Monday, August 5, 2013

What makes journalism balanced?

The Republican Party's nominal leader--Reince Priebus--has declared that the Republicans should boycott any future presidential debates that occur on CNN or MSNBC, if both do their planned documentaries on Secretary of State Clinton. Because they're so biased against all things Republican.

For proof there's the Pew survey of the three news networks' coverage on the eve of the last election:

>>Numbers on the eve of the 2012 election from the Pew Research Center showed CNN and NBC’s cable network, MSNBC, spent more time on stories that painted GOP nominee Mitt Romney in a negative light than any other network.

While 36 percent of CNN’s stories about Romney were negative, by Pew’s count, just 11 percent were positive.

And while 71 percent of MSNBC’s coverage of Romney was negative, just 3 percent was positive.

Pew shows CNN was much more evenly split when it came to President Obama, while MSNBC’s coverage of Obama tilted very favorably in the president’s direction.

(On the flip side, Fox’s coverage tilted heavily in Romney’s favor and was very critical of Obama.)<<

But there's a logical fallacy here. Why should coverage be 50-50? Or positive? Or negative? Doesn't the truth count?

For example, after Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the Oklahoma bombing, MSNBC's coverage of him was all negative. But nobody accused MSNBC of bias because of that. The current mayor of San Diego--a Democrat--has gotten 99% negative coverage on MSNBC recently, because he's a sexual harasser of epic scope. By the RNC's logic they should ding MSNBC on not giving that mayor 50-50 coverage. Note, by the way, that MSNBC comes down hard on Democratic politicians who prove to have feet of clay, while FOX is far gentler on wayward pols if they're Republican.

How about the idea that politicians don't deserve positive--or negative--coverage just because they're elected officials or wannabes? They have to earn our respect with good political words and actions.

So maybe the less-positive coverage of Romney and more-positive coverage of Obama on MSNBC was because Obama was a better candidate.

You don't have to agree with that. I'm not proving it here. Just that the implicit 50-50 rule for coverage of politicians is complete hogwash--worse, I'd propose that it's mostly invoked by and for the inferior candidate--at least as far as the mainstream press is concerned.

I expect MSNBC and FOX News to have an editorial slant, even though FOX News constantly claims it's "fair and balanced" which is laughable--as it would be if MSNBC made a similar claim (only it doesn't). But I expect the major broadcast networks and CNN to be actually fair and balanced.

Which they aren't if they prop up the inferior candidate with equal and equally positive coverage.

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