Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bias, Not Malpractice

Many media critics use the term bias as a synonym for journalistic malpractice. I believe this is highly inappropriate. There are many instances of bias within hard news reports that actually advance the quest for truth.  

Two of my favorite opinionated journalists are Andrea Mitchell and Megyn Kelly. Their viewpoint, or bias, allows them to give truly informative interviews. I highlighted Andrea Mitchell’s home run interview with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a previous post. Megyn Kelly’s recent interview with University of Texas Professor Daniel Hamermesh was also highly insightful. Professor Hamermesh supports creating a system of affirmative action for ugly people in the workplace. While it is true that the unattractive are at a disadvantage when looking for jobs and promotions, there are many pitfalls for such a plan. Kelly’s own opposition to the plan allowed her to effectively question him on many of them, including,

Are you comfortable with creating an entirely new class of victim to clog up our court system?

One can have little doubt what Megyn thinks on this issue, and her show is more entertaining and informative as a result.  

Another interview that showed Megyn Kelly’s combative style was her recent takedown of radio host Mike Gallagher for his comment that her maternity leave was, “a racket.” That interview contained this gem:

I want you to know that the United States is the only country in the advanced world that doesn't require paid maternity leave. Now I happen to work for a nice employer that gives me paid maternity leave. But the United States is the only advanced country that doesn't require paid leave. If anything, the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave. And what is it about getting pregnant and carrying a baby for nine months that you don't think deserves a few months off so bonding and recovery can take place?

In addition to the interview with Rumsfeld, Andrea Mitchell showed her stripes during a roundtable discussion on Meet the Press.

One other quick point, why do we have a debt ceiling? We're the only major industrial country that does. Let's just get rid of the thing, people are saying. Only Denmark does.

This important fact was one that was largely missing from the debt ceiling debate. It is also clear that Mitchell thinks we ought to get rid of the debt ceiling entirely. This is a biased statement to be sure, but not one that is inappropriate.

This is not to say, however, that there are not instances of bias that are genuine cases of journalistic malpractice. I think of journalistic malpractice and bias as two circles in a Venn diagram. These statements by Megyn Kelly and Andrea Mitchell fall into the bias circle but not the malpractice circle. The circles overlap when a report leaves out information that is critical to understanding the story or when a journalist says something that is false or misleading. The media’s fixation on Sarah Palin’s bus tour, the Casey Anthony trial, and other insignificant public obsessions are malpractice but not bias.

I hope this is the end of the misguided Non sequitur that bias and journalistic malpractice are one and the same.   

P.S. Bias doesn’t have to necessarily cut across party lines. In the United States there is a strong bias towards ignoring or slanting stories that put US foreign policy and our allies in a negative light.

Originally Posted September 4, 2011

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