Monday, April 26, 2004
That's what Brian Leiter is saying:
Ever since Bill Keller took over at the NY Times, the paper has been bending over backwards to dignify right-wing stupidity at every opportunity--predictable, I suppose, based on Mr. Keller's op-ed columns before he became the editor. One sign of that was the creation of a regular column for David "smear 'em with a smile" Brooks. Another has been the way purportedly "news" items go out of their way to present "the other side," so, e.g., if a story is purportedly about the fact that "50 million people marched on Washington to protest the Bush Administration policy that 'up is really down' and 'war is really peace,'" you can rest assured that we'll get several paragraphs of Karen Hughes, or some other professional prevaricator, explaining that "up is really down" and those who deny it are aiding and abetting terrorists.
So let me get this straight. The fact that the Times has one somewhat conservative columnist is an example of bending over backwards to dignify stupidity? Now that is some air-tight logic. Even better, Leiter thinks that it is inappropriate somehow to give more than one perspective to a given news story. It would be journalistic malpractice for a reporter to simply present one side of a debate (such as his hypothetical protest, even though Leiter has rigged the hypo so that there is only one correct side to the debate). Unless the Times is going to jetisson any claims to balance, it is not their place to declare one side of a controversy to be the correct side, and then decide not to talk to the other side.
Leiter's specific example does not make his argument any better:
In any case, what brought all this to mind is that a trusted reader of this blog recently wrote to the News Section of the NY Times to protest their coverage of the March on Washington for abortion rights which, in its original version (they've now edited it!), devoted several paragraphs--in the middle of a story about the protest--to Karen Hughes explaining why the Bush Administration was "moderate" on the subject, and which included this memorable line from Hughes:
I think this should be a fairly basic concept that a highly educated individual like Professor Leiter would grasp intuitively, but inclusion of a quote in a NEWS story does not mean that the newspaper is endorsing the views expressed. That being said, I think Leiter is being a little overly touchy about the Hughes quote. But even if he is right that Hughes is comparing the marchers to terrorists, wouldn't that be a newsworthy statement from a close advisor to President Bush?
But perhaps Leiter is arguing that this story should not have involved anything about Bush at all. After all, it was a report on a protest.
But let's read what the story in question said about the march itself:
Speaker after speaker declared that President Bush and his allies in Congress were trying to impose an ideological agenda on abortion and family planning programs, both at home and abroad. The advocates warned that the erosion might be stealthy and incremental — regulations and restrictions rather than outright bans — but asserted that the trend was unmistakable.
Funny that Leiter has no problem with the Times including the Smeal quotation calling Bush's policy a "war on women" - a statement that is not really distinguishable from the Hughes statement that Leiter whined about (and a statement that the Times did not delete from this version of the story). Apparently, only inflammatory statements that Leiter disagrees with should be excluded from news stories.
But in a broader sense, the March was very much about trashing the Bush administration and to report on this protest without including some perspective on why the Bush administration was not evil would be an utter failure of journalism.
In fact, the amount of coverage the edited story gives to the pro-Bush perspective is woefully inadequate and belies Leiter's claim that the Times is bending over backwards to accomodate conservative criticism.
Here is the grand total of pro-life coverage in the edited piece:
Administration officials, in fact, have long maintained that the president's policies are solidly in the mainstream of American public opinion; although he opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the woman, he has said the country is not ready for an outright ban.
So, to recap, the Times was engaged in reasonable journalism by reporting on the Hughes comments. However, some hard-core lefties like Leiter complained, so the Times removed pretty much any conservative arguments from their story. And yet, Leiter uses this as an example of conservative bias at the Times?
From a guy who isn't afraid to throw out accusations of academic fraud, the intellectual dishonesty is a little shocking.
If you are interested in reading something about actual media bias, check out this from Instapundit.
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