Monday, September 23, 2013

Admitting Bias (at last)

The fall ratings season is nigh, and with it the new network schedules.  Fox is tinkering with its prime time talkers line-up, and it looks like MSNBC will be getting the "relaunch" promised by Executive Editor Richard Wolffe.  A visit to their website at gives you an initial choice between, and - "It's what progressives have been waiting for."

I do have to congratulate the whole Comcast-NBCUniversal conglomerate for its (almost) honesty.  The (almost) part comes from the implication in the announcement that this is a new focus, with the implication that they were just another honest and impartial news agency before that.  That fiction was pretty well demolished by the network's performance in the last U.S. Presidential election campaign. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of MSNBC's "news hole" was opinion or commentary, a stark contrast with the roughly 50/50 split of CNN and Fox.  (That it's so high for the others is another problem altogether). And in the last week before the election, MSNBC had not a single positive storyline about Mitt Romney (R), and not a single negative storyline about President Barack Obama (D).  As one conservative critic quipped at the time "MSNBC is everything Progressives imagine Fox to be."

One of the problems you face when addressing "bias" in news and journalism is that most people define bias in coverage as perspectives that don't match their own, rather than objectivity or fairness in coverage, so it will be interesting to see how the industry treats MSNBC's going public with it's focus/slant/bias.  It will also be interesting to see if there will be a call for a now admittedly non-news channel to be denied the standard "news" exemption, so that it will be considered to be providing in-kind contributions to the Democrat Party.  Democrats have tried that argument with several conservative talk radio programs recently (thankfully unsuccessfully so far - the First Amendment should protect all political speech, not just the speech you agree with).  Conservatives might be tempted to try it - after all, they do tend to believe in equal treatment under the law - but shouldn't (that news exemption is really broad). 

On the other hand, I'd welcome such a move, not to silence MSNBC, but as a starting point for some serious reconsideration of just how broadly we've come in expanding what is considered as "news" in terms of the exemption, and how narrowly some propose to define it in other aspects (such as in the proposed journalist shield law). 
That would be a discussion worth having.

Source -  The new It's 'what Progressives have been waiting for',  Washington Times

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