Monday, February 06, 2012

Blade Bias #11

I was forwarded this column by The Blade's ombudsman, who is supposed to help monitor 'fairness' in the newspaper.

To say that it hurts my head to read the column would be an understatement. Contradiction and anti-logic abound. If this is the twisted and contorted reasoning the ombudsman applies to his task, perhaps it's no surprise that this is the 11th column I've written on the bias in the paper, at least since I resorted to just numbering the columns.

Let's start with the first sentence:

For many years, The Blade has worked hard to see that its news coverage is free of partisan bias.

Actually, this cannot be true when, in a negative story, the Republican is identified immediately as a Republican but the Democrat descriptor waits until the end of the article - or never appears at all. Or when the political party of a prosecutor is emphasized, but the political party of the indicted individual is not.

Or how about the adjectives used to identify partisan philosophy? The paper routinely identifies the Buckeye Institute as a conservative think tank, but fails to identify the Center for American Progress as a liberal (progressive) one.

Clearly, these examples prove that the news coverage is not "free of partisan bias." But perhaps the ombudsman is correct that they "work hard." They just fail.

The next 'logic' is that deciding what stories to cover is not based on 'fairness.'

Now, the ombudsman may have a point in that a decision to cover the actions of elected officials in Toledo may result in more stories about Democrats than Republicans, which is not 'fair.' But that's based upon the fact that there are more elected Democrats, so it's not 'unfair' to end up with a disproportional number of D to R news stories.

But a quick look at headlines for the 2009 Toledo mayoral race shows that 'fairness' clearly isn't an aim when it comes to headlines and identifying the Republican and Democrat candidates, as I've previously documented:

Note the not-so-subtle bias of including some candidate names in the headline versus others and note which candidates get their names listed first. Also, do you really think the selection of an advertising firm is a news story (as in Wilkowski's case)? The selection of any particular firm will have ramifications for the other candidates because a firm isn't going to have two mayoral candidates as clients. Do you know who the other candidates have selected? Not from The Blade.

Also, look at the nature of the headlines - whether it's positive or negative. On Wilkowski, you have 'pitches wind-testing program,' 'adds advisory panel,' 'leads in cash,' 'suggests tax credit,' and 'vows aid to small firms.' On Bell you have 'resign' and 'draws flak.' On Konop you have an appeal to sympathy as 'critics' attack him. On Moody you have 'seeks special plates' and 'privatize' along with 'businessman' and 'businesslike.'

The impression from the headlines is one of specific and positive ideas from Wilkowski, but not so much from the other candidates. While it's still early in the race and Wilkowski, as I noted above, has more time as a candidate, those factors do not account for today's Moody headline of 'GOP mayoral hopeful offers plan.' They could have used any number of headlines (like 'Moody offers turn-around plan for city,' 'Moody offers plan to retool city,' or even 'Moody offers 5-point plan for city') that included his name and some description of the plan. They even could have focused on just one aspect of the press announcement and used a paragraph to say that other ideas, including x, y, z, were also presented. But they didn't.

These are specific ways in which the coverage is slanted and biased.

Again, if 'fairness' is the aim, then The Blade is failing miserably.

But anti-logic comes to the rescue, as the ombudsman explains:

But it's important to remember two things -- fairness, which is what I, as the ombudsman, am supposed to monitor, doesn't have anything to do with choosing what stories the paper should focus on.


But if the sports editor thinks one team or another is more worthy of coverage, that isn't necessarily unfair but is that editor's call, based on his news judgment and knowledge of the area.

Apparently, using this anti-logic, when a news editor decides what to cover, there is no bias present, despite an editor making a judgment call as to what constitutes 'news.' This article explains the bias well:

Bias through selection and omission: An editor can express bias by choosing whether or not to use a specific news story. Within a story, some details can be ignored, others can be included to give readers or viewers a different opinion about the events reported. Only by comparing news reports from a wide variety of sources can this type of bias be observed.

For example, if people boo during one of President Clinton's speeches, the booing can be described as "remarks greeted by jeers" or the boos can be ignored as "a handful of people who disagree".

As in my example above about the headlines, it was an editor's decision that the selection of an advertising firm by a favored candidate in the 2009 mayoral race was news - but only for the favored candidate, not for all candidates.

Then there was this story about union violence against a business owner. Strangely, The Blade failed to report any of the information that indicated a potential union connection.

Clearly, editorial decisions about what to cover and how to cover it are not always based on objectivity. Again, the paper has failed miserably in both bias and fairness.

In his next point, the ombudsman takes exception to a writer who points out the hypocrisy of the editorial board. He writes:

The paper does not, however, have a right to be hypocritical, and one longtime critic of the newspaper complained the newspaper is doing just that. He notes that on Christmas Day, David Kushma, the editor of The Blade, cautioned letter writers to "be civil," adding, "Name-calling is not argument. One-word labels are not ideas."

True enough. Yet the writer was upset because the newspaper nine months earlier criticized those "Luddites in Congress, mainly Republicans," who were trying to repeal the law ordering the phasing out of old-fashioned, energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs.

He is correct that the paper does not have a right to by hypocritical, but then defends the hypocrisy by saying, basically, it's not 'name-calling' if the description is accurate.

When a description is completely accurate, it is not unfair name-calling.

Huh? The editor of The Blade writes an editorial that says "name-calling is not an argument. One-word labels are not ideas" and when the paper gets caught doing exactly that - name-calling and using a one-word label, the ombudsman says 'that's okay because when we do, it's just being descriptive and accurate.'

I guess calling voters unwise and implying they're stingy when they don't support an endorsed tax levy is 'just being accurate,' as is calling the local United Way board 'rash', or when they say local business leaders are not displaying leadership and exhibiting a 'lack of resolve' because they don't jump on board the paper's push for a charter county form of government.

You may say that these are 'descriptive' from the editorial point of view, but they're name-calling just the same.

It is this type of convoluted exception-making that makes my head hurt - and part of the reason why these types of articles in the paper have to be emailed to me for me to know about them.

But is it any wonder why The Blade has such bias and 'unfairness' in their news and editorial pages when this is the contorted and illogical reasoning of their ombudsman?

1 comment:

Mad Jack said...

Good job, Maggie. I read that piece via your link and I note that it's categorized as 'commentary'. Which is appropriate as well as accurate. I didn't have the patience to write an extended criticism.

Jack Lessenberry has provided the audience of a good example of Moonbat propaganda, no more nor less.

Google Analytics Alternative