Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Olbermanns and Becks

I'm writing this in light of a recent observation that coincided nicely with a podcast I listened to today.

Karl Rove did much of his damage to this nation long before I cared about politics so I quite frankly don't know enough to judge his character and decisions from the bygone Bush days. I have however read several of his columns in the Wall Street Journal and while I've yet to agree with any of his opinions or find any cogency behind his arguments, I can at least say that I'd continue to read his pieces in the future with a guarded but open mind.

That's all really neither here nor there because my observation comes in light of his announced divorce (his 2nd might I add). I must say that I stand firmly behind the outrage of gay rights advocates (of whom I proudly count myself) in blasting this public figure who has stood firmly in opposition to equal rights on such standard frivolous bases such as the sanctity of marriage.

Home base, the Wall Street Journal, has no mention of this story. It's more popular brother at News Corp, FOX News mentions it in passing on its home page and links to Politico (another slightly rightward slanting outfit) that states the facts of his divorce yet fails to give mention to the discordant policies that he has promoted. Meanwhile, Salon.com has the story front and center in all its hypocritical glory.

Whether the story is deserving of any real recognition is beyond me, and the NY Times and Washington Post both fail to mention it on their current home pages. Truthfully I could care a less about what he does, but I do certainly understand the outrage that many are dying to express. After all, few would argue that his controversial policy decisions are news worthy so when we see the straw foundation that these policies are built on I think it's at very least justifiable, if not earth shattering news.

The idea differential reporting (read: bias) by different news outlets is highly intriguing. Its not entirely clear that Rove is a good case in action, but the circus side show that was the 23rd congressional race in NY state was however flabbergasting. I was able to close my eyes and know which sites would report the democratic victor and which wouldn't. Weeks later it was clear which sites would report on the conservative candidate withdrawing his concession, and which ones would report on his eventual failure.

On this topic of impartiality, a podcast from Planet Money raised an interesting observation. In talking about journalism at the turn of the century, they described a system of highly partisan newspapers that were funded by politicians and political parties of the day. It seems sacrilegious to us now, but Martin Gentzkow analogized this system to current legal proceedings in this country. The prosecution gives their side of the argument and the defense in turn pleads their case. Presumably, the jury is able to see the facts and make a (hopefully) rational decision on culpability.

Unbeknownst to me, this is how journalism once was conducted. Whether or not this system produced better results in terms of informed citizenry is debatable, but at very least it is debatable. Modern journalism has become obsessed with impartiality, and it can be legitimately argued whether or not this is a reasonable goal. Everyone knows that FOX news is right wing and MSNBC is left wing, but there is a gray Grand Canyon in between. I highly advocate Slate's stance of publishing their authors political leanings down to their electoral choices. Whether or not they try to let it leak into their writing, the way authors and editors feel about the world certainly influences their publications.

The danger of giving up on the impartiality dream is that people can choose to read only one side of a story where as no jury member would be permitted to step out of the courtroom until the defense gives their statements. I'd love to see how a legitimate news agency would fare by always having two sides of the story together. I suppose Hannity and Colmes is a terribly failed case of this in action whereby political leanings can just influence the relative strengths of the opponents.

Nevertheless, there are facts which should be told, and lies which should not be. Yet through emphasis, omission, selective experts, and a variety of other means a politicized case can be made out of almost any story. I'd love to choose the winner even if it means reading more than one story. As it is, I spend time reading several articles and am constantly establishing an encyclopedia of the leanings of various authors/papers in an attempt to see which news source is more impartial than the next. It might just be easier if FOX and MSNBC combined forces, and while I'm at it I'd also like it if my cell phone could make Oreo's and iron my clothes...

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