Saturday, January 21, 2012

Media Bias, Part III

Following my last two postings on Media Bias I have been engaging in a give and take with the the Public Editor of the New York Times on the very subject of the postings: media bias. As a number of my readers have expressed an interest in viewing this conversation I am posting the emails between myself and Art Brisbane, the Times' Public Editor. His job is to comment on journalistic standards. What follows is our exchange.

TRUTH-UNCENSORED: I regularly read the Times, although I am not a subscriber. I usually pick it up at a newstand, and occasionally online. In how to approach certain stories, discussed on 1/8/12, I felt much was omitted. Admittedly, I am a Republican. I find myself truly disappointed in the way institutions such as the Times and others have lowered their level of discourse.

I write a conservative blog. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate if you would take a look at my last two postings (entitled "Media Bias" and "Media Bias, Part II). I would truly like to know if you perceive that the Times has put a left wing agenda ahead of accuracy in their reporting as well as factual accuracy in the opinions they publish, as well as in their editorials. My blog is at Most of Part II involves the Times, as does much of Part I. If you wish to refer to any of it and respond in a future column, you have my permission, with or without my name. You will see that one thing that particularly disturbed me was that the editors at the Times seem to believe there can be no good faith basis for disagreeing with them. Disagree, and you are labeled a bigot, racist or extremist. Do you find that disturbing? I thank you for your courtesy and time.

NY TIMES: I appreciate your response. My view is that The Times, in part because it has such a liberal editorial page, should feel an obligation to work especially hard to ensure that its straight news coverage is balanced and does not embrace the left. This poses a constant challenge and there are occasions when the paper falls short. Re your blog, I found your observation about filtering to be particularly worthwhile. You wrote:

But how can the mainstream media be expected to screen submissions for factual accuracy, when their own articles and editorials have long abandoned the idea of accuracy in favor of propaganda?

As it happens, I plan to write next week on fact-checking in news articles. It appears your quote refers to submissions of op-ed articles, right? What is your view, specifically, on whether you can trust The Times to screen newsmakers statements for factual accuracy in regular news articles?

Please let me know your thoughts -- and please send to my personal email address in the cc line.

TRUTH-UNCENSORED: I appreciate your taking the time to read my postings on "Media Bias," and for replying so promptly. I will be more than happy to review the paper's news articles over the next couple of weeks and then provide my comments.

However, I still have a few issues for your consideration. First, as raised in my prior email, do you find it acceptable that the Times, in their editorials, demeans readers such as myself for simply disagreeing with their very liberal positions? Second, do you believe that even editorials and op-ed pieces should be as factually accurate as possible? I can tell you that when I write a legal brief, I am required to fairly and accurately state the facts. If the facts are disputed, I am required to state the evidence that supports my version of the facts as well as the evidence in support of the opposing party's position. I can then argue how I believe the facts should be interpreted and how the law should be applied. However, a failure to accurately state the facts can, and often does, result in sanctions. I do look forward to your comments on these issues.

As for the news articles, I have concerns beyond that of factual accuracy. Bias can be reflected in numerous other ways: what stories get reported, where they are placed in the paper, what headlines to give, and how the story is told (the spin, if any).

Again, I hope to get back to you within the next couple of weeks with regards to the news articles. Thank you for your continued courtesy and attention.

NY TIMES: No, I don't like to see demeaning argument anywhere. Yes, I do believe editorials and Op-Eds should be factually accurate. It is much harder to police it, though, in part because deploying facts to support argument tends very often toward coloring them right to the very boundary between accuracy and distortion. It is different than writing a brief, of course, because brevity is a virtue in editorial and op-ed writing (though I fully understand your point). Looking forward to your future email.

TRUTH-UNCENSORED: Thank you again for your reply. Before commenting on the news articles, I do have a few issues concerning your latest reply. First, have you ever suggested to the Times' editorial writers that they refrain from suggesting that those who disagree are somehow evil (bigots, racists or extremists)? If not, why not? If yes, what replies did you get?

With regards to brevity being a virtue in editorials and op-ed pieces, I trust that you are not suggesting that such brevity precludes intellectual honesty. You suggest that op-ed writers, in deploying facts, often "color them right to the boundary between accuracy and distortion." So the question is: Is the New York Times willingly allowing itself to be used as a propaganda arm of the left (and others whose opinions they favor) when they print op-ed pieces without so much as an "Editor's note" at the bottom, indicating that the "facts" stated are not supported historically or are at least very much in dispute?

Case in point - last year's op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, referenced in my first blog on Media Bias. Abbas wrote about Israel's 1948 war for independence, and the Times printed without comment, "Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued." The truth is that the Arabs announced before the UN vote on partition that they would never accept the existence of a Jewish state. They tried to prove their point when five Arab armies attacked Israel the day after Israel declared their independence. Peace does not exist and has not existed because the Arabs STILL refuse to accept the existence of a Jewish state. Abbas says so publicly.

Of course, your editorial writers agree with Abbas, so they often write that that there is no peace because of the "settlements" and the "hard-liner" Netanyahu. Never mind that were no "settlements" in 1948 when the Arabs attacked; or in 1967 when Israel again had to fight for its survival. Not only were there no "settlements" in 1967, Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan the West Bank. As for the "hard-liner" Netanyahu, if he is the problem, why did Arafat walk out on Clinton after Clinton got Ehud Barak to offer virtually all of Gaza and the West Bank to the Palestinians? Arafat walked out on the President of the United States without so much as a reply. And when Olmert offered Abbas a state? Again, no reply. Yet the editorial writers at the Times insist on repeating the lie (sorry, but it is a lie) that the problems are the "settlements" and Netanyahu.

I would now like to address the January 20, 2012 edition of the paper. (By the way, I read your posting entitled "Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?" I give a few comments on that below.) The first page had an article entitled "For Gingrich, Rival's Gift and Wife's Allegation." Frankly, I had a difficult time understanding the point of the article, other than to make Gingrich look bad. On the first page it states "a red-faced Mr. Gingrich forcefully responded to the comments from his ex-wife, saying, 'The story is false.' " I did not notice that Gingrich was "red-faced." Was he allegedly "red-faced" with embarrassment or with anger? What are the writers suggesting?

Buried deep within the article, which continued on page 16, was this: "...much of the sentiment (of the ex-Mrs. Gingrich) was contained last year in an article in Esquire..." The interview with Mrs. Gingrich was set to air on "Nightline" after the debate. ABC decided to air some of it in the morning, with the obvious intent of affecting the debate. So, some journalists might have pointed out that this was old news, and even included excerpts from the prior story. The IBD also noted a similar interview she previously gave with the Washington Post. Some journalists might have questioned the timing of the interview, with the contents being released by ABC just before the last debate in South Carolina.

So, if the main news of the day was about Gingrich's ex-wife's allegations, and how it might affect his candidacy, then it seems to me that that the front page story should have been the one that ended up on page 14: "As Soon as Debate Begins, Questions for Gingrich on His Marriages." This is the story that truly tells how Gingrich dealt with the issue in the debate and how the audience responded - with "roars of applause." Yet the other story claimed that Gingrich "did not directly respond to the account from his former wife," even though both articles acknowledge that he said "the story is false." So, as noted, Gingrich questioned the motives of ABC by saying: "I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans." Virtually every Republican I know feels the same way about the mainstream media. If I recall correctly, it took the mainstream media about a year after Fox News broke the story about Rev. Wright for them to print anything about him.

The type of bias seen in news organizations such as the Times is the inherent left-wing bias. I suspect at least some of your journalists and editors may not even be aware of their own assumptions about the world. And without a real conservative viewpoint, things are not likely to improve. At the moment I cannot recall which conservative writer the Times had on contract for a year doing op-ed pieces. (Was it Bill Kristol?) In any event, the contract was not renewed. I was astounded by all the letters to the editor reflecting an inability to tolerate even seeing another viewpoint being expressed. A shame that the "paper of record" cannot have a regular column by an actual conservative.

As to the issue of whether the Times should be a Truth Vigilante, I can think of many approaches that might be valid. However, I have said much already, and will leave further remarks to another email, if you would like. In case you were not copied with it, one Marty Kaplan, a regular columnist for The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, was quite critical of you even asking the question. He is a far leftist, and states that journalists should correct factual allegations that are false. Being on the far left, the only examples of misrepresentation he can think of are all comments coming from the right. The Journal describes Mr. Kaplan as a professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. That is a major problem. When professors like Kaplan believe that the right is always wrong and the left is always right, I can only imagine what type of propaganda he teaches to his students, some of whom, perhaps, end up working at the New York Times.