5.19.2005

Bias

An understandable misconception from my previous comments is that I think bias in the media is inherently wrong. In actuality I think bias is a natural and inescapable part of having beliefs. Any journalist with half a brain and an education better than Dan Rather’s will have a healthy load of biases by the time they get a real audience. My problem with bias in the media is where it manifests itself in news sources which portray themselves as “objective”. Too much news is opinion masquerading as fact. While the inherent conflicts of interest within the 4 or 5 major MSM conglomerates and simple laziness can be blamed for a lot of MSM inaccuracies, the fact that the lion share seem to favor one side of the political spectrum demonstrates that the problem goes beyond random error.

Several previous posts on the issue of media bias suggested that since everyone is somewhat biased that the measure of bias is hopelessly subjective and not empirically identifiable. Fortunately we’re not dealing with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle here. In the dark old days under the fairness doctrine conservative groups, in an effort to demonstrate empirically that news stories were not being reported fairly, began to simply count the number of times individuals were identified as conservative vs. liberal. While it’s easy for MSM news source to dismiss such studies as “unscientific” and ideologically motivated rather than address the actual validity of the charges, there have actually been a few studies within the hostile realm of academia. “A Measure of Media Bias” by two political science professors from UCLA and the University of Missouri found that the overwhelming majority of MSM news sources show a “strong liberal bias”.

Well I suppose that even the data in empirical studies can be skewed to suit the author, so lets move on to more specific examples:

Here’s an example of a story from Reuters detailing the outcome of the investigation of the Italian Journalist who was shot at by American solders that was modified by the LA Times to shift blame onto the US. Central to establishing culpability in the issue was the speed at which the Italian vehicle was traveling. The Italians attested that they were traveling at a “normal speed”, 25-30mph while US soldiers testified the vehicle was driving in excess of 50mph. The LA Times left the Reuters article intact minus this slightly important sentence:

CBS news has reported that a U.S. satellite had filmed the shooting and that it had been established the car carrying Calipari was traveling at more than 60 mph per hour [sic] as it approached the U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad.

The net result is that instead of revealing that Giuliana Sgrena is a lying commie, the article presents the outcome as far more negative to the US military than it really was.

ABC News’ Terry Moran had this admission of Bias in explanation for Newsweek’s Koran flush story error:

There is, Hugh, I agree with you, a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it's very dangerous. That's different from the media doing it's job of challenging the exercise of power without fear or favor.

I’m sure the whole Koran – sorry “Holy Qu’ran” since we’re talking about Newseek – thing doesn’t need rehashing but it is worth nothing that the pressures of the intensely competitive news market which is always cited as the cause for blunder such as this one didn’t seem to be a factor when Clinton was in the White House. The same editor responsible for pushing a highly damaging story to the Bush administration with little regard for the consequences and facts showed complete restraint when presented with the Isikoff piece which first revealed the existence of Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky -- "there were huge stakes if it was wrong." After letting Newsweek get scooped by Drudge he still didn’t learn his lesson and also spiked a story on Katherine Willey that allowed Newsweek to be scooped by 60mins. Embarrassing a self-destructive, hedonistic relic of the 60’s is “huge stakes” while causing the deaths of 16 people and further damaging the image of the US abroad can’t be anticipated or avoided?

I’m sorry but anyone who’s not Dan Rather could have asked and answered the blindingly obvious questionL

“Why is it news worthy that the “Holy Qu’ran” is flushed down the toilet as opposed to an issue of our shitty magazine?”

Answer: Because a lot of people with a shockingly low regard for human life who we’re trying to get to chill out consider it sacred.

I find it fantastically unbelievable that a man with an Oxford education with intelligence described by his peers as “laser-like” wasn’t completely aware of this reality. Instead I think it was a half hearted attempt to tear open the wound of Abu Ghraib as a means of discrediting the current non-democratic administration.

To reiterate, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with ideology in the media, it just needs to be acknowledged. The increasingly transparent attempts to insert an agenda into the news has caused overall trust in the veracity of the news media to fall from 72 to 49 percent in the last 17 years. MSM is ailing and will not recover until it acknowledges that it is no longer an accurate reflection of reality. It must do this by either acknowledging it’s institutional bias so consumers can apply the correct filters or by truly seeking editorial and journalistic diversity.

9 comments:

Mark said...

I agree that bias per se is not as objectionable as pretending that one has escaped it.

Joe said...

I would like to give Andrew's post more thought and attention, which I hope to do when I find a way to take time out of my pathetically unbusy life, but as a preliminary contrarian reaction, I would like to raise the following issue: it does not follow from the fact that we have a two-party poltical system that events in the world will neccessarily transpire in such a way as to reflect on those two parties in identical ways.
As a classmate once said (Matt Schreiber, I believe), conservatives act like it's an accident that academica is full of liberals. If I understood that comment correctly, the implication was that the left-leaning character of academia resulted from the fact that as people become more educated about the world, they tend to see things from a liberal perspective. In other words, academica is liberal because liberalism is right (or at least righter).
I don't necessarily endorse or disagree with that argument, but I think it is one possible explanation for academia's leftist character. I bring it up because I think a similar argument could be applied to the media. That is, the media tends to have a liberal slant, not because of bias, but because events in the world tend to demonstrate the rightness of liberal conclusions.
I'm not ready to endorse this argument by any means; I'm just raising it as mental cud to chew and as a possible rebuttal to the academic study that Andrew cited. Perhaps the reason that news sources cite liberal think tanks more than conservative ones is that the liberal ones are more accurate.

Andrew said...

An old co-worker in Milwaukee once said that Liberals act like it’s an accident that black people have lower paying jobs and often end up in prison. If I understood that comment correctly, the implication was that the over-representation of blacks within social programs and correctional facilities resulted from the exposure to an urban culture that values materialism without work ethic. In other words, blacks are poor because they are lazy (or at least lazier).

Seriously, Matt’s pygmalion argument is no less assinine than this one and is exactly the product of a culture of ignorance I addressed with this post:

(http://insight-less.blogspot.com/2005/04/believers.html)

Here’s an article from the Chronicle of Higher education that details exactly why colleges have become bastions of liberal though (and it’s not because liberalism’s “righter”)

(http://www.duke.edu/~munger/bc.htm)

Andrew said...

I think this is the best part of the Bauerlein piece referenced above. It more eloquently articulates what I was trying to express in my “Believers” post:

"The problem is that the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they've reached an opinion through reasoned debate -- instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others. But with the conferences, quarterlies, and committee meetings suffused with extreme positions, they're stuck with abiding by the convictions of their most passionate brethren.

As things stand, such behaviors shift in a left direction, but they could just as well move right if conservatives had the extent of control that liberals do now. The phenomenon that I have described is not so much a political matter as a social dynamic; any political position that dominates an institution without dissent deterioriates into smugness, complacency, and blindness. The solution is an intellectual climate in which the worst tendencies of group psychology are neutralized."

Joe said...

This is a well-written article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. I certainly share frustration at the "tone-deafness" of many in academia, their seeming obliviousness to the degree of controversiality of their arguments/claims/beliefs.

However, neither the article nor your post really proves that conservative intellectuals actually produce quality scholarship and thus deserve academic positions.

It is possible that the group-think, liberal bias explanation accounts for part of the conservative absence from academia while the low degree of accuracy of conservative scholarship accounts for another part (if their scholarship is indeed poor).

The larger point I'm trying to make, one that has been raised in some fashion in previous posts, is that people tend to approach politics through a lens of symetry. Indeed, the whole left/right paradigm relies upon a continuum model that more or less mirrors a normal curve with moderates in the middle and extremists at, well, the extremes. This model is used, I think, to characterize both the actual distribution of people's ideologies and as a model of "rightness." That is, the further one goes from the center in either direction, the less accurate that person is. So Michael Moore and Ann Coulter are basically mirror images of each other, as would be Timothy McVeigh and Earth First, and John McCain and Zel Miller. I think that one underlying assumption in these discussions about media bias is that media's objectivity should be assessed in light of this normal curve model. The closer to the center the media, the more accurate and objective.

My point is that this model of symetry might very well be false. Again, I'm raising this as a question. When discussing bias, is this the model that people use, and if so, why should we believe that it's accurate? There is no reason to assume off the bat that centrist positions are necessarily correct or that extremist postions are necessarily wrong. Nor is there any reason to assume that the level of extremity is necessarily distributed evenly. One side's extremes might be much more extreme than the other sides, and even if that's true, this has no necessary connection to accuracy.

Moreover, the entire continuum model is fairly obviously insufficient to describe the diversity of poltical opinion in this country. What would such a continuum measure these days? Size of government? Degree of centralization? Degree of religiosity? Degree of tolerance for intrusion? There is no longer a unifying ideology in the republican and democratic parties such that a simple continuum model makes sense.

In light of these possibilities, I think it is premature to dismiss as asanine the argument that media (and academia) tend to be liberal because liberalism is a better, more accurate worldview. (I also think that it's premature to dismiss off-hand the possibility that black culture contributes to the conditions of black Americans.) I would need to see more data to the effect that not only are these institutions full of liberals and liberal ideas, but that conservatives and conservative ideas are equally or more accurate/appropriate/effective/moral.

Andrew said...

You offered several arguments for why the dearth of non-leftist thought within the humanities and social sciences on most college campuses is non-problematic. I will address each individually.

1.) “academica is liberal because liberalism is right (or at least righter)”
Who is the arbiter of what is “right”? I mean pretty much all 2, 500+ words of the Baurlein piece made a very strong case that academia is so intellectually inbred that it no longer has the capability to conduct reasoned inquiry to ascertain what the most accurrate ideas are even in the few areas it’s still willing to step away from the pulpit to do so.

“Some fields' very constitutions rest on progressive politics and make it clear from the start that conservative outlooks will not do. Schools of education, for instance, take constructivist theories of learning as definitive, excluding realists (in matters of knowledge) on principle, while the quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism. If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies. If you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women's studies.

Liberal orthodoxy is not just a political outlook; it's a professional one. Rarely is its content discussed. The ordinary evolution of opinion -- expounding your beliefs in conversation, testing them in debate, reading books that confirm or refute them -- is lacking, and what should remain arguable settles into surety. With so many in harmony, and with those who agree joined also in a guild membership, liberal beliefs become academic manners.”

The whole purpose of “Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual” was to explain why the leftist dominiation of academia is not natural or desirable for institutions of thought.

“any political position that dominates an institution without dissent deterioriates into smugness, complacency, and blindness.”

If you still wish to discuss the comparative merits of Conservatism vs. Liberalism I’d be happy to respond in another thread.

2.) “neither the article nor your post really proves that conservative intellectuals actually produce quality scholarship and thus deserve academic positions.”

I will go back to my race analogy to discuss this issue. While one now may strain to argue that culture is the primary reason black americans are more economically disadvantaged, this argument would seem hopelessly na├»ve and racist in the context of the 50’s. Discrimination was institutionalized both in the public and private sectors. Fitness of the individual had little to do with their abilities to achieve positions. It is currently the same within academia. The VERY FIRST two sentences and thesis of Baurlein’s piece state:

“Yet while the lack of conservative minds on college campuses is increasingly indisputable, the question remains: Why?

The obvious answer, at least in the humanities and social sciences, is that academics shun conservative values and traditions, so their curricula and hiring practices discourage non-leftists from pursuing academic careers.”

It’s ironic the same academic institutions that fight tooth and nail to save affirmative action because racial discrimination is a “compelling interest” are now repurposing anti-civil rights arguments to prevent any further pursuit of intellectual diversity. Your demand for proof of quality scholarship (again, who determines this?) to establish whether conservatives “deserve” academic positions before agreeing their absence is a problem is nearly as unreasonable as asking the Klan to validate the fitness of black individuals.

Just to take any other future “conservatives are stupid” arguments off the table, the GSS (General Standardized Survey) found the following:
(http://instapundit.com/archives/014093.php)
“Republicans in the general public tend to be better educated than Democrats. In the 1994-2002 General Social Surveys (GSS), Republicans have over 6/10ths of a year more education on average than Democrats. Republicans also have a higher final mean educational degree. Further, Republicans scored better than Democrats on two word tests in the GSS--a short vocabulary test and a modified analogies test.
If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests.”

2.) [Lengthy comments pertaining to the inaccuracy of political labels]

I don’t disagree that the standard Left/Right political labels don’t due justice in identifying the vast array of political opinion in the country but unfortunately simply inventing more labels will only result in the illusion of diversity without challenging the monocultures that now exist within universities. It’s not my intention to argue for a specific line of ideological thought in this thread but to advocate exposure to more than the single strain of Marxist claptrap that passes for reasoned inquiry within many social science disciplines.


3.) “I would need to see more data to the effect that not only are these institutions full of liberals and liberal ideas, but that conservatives and conservative ideas are equally or more accurate/appropriate/effective/moral.”

I believe this very well articulates the culture ignorance that has taken hold within the humanities and social sciences and is the attitude many liberal faculty members have when confronted with ideas that challenge their own. Just as the hard sciences have the scientific method for verifying what the best (accurate) ideas are, the social sciences must be committed to reasoned inquiry to truly let the best ideas win. I certainly don’t believe conservatism contains all the best ideas, but for Gods sake half the country and countless Nobel prizes (http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=22&art_id=qw1097554324711B251) can’t be wrong. Without a conscious effort to expose all ideas to the sunlight of challenge rot will take hold and the social sciences will continue to evolve away from an honest effort to understand humanity and into a dogmatic leftist religion.

Joe said...

I think I can sum up my argument with this question. Do you really think that every policy agenda, moral opinion, and intellectual position of the republican party deserves to be taught in academia?

Frankly, I don't. I don't think that the worldview of Christian conservatives, which constitute 25% of the U.S. population and an even greater percentage of the republican party, deserves academic attention just because a lot of people hold to it.

You said, "I certainly don’t believe conservatism contains all the best ideas, but for Gods sake half the country and countless Nobel prizes (http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=22&art_id=qw1097554324711B251) can’t be wrong.

This is exactly the point that I'm disagreeing with. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn't mean that it's true!

You wrote, "You offered several arguments for why the dearth of non-leftist thought within the humanities and social sciences on most college campuses is non-problematic.." Actually, I offered several reasons why the dearth of non-leftist thought MIGHT not be problematic. The article showed why and how many conservatives face unfair obstacles in the academic world, but it didn't prove that conservatives would succeed in academia if these obstacles were removed. I was simply pointing out this logical weakness. It may come as a surprise that I actually agree that academia should have more poltically balanced curricula, but I don't think that ideas deserve a place at the table just because they exist. There are only so many positions to fill and so many classes to teach; not everybody gets to play.

This is the point I was trying to make in my discussion of the symmetry problem in people's approaches to these issues. Not all ideas are equally valid.

I'm not sure who decides what is right. In my case, I do.

Which ideas do you think deserve more academic attention, and how do you think the situation should be rectified?

I found myself thinking that if conservatives believe so much in the free-market, then why don't they start their own "fair and balanced" educational institutions, the Fox News of academia?

Andrew said...

You keep shifting the argument. That’s why my last post was close to 2000 words. I have NEVER argued that EVERY conservative idea should be taught in academia. All I’ve been arguing for is that Academia somehow change its ways and truly become an environment which embraces the free exchange of ideas so that the best ideas are discovered and examined. If after reasoned inquiry it is determined that conservative ideas are invalid so be it. However, that is in no way happening now. The social sciences are now realms of intellectual prejudice – invalidating without honest examination. As for resolution, I don’t think the free market is the answer as it would require scrapping the current public university system – which I’m pretty sure would be bad policy. I’m also against implementing something severe as intellectual “affirmative action”. Of course private colleges will be free to do as they please, but in the short term I think an “Intellectual” bill of rights essentially stating that anyone’s ideas can be challenged without reprisals such as this one:

(http://trw.umbc.edu/viewarticle.php?ID=73)

Scott McConnell, a graduate student at LeMoyne College, wrote a paper in which he rejected multiculturalism and advocated corporal punishment. Not only was the paper poorly received by the professor, but McConnell was disallowed from registering for the spring semester by the college. The director of his program wrote to him to say, “I have grave concerns regarding the mismatch between your personal beliefs regarding teaching and learning and the LeMoyne College program goals.”


I also think Bauerlein also addresses this fairly well:

“But we can't open the university to conservative ideas and persons by outside command. That would poison the atmosphere and jeopardize the ideals of free inquiry. Leftist bias evolved within the protocols of academic practice (though not without intimidation), and conservative challenges should evolve in the same way. There are no administrative or professional reasons to bring conservatism into academe, to be sure, but there are good intellectual and social reasons for doing so.

Those reasons are, in brief: One, a wider spectrum of opinion accords with the claims of diversity. Two, facing real antagonists strengthens one's own position. Three, to earn a public role in American society, professors must engage the full range of public opinion.

Finally, to create a livelier climate on the campus, professors must end the routine setups that pass for dialogue. Panels on issues like Iraq, racism, imperialism, and terrorism that stack the dais provide lots of passion, but little excitement. Syllabi that include the same roster of voices make learning ever more desultory. Add a few rightists, and the debate picks up. Perhaps that is the most persuasive internal case for infusing conservatism into academic discourse and activities. Without genuine dissent in the classroom and the committee room, academic life is simply boring.”

As a conservative that’s already gone through the liberal seminary that is humanities/social sciences, I can honestly say that we’re getting the better end of the academic bargain. “facing real antagonists strengthens one's own position”, is verifiably true. You can’t truly understand what you believe until you understand why you’ve rejected the alternatives. Without similar challenge leftist students outside of campus are just lambs to the slaughter -- barely able to defend their beliefs much less make a compelling enough case to convince any of the unordained. Is it any surprise that liberalism is dieing? I should hope academia doesn’t change.

Andrew said...

Correction: The post I was referring to was actually closer to 1000 words (sorry did word count on the wrong doc)