was president then?), even while recognizing that “the filibuster has not traditionally been used to stop judicial confirmations,” the NYT supported its use against Bush 43 nominees and hailed its existence as “go[ing] to the center of the peculiar but effective form of government America cherishes.” Indeed, the NYT said it had learned its lesson since its 1995 editorial: To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide. Now, in 2012, the NYT opposes Republican senators having “all the protections the Senate rules can provide.” The two examples that the NYT cites of victims of the judicial filibuster are also telling. The NYT claims that Ninth Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu was “entirely in the legal mainstream”—a proposition that Liu’s record belies and that Obama himself has implicitly abandoned. By contrast, the only Republican victim it will say that Democrats wrongly “used the filibuster” against is Sixth Circuit judge Jeffrey Sutton. But Sutton’s nomination wasn’t filibustered: although it faced procedural obstruction and received 41 votes against, it was never subject to a cloture vote. Misidentifying Sutton as a victim of the filibuster enables the NYT to pose as bipartisan while sparing it the trouble of actually identifying a single filibustered Bush 43 judicial nominee whom it now believes shouldn’t have been filibustered. That should make it easier for the NYT to do another about-face the next time a Republican president is making judicial nominations. As I have made clear repeatedly over the years, I would welcome an end to the filibuster of judicial nominees. But I don’t think that goal is advanced by the NYT’s transparently partisan posturing.

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/289719/nyt-goes-full-circle-filibusters-ed-whelan

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