Sunday, September 23, 2007

Another Post on Media Bias

I just finished this survey from (My personal results are in green.)

One of the things that stand out here is that conservatives tend to place a higher value on loyalty, while liberals tend to place a higher value on fairness. I find that significant, because--unlike the other values on this chart--fairness and loyalty are inherently at odds. Fairness, or impartiality, means treating everyone the same—without favor, while loyalty means treating your favored person, group or organization better—with favor. Showing one means sacrificing the other.

Tying this back to media bias: a chart of these values, as they relate to journalism, would look very much like the chart of a liberal. It would probably be even more exaggerated—with fairness having an even higher premium, and loyalty, authority and purity being even lower. Fairness, balance, impartiality... these are supposed to be the guiding principles of journalism. “Without fear or favor” is not just The New York Times' motto, but the motto of journalism itself. Journalism also places some premium on harm, specifically on reporting harm and not causing harm, with significantly less emphasis on purity, authority and especially loyalty. Again, loyalty is the antithesis of impartiality. It is impossible to show loyalty without showing bias.

Respect for authority is also at odds with journalistic ethics—that “without fear” portion refers to not fearing the people in power and authority. And of course purity is a very difficult area for journalists. What does it mean? And who's idea of purity should they adopt, when some of the most contentious issues of our time center on opposing views of purity? So the “unbiased” media is stuck in a catch 22. In order to be unbiased, they must adopt the liberal viewpoint—always asking: “is this fair?” and often “is it harmful?”, but eschewing the questions: “is this pure?”, “is it loyal?” and “is it respectful?”

But here's the rub. This moral profile of journalism may appear liberal, and it may even be a liberal quality of journalism, but it must not be mistaken for a pro-liberal bias. Being unbiased may imply being liberal, but it should be obvious that being unbiased does not imply being biased. Ironically, even a medium with a pro-conservative bias may appear liberal if it strives for, or even gives lip service to, these journalistic ideals. Compounding the irony is that both liberal and conservative values, in the media, tend to benefit conservatives. Conservatives in the media (and in Congress, for that matter) prove their virtue by showing how loyal they are. Liberals prove their virtue by showing how unbiased they are—often by sticking it to their own side. This is why liberals have no counterpart to Rush Limbaugh; their consciences won't let them.

A case in point is the recent “General Betray Us” controversy. Democrats felt compelled to vote for a resolution condemning the Move On ad: “See how fair we are. We condemn our own allies, when they misbehave.” But Rush Limbaugh (and a host of other conservatives) use that kind of language all the time, without a peep of condemnation from the Republicans—much less a congressional resolution. In fact, he used the exact same language—calling senator Haggle “Senator Betray Us,” shortly before the Move On ad. Far from condemning his rhetoric, Republicans praise it—at least as long as it's directed at liberals. In 1994, congressional Republicans even named him an honorary member of Congress! Of course, in those days he was aiming his vitriol at “FemiNazis” and “Hitlery Clinton”--a smear he continues to use today.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

mark haidt was at OSU yesterday. i'm afraid the research struck me at the time as a boring and naive taxonomy.

but you've got some potentiallly itneresting implications, here. thanks.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Neil' said...

Loyalty v. Fairness: the essence of the Right/Left distinction in media/commentariat culture and practice.

2:24 PM  

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