Point, Counterpoint on the Mainstream Media’s Virtues, Failings

Here’s an interesting pair of items. From the Washington Post’s Dana Millbank: My bias for mainstream news:

Partisans on the left and right have formed cottage industries devoted to discrediting what they dismissively call the “mainstream media” — the networks, daily newspapers and newsmagazines. Their goal: to steer readers and viewers toward ideologically driven outlets that will confirm their own views and protect them from disagreeable facts. In an increasingly fragmented media world, ideologues have already devolved into parallel universes, in which liberals and conservatives can select talk radio hosts, cable news pundits and blogs that share their prejudices.

Millbank makes some good points. The sort of self-selecting bias amplification he’s talking about certainly is a real risk, and I appreciate his reminder that it’s not just Freepers who need to be on their guard against it.

But in lumping liberal and conservative extremes together in their willingness to distort reality, Millbank himself may be succumbing to the “neutrality bias” that mainstream media is prone to. There was a great Joe Frank radio show I listened to years ago where he talked about this: On tonight’s program, a point/counterpoint. On this side of the table, the torturer. On the other side, the victim. Two people, two points of view. So, let’s get started… Gentlemen? (pause) Gentlemen?

Yes, liberal and conservative partisans have some failings in common. But that doesn’t mean their criticisms and conspiracy theories are always factually equivalent. In that vein, here’s a nice criticism of Millbank’s piece. From The Sideshow: Dumb media:

You note the falsehood from the right claiming that WMD were in Iraq and that there were links between Saddam and Al Qaeda and 9/11. But you contrast that with suspicions on the left about the possibility that George Bush was cheating at the presidential debates by use of an earpiece feed.

What on earth makes you think these two items are equivalent in any way? Just to begin with, the first story is a documented lie; the second is a reasonable suspicion, though not proven either way. The first story has been investigated to death, quite rightly, but the second, for no apparent reason, is being dismissed out of hand.

Perhaps you would like to explain why the fact that there certainly was something strange on George Bush’s back during the debates has never been investigated at all. We all saw it, we all had questions about it, but the news media has simply refused to acknowledge the possibility that Bush may have been cheating. This despite the fact that Bush was obviously lying when he blamed it all on his (very expensive!) tailor.

This is the same president whose administration is responsible for promulgating the impression that WMD were in Iraq and that Saddam was tied to 9/11 and Al Qaeda in the first place – and it’s impossible that he was cheating at the debates? Why? What WAS that thing on his back?

That’s just a taste; the whole thing is pretty fun.

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