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Media Bias July 30, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Yesterday, I questioned the objectivity of science reporting in the media. I might as well continue the theme today in the political arena.

Last week at a White House press conference, reporter Jonathan Wiseman, referring to the Administration’s proposal to tax the wealthiest 1% to help pay for universal health care, asked the following question:

“My point is, is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there’s just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?”

Columnist David Sirota used Wiseman’s question as an example of how Washington journalists, who are supposed to be presenting an objective account of the news, import right-wing talking points by asking loaded questions.

And it is obviously a loaded question equivalent to asking someone when they stopped beating their wife.

As Sirota reports, the push-back from Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal was substantial:

On Friday, when my column hit newspapers, Weisman sent me a series of emails in protest. In his first note, he seemed to suggest that it wasn’t ethical or permissible to quote him asking his rigged question at a televised press conference because “it’s not from anything I’ve actually written.” Then, in a subsequent message, he said he wasn’t making “a statement of anything at all” (which I, of course, made clear in my column when I said he was “wondering” not “stating). Finally, and most importantly, he insisted he was merely asking a question and “a question is designed to elicit a response.”

Sirota points out the absurdity of this response:

…a reporter can ask the White House “Are you pushing a tax on the top 1 percent of Americans because those people have benefitted so disproportionately over the last three decades?” or he can ask if the White House is “soaking the rich” by “lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?” The point here is that questions can quite obviously convey ideology – and the idea that they can’t simply because they are questions “designed to elicit a response” is preposterous.

Sirota’s analysis is spot on.

Many Washington reporters don’t really have a basic understanding – or are willfully ignorant – of the role they play in framing the political debate, and how that role involves ideology/opinion/subjectivity. To Weisman, questions at press conferences are questions – they exist in a vacuum and play no subjective role in steering the debate or elevating topics or legitimizing frames. […]when he paints a tax on the richest 1 percent as “soaking the rich” and trying to unduly balance the budget on the backs on too small a group of people, he’s elevating that entire narrative into the public debate – and worse, he’s trying to do it under the guise and plausible deniability of “objectivity.” […]

He really seems to believe that the way he rigged his question was completely “fair and balanced,” as the saying goes. And that suggests what many of us have been saying for years: Namely, that the political debate has been so pervasively rigged and corrupted as to make the propaganda system invisible to those supporting it. It’s like the Matrix, really. In this case, the debate over tax fairness has for so long been so totally tilted to frames that support the status quo, that this reporter seems to have positively no idea that he’s asking a question loaded down with all sorts of ideological, opinion-based assumptions and frames.

Mainstream media have abdicated  their role as responsible chroniclers of the truth and have forfeited any right to exist. Newspapers are struggling to stay afloat as they strive to satisfy their corporate sponsors in a difficult economy.

We just might be better off without them.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Ian Duckles - August 3, 2009

There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the end of newspapers, and a great deal of hand-wringing about how awful this is, but I sometimes wonder if that is really a bad thing. Certainly we have been ill-served by the mainstream media in the last decade (and probably longer than that), and I wonder of we wouldn’t be better off if some of these outlets just went away.

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