Thursday, September 04, 2008

More double standard from The Blade

It just irritates me so that the bias in the news stories from our local paper are so evident.

On the Wednesday nights of both political conventions, the vice presidential candidate makes a speech and the delegates actually vote for the presidential candidate.

Here are the headlines from the coverage of those events:

Obama gets nomination, thrills Dems with surprise as running mates celebrate on stage

Palin attacks Obama, defends her experience; governor touts political success in Alaska

I will certainly admit that Gov. Sarah Palin's speech was more of a news item than Sen. Joe Biden's and that the split delegates at the Democratic Party convention was more of a news story than the nomination of Sen. John McCain. So the focus of the two stories was, appropriately, different.

But note the terms: thrills, surprise, celebrate versus attacks, defends, touts.

They describe Sen. Barack Obama's satisfaction with Biden's speech with him "smiling broadly in obvious approval of Mr. Biden’s speech..." They further describe Biden's speech:

"...a from-the-gut uplifting of the struggling middle class to an in-your-face condemnation of the policies of John McCain and President Bush."

They also qualify the role of the vice presidential candidate, saying Biden showed "some of the political teeth that a running mate is supposed to show."

Well, if a running mate is supposed to show some political teeth, wouldn't they say the same of Palin? Unfortunately, no. According to the reporter, Palin joined in "in assailing Democratic Sen. Barack Obama."

"But she, along with most speakers last night, went on the attack, criticizing and mocking Mr. Obama for what they said were his lack of experience."
The vice presidential hopeful painted herself as a small-town hockey mom and used the biggest speech of her career to take swipes at Mr. Obama."

Again, note the words: assailing, criticizing, mocking, take swipes. There are also qualifiers - 'what they said were his lack of experience'- implying, subtly, that Obama has experience, but they're saying he doesn't. The statement could have easily - and accurately - been 'mocking Mr. Obama for his lack of experience' as that's what was happening. No such qualifying terms exist in their description of Biden's claims against McCain.

Both stories document the expectations of the campaigns with their selections.

"Republicans hope Mrs. Palin’s speech will convince voters on her candidacy despite questions about her experience, qualifications, distractions involving her family, and the vetting processes used by the McCain camp."

"Mr. Biden, 65, has been a senator since 1973, and Democrats hope his working-class roots and his Irish Catholic heritage will help win over some blue-collar voters who have sided with Republicans over social issues — such as abortion — in previous presidential elections."

Republicans hope Palin will convince...despite four problems. Democrats hope two advantages will win over. Unless you're looking at both stories side by side, you'd probably miss the hidden bias in what should be a simple statement of the hopes and expectations of the two campaigns.

I've had some people say to me that this bias is what we always get from The Blade. I disagree, as I've seen good news stories printed that do not contain such evident distortions. However, The Blade has garnered a reputation for having a slant to their stories that support the editorial viewpoint - and the viewpoint of the publisher. Apparently, publisher John Robinson Block was enamoured with Obama and, intentional or not, readers expect the news stories to be complimentary of Obama/Biden and critical of McCain/Palin.

The bigger problem is that the profession of journalism, which is supposed to be just the facts, suffers. Journalists have a code of ethics that includes not imposing their own cultural values on others and distinguishing between advocacy and news reporting. That includes being careful that their choice of words are neutral and not suggestive.

I have no illusions that blogging about these things will change the way the news is reported here. (In fact, some would say I put myself at risk by doing so.) But I do hope that you, by reading these comparisons, will note the techniques and become a more informed consumer of the news, better able to distinguish between the opinion and the facts.


Timothy W Higgins said...


Unfortunately you shine a light on some of the impending darkness around us.

First is that of an increasing lack of "ethics" in society today, journalistic or otherwise. An increasingly liberal society is abandoning the concept of ethics in favor of the "morality of instant gratification" This morality states that the good is me getting what I want as soon as I want it, and what that means to anyone else is not my concern.

Second are the Blade's attempts to set the bar of unbiased journalism lower on a daily basis. They didn't start this slide in adhering to journalistic ethics, but their election coverage certainly typifies it. The fact that we now all but take it for granted is a truly sad commentary on what was once a good paper and a truly noble profession.

Unknown said...

I agree with you, it's been one of the reasons I've been trying to focus more on "selectivity" which is basically a nice word for hypocrisy. I was interviewed by the New York Times last Friday, evidently what I had to say about what's happening in the presidential election as well as what the media is doing didn't fit in with their piece. When the media pundits claim there are few who are speaking out? The truth is there are few that they want you to hear...

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