Monday, April 06, 2009

More bias in The Blade

It won't come as a surprise to those of us who live in Toledo, but instances of bias in our local daily paper exist and they need to be continually emphasized so as to provide the impetus for correction.

What bias in The Blade, you ask?

This isn't the in-your-face, good picture/bad picture (those we like/those we don't) reputation they've established. Nor is it the blatant 'identify the Republican in the headline and the Democrat in the last paragraph of a negative story.'

No, this is the subtle bias of how adjectives are used - in this most recent example, to describe think tanks.

On March 29, in a story about Ohio's debt, the Buckeye Institute, a free-market think tank, is referenced.

"This [constitutional] cap was put in historically to protect future taxpayers from bad decisions now. Frankly, the state has gotten careless in putting on more debt and just assuming that the economy only grows and we're not going to get up to the ceiling," said David Hansen, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a conservative, Columbus-based think tank. (emphasis added)

While some would consider Buckeye Institute to be conservative, they identify themselves as free-market. The proper way to reference them would be to call then what they call themselves, if you're going to call them anything at all. I suppose that calling them 'conservative' in the news article isn't really too much of a big deal, especially because supporting free-market principles is a component of a conservative political philosophy.


It becomes a big deal when you see that The Blade does not identify liberal think tanks in the same way.

In today's paper, there is an article about women being the breadwinners as men suffer higher numbers of layoffs in this economy. While they constitute more of the workforce in hard-hit industries, this should come as no surprise, as the article points out. But then there is this:

Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, says the gender gap in layoffs during tough economic times is not new, but this time it's far more dramatic.

And who is the Center for American Progess? Well, it's the highly liberal think tank started by John D. Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. They even say, on their 'about us' webpage:

Our ability to develop thoughtful policy proposals and engage in the war of ideas with conservatives is unique and effective.(emphasis added)

They call themselves 'progressives' and say they believe in the 'common good over narrow self-interest.' In their annual report, they tout "Talking Points – a daily line of argument to sharpen the progressive case and debunk conservative spin."

Now, this information about them being opposed to conservative ideas was readily available and easy to find. A simple Internet search on the name of the organization and their 'about us' page told me that they are clearly liberal in their thinking. That they call themselves 'progressives' (primarily because the liberal connotation is negative to many) doesn't change their philosophical approach to issues.

Had The Blade called them 'liberal' or, even, 'progessive' I wouldn't be making this post. But they didn't.

Their not-so-subtle bias and penchant for identifying conservative think tanks but not liberal ones needs to be pointed out. The Blade needs to treat all think tanks the same: either identify them by their philosophical standing, or don't. But do not expect to get away with calling out one and not the other.

SIDE NOTE: I've mentioned previously that I have a degree in journalism and was awarded the prestigious Dow Jone Newspaper Fund Editing Internship when I was in school. One of the things I know, as a result of my education and internship, is that newspapers have style books that are supposed to ensure references and copy are formatted similarly throughout the newspaper on a regular basis.

Such style books give reporters the information to, for example, properly reference individuals (do you use Mr./Mrs./Ms., or just their last name on first and subsequent mentions?). They cover such issues as capitalizing 'city council,' use of state names or abbreviations, how you use quotations, use of punctuation and even proper spelling. They should also list the rules for how think tanks and other organizations are identified.

I was taught that these guidelines exist not only to provide consistency throughout a publication, but also to avoid the appearance of bias or disparate treatment. Either The Blade doesn't have a rule for the philosophical perspective of think tanks, or they deliberate ignore it. Either way, it needs to be corrected.


Roman said...

Most bias, like discrimination, is subtle, more like an attitude. It is almost an unspoken, understood way of doing things. To codify this in a style book would prove problematic when found out. The way it is carried out allows the management a way to explain it away as something that just "happened".

Chris said...

Aren't you guilty of the same thing? You described the Center for American Progress as "highly liberal". They don't describe themselves that way. I would cut you some slack, in that you are not held to journalistic standards on your blog...but then you touted your journalism achievement.

Btw, would it have been acceptable to describe the Buckeye Institute as an "anti-union think tank"?

Maggie Thurber said...

Chris - you need to read all of what I write and not pick and choose from my posts.

I am not guilty of the same thing and since you apparently missed it, I wrote:

"Had The Blade called them 'liberal' or, even, 'progessive' I wouldn't be making this post.

And you fail to comment on the topic and instead decide to attack the messenger, which is something I will call on a regular basis.

Are you suggesting that because I call a highly liberal think tank 'highly liberal' that it is somehow okay for the paper to NOT identify them in any way?

How does my writing or not on the issue change the point that the paper - in it's news stories - clearly exhibits a bias or poor journalism practices?

Trying to imply that my writings, wherein I identify the political philosophies of the two think tanks, somehow excuses The Blade from not doing so just doesn't pass muster and I'd suggest you do a google search for 'fallacies' when it comes to making arguments.

As for your last question - if the paper had called the Buckeye Institute 'anti-union' but identified CAP as 'pro-union,' I wouldn't have written a post.

If they had made a point of calling CAP 'pro-union' but then neglected to apply the corresponding descriptor to Buckeye, I would have a problem with it.

It's about the lack of consistency in the news portions of the paper.

My blog is my opinion - not news, so your warped 'I'd cut you some slack' perspective is invalid. If The Blade wanted to make these omissions as part of their editorials, the 'bias' wouldn't be an issue, because bias belongs on the editorial page.

Hooda Thunkit said...

As you clearly pointed out, if the blade has a style (for lack of a better, more accurate word) it is neither consistent, nor honest, IMNHO.

But I would expect nothing less from a dinosaur in its death throes...

Good call Maggie.

(And if anyone still doesn't know, or still doubts it, I self classify myself as both a fiscal and social conservative and aligned with no party totally, as I see good and bad in both.)


navyvet said...

Cent. for Amer Progess....Podesta:

to be fair and accurate.....

is better described as Radical Lib!!

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