Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Subtle Bias Shows Up In Times News Story

News coverage, if it is done properly, delivers factual information straight and without bias toward any side. This is the job of the American news media: balance, fairness and accuracy, which are essential if Americans are to be informed well enough to make good decisions on important matters, and to have an accurate sense of reality.

It is not uncommon for today’s news media to stray from the straight and narrow path of honest news reporting and venture into the world of biased reporting, which, of course, destroys the objectivity and neutrality we depend upon. Some issues are more critical than others, obviously, and some examples of press bias are more damaging than others. The following example deals with an issue that is irrelevant to the security of the country, but is relevant as a political issue:

In Senate Vote, G.O.P. Fights Off Gonzales Rebuke
By David Johnston and Eric Lipton

Washington, June 11 — Senate Republicans blocked a symbolic no-confidence vote against Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Monday evening, dismissing the measure as an irrelevant gesture, though Democrats had hoped it might intensify pressure on Mr. Gonzales to resign.

"What’s wrong with that?” you might be asking. It seems innocuous enough, right? And, if you don’t stop and think about it, you might not notice the subtle jab at Republicans contained therein.

When you realize that the U.S. Senate has no role to play in whether Mr. Gonzales keeps his job or not, you ought to wonder why senators are wasting their time and our money on an irrelevant issue like a no-confidence vote on the Attorney General, instead of working on real problems. The reason, of course, is that Democrats score political points by pressuring the Republican administration to fire one of its main people and by doing so loudly in the press.

This story in The New York Times takes the Democrats’ side by placing the blame for the failure of this action on Republicans. However, when you consider that everyone in the Senate knew full well that it was a purely political effort, and for that reason was certain not to get many Republican votes, and when you realize further that there are only 51 Democrats in the Senate, nine short of the 60 votes needed for passage, there was never much chance of passing the measure.

So, while it is true that Republicans did not support the measure in sufficient numbers to pass it, given the political nature of the measure it is somewhat disingenuous to blame Republicans for the measure’s failure. It would have been just as accurate for the headline to be written: Democrats’ Partisan No-Confidence Measure Fails. But the most honest headline would simply have said: No-Confidence Vote Fails 53-38.

Having been written as it was, the headline and the story convey, however subtly, the idea that Republicans are playing politics by supporting the AG of a Republican administration, and in light of the enormous negative publicity against Mr. Gonzales, the Republicans appear partisan in their refusal to vote for the measure. It is one more piece of information that delicately colors perceptions, helping to firm up the idea that Republicans are not decent people who don’t play fair, and many people will react by thinking, “Those dastardly Republicans are protecting that horrible guy that fired those poor U.S. Attorneys for no reason.”

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