Monday Highlights

Good morning. Back to a more normal schedule, i.e., the kids are back in school.

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6 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    Alternatives to public education.

    Well not really. There’s a convent that runs a homeschooling program for up to 70 teenage girls. That’s great but I really don’t see how that’s an alternative to public education. If, say, we abolished public education for women tomorrow do you have a mechanism that will cause tens of thousands of women to become nuns so they can expand the program a thousand fold? This is kind of like saying the pool in my backyard is an alternative to public pools and parks. Well yes it’s an alternative for me and maybe a few people I invite over but that’s it. If they close the pool and park tomorrow my backyard doesn’t magically get any bigger nor will I be hosting any outdoor parties for 5,000 people at a clip.

    Example one. Example two. Example three. Media bias?

    Example one – Most promising. CNN had a list of politicians that ‘fell from grace’ in 2008 and included Palin. That would be fine except the seven politicians featured were people like Blagojevich, John Edwards, and generally people who are under indictment, convicted or accused of sexual impropriety. Problem, Palin isn’t on the list! (Another problem, the first guy on the list is a democrat, so is the second, so is the third, fourth, in fact all but one (Alaska’s Stevens) are Democrats). At first I thought this may be a case where CNN took Palin off after its original post but I don’t see anything in the comments nor do I see an update to that effect? What am I missing?

    Example two – A blog commentator published in the NY Times Magazine argues that we are no longer in an age where the traditional ‘long resume’ is the primary indication of qualification. This is in reference to Caroline Kennedy’s campaign to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate Seat. This is a pretty sad example of supposed media bias for several reasons. The first is that it is a commentary and commentaries are commentaries. Do a simple search on the NY Times site for “Carolyn Kennedy qualified” and you’ll find plenty of articles asking whether she really is qualified to be a Senator, including this commentary running in the other direction:

    You have to look harder every day to find someone who does not have a nit to pick on Ms. Kennedy’s non-campaign — she’s not qualified, she didn’t vote in numerous primary elections, she’s a tool of the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent mayor, she throws “you know” around with all the confidence of a sullen 17-year-old trying to explain why she missed curfew.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/nyregion/02bigcity.html?scp=5&sq=Caroline%20Kennedy%20qualified&st=cse

    So if you decided you were only going to get your news about Hillary’s Senate seat from the NY Times you’d be reading arguments that she isn’t qualified and arguments that the ‘qualification fetish’ is unjustified. Tell me again about examples of media bias.

    Example three- This one’s old, back in Oct the LA Times covered a speech McCain gave on the economy (blaming Dems for not letting him properly regulate Fannie/Freddie Mac) but put a quote from Obama accusing McCain of being scared to talk about the economy. Too old too stupid IMO. And speech or not now that the campaign is almost all the intelligent people (even the few among the McCain supporters) are admiting the economy was very bad for McCain. Speech on Fannie Mae too little, too late and not very convincing after his interday flip flop on the state of the economy followed by his disturbing strange assertion he was suspending his campaign to demonstrate his bold leadership….which seems to have consisted of sleeping through a meeting on the bailout bill and then blaming Democrats for only voting 60% with the bill rather than 70% to overcome the opposition from his own party members….who were supposedly being wowed by his leadership.

  2. Boonton says:

    This is the second time we’ve been around with the ‘media bias’ line and maybe it would be productive if we tried to take a meta-view of the argument. I think there’s two general styles to the ‘media bias’ cry:

    1. Not serious- This is just to fill space, preach to the choir or generate cheap approval. An easy example was the last time when you cited someone who accused the Chicago Sun Times of being biased because they failed to mention Blago’s political party as they reported on his corruption problems. It took only a few minutes of looking at older stories about both Blago and the former governor who was Republican (and also appears to have been corrupt as he is currently in jail) to see that the paper never identifies the political party of the sitting governor whether the story is negative, positive or neutral.

    2. Serious – I think a serious complaint would have in its argument a serious vision of how an unbiased media would do the story. This is why I felt the NYT example was such a dismal failure. It could only work if that one piece was the only thing to appear in the paper about Caroline Kennedy. The CNN example, though, might be better assuming Palin was/is actually listed as one of the politicians ‘fallen from grace’. One could argue that her corruption accusations do not rise to the level of the other politicians since she has not been convicted or indicted (although it seems neither Spitzer or Edwards have or will be charged with any crime and as I noted the field of ‘fallen’ politicians was pretty heavy with Democrats).

  3. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    Back in the Clinton regime, I first heard a notion that media bias existed. It was suggested that I one look for telltales like the following. When experts are consulted, are they introduced differently if they come from the left or the right. Are politicians treated differently. I found they were. Experts from progressive institutions and think tanks were more commonly introduced as “experts.” Those on the right, where “conservative experts”. The label “conservative” had to be added, the supposition is because it was an identifier, it was “out of the norm”.

    Likewise on a particular congressional vote being reported, as members came to vote. It was Senator X, Senator Y, and Republican Senator Z. Why did “Republican” have to be appended to one party and no identification to the other.

    If you think the New York Times (or the LA Times) are unbiased toward a particular idealogy and political party, well fine. I’m certainly not going to be able to convince you otherwise. I disagree, obviously. But, I’m not sure chasing this further would be fruitful. But frankly, do you really think that the NYTimes and similar news services are not biased?

  4. Boonton says:

    This is usually what happens when you call out someone on a failed attempt to establish bias. They bring their own bias out there. “Do you really think that the NYTimes…are not biased?”

    In other words, we are going to assume the NYT is biased for the sake of argument hence it doesn’t really matter if we produce crappy examples. It’s biased so examples aren’t really relavant. It’s interesting that your attempt to establish bias is itself littered with bias. This puts you solidly in the first type of bias finder.

    Your story is a good example of confirmation bias. You began with your theory and went out to look for confirmation. You found it. But you found nothing in reality except your own biases.

  5. Mark says:

    Boonton,
    All science is then confirmation bias. Propose a hypothesis and look for evidence. If you find it, aha! confirmation bias. Whatever. I looked to see if the claim was true that the Right and Left were treated differently. They were. I have no rechecked, and I’m likely not to recheck for some time having decided not to use mainstream media sources any more.

    The point is, I know that I am biased. I declare so boldly on my tag line, “from right of center.”

    BTW, I note that was very slick avoidance of answering the question. So again I put the question for you to answer, do you or do you not think that the LA Times and NYTimes are biased to the left?

  6. Boonton says:

    “All science is then confirmation bias. Propose a hypothesis and look for evidence. ”

    Not quite, you also look for evidence that disproves the hypothesis. If your hypothesis is that a new drug helps people loose weight, you do a double blinde study to see if people who are given a placeabo have an equal amount of weight loss. If they do you’ve disproved your hypothesis. If you just go out looking for a single person that took the drug and also lost weight you’re committing confirmation bias.

    “I looked to see if the claim was true that the Right and Left were treated differently. They were.”

    Where have you done this? The first time I challenged you on media bias it turned out no check was done. The paper didn’t report the gov.’s party affiliation no matter what the story. Now with the NYT the complaint is NOT about different treatment but about only one side of the story (C. Kennedy should be the next NY Senator) being reported…yet clearly both sides have been.

    “The point is, I know that I am biased. I declare so boldly on my tag line, “from right of center.” ”

    This is a cop out IMO. To be biased is to not be able to properly perceive reality. One can be a right winger or left winger but be unbiased. Being a partisan may make you more vulnerable to bias but to argue it’s a foregone conclusion is to declare yourself a relativist. You are, in essence, saying truth either doesn’t exist or is impossible to find therefore all’s fair. You are free to, say, call Obama corrupt for trivial matters while excusing Bush or McCain for massive ones because…heck ‘we’re all biased!’ But if that’s the case then what’s up with complaining about media bias?

    So I’ll answer your question, NO I do not feel they are. I have a very real and specific definition of bias, though. I consider bias to be a distortion of the truth. If you relied on only one source to learn about an issue would you know all the relevant facts and opinions? If you do then you’ve used a source that is non-biased, if you don’t then you have a biased source.

    Consider the debate we had over Obama and Ayers. Right off the bat, one of your major sources began with Obama served on a board with Ayers. What was left out, though, was that he served on a board of 5 people. To me this is an example of bias. An important fact is left out and appeared to have been strategically left out to reinforce the author’s thesis (that Obama and Ayers had a close relationship). To me that is a lot more important than if the article quoted three politicians only bothering to say one is a Republican without saying the others are Democrats.

    You care, it seems, about rather trivial rules like counting how many times conservative is used as an adjective versus liberal but these are simply rules fo rthe sake of rules. What, for example, should it be? 50-50? But what if Congress is split 60-40? What if one side presents more bills, makes more speeches? If a Conservative Senator goes crazy and starts shooting liberals does the unbiased paper have to put “Liberal Senator Ted Kennedy had coffee with milk this morning” in an equally sized headline?

    What I care about, in constrast, is that I’m getting the important and relevant facts. If I was a McCain supporter and I wanted to brief myself on the Ayers argument I’d want to know that the board was 5 people and not two. I’d want a source that if I used it as prep for a debate I wouldn’t be blindsided by the facts ignored, left out, or glossed over. This is different from sources that can be described as intellectual porn…sources that aren’t really trying to give you the story that is but the story you’d like to hear and there’s a lot of that out there.