Journalism was always biased

President Trump’s declaration that today’s media is “fake news” gets a lot of journalists angry, but they should save the outrage. Anyone who attended journalism classes learned that the press has always been biased, always controlled by its owners and the “gatekeeper” editors. The concept of a fair and unbiased press only existed in the minds of journalism professors, but in reality there always have been both conservative and progressive (or Republican and Democrat) leaning publications.

Let’s take a quick look at the past. Were William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer unbiased in their coverage? As early as high school I learned that the circulation war between Hearst and Pulitzer used “fake news” to propel the U.S. into the Spanish-American war in 1898. Now there is a Pulitzer prize for journalism; any student of history might safely assume this is given for promoting the most effective propaganda.

Journalism courses attempted to instill the idea of fair and unbiased coverage. That’s a worthy goal but newspapers and the rest of the media have always been businesses first. The real product newspapers were selling was their readership and they sold it to the advertisers. More readers meant they could charge more for ads. The news side was a profit-loser, but necessary to get people to buy the papers. Anyone want to pay for a publication that only contains advertisements? If owners could pump up circulation with sensational news, why not?

The journalism schools taught future reporters to spell names correctly, get the facts right and not follow in the Hearst/Pulitzer tradition. But eventually the idea of “advocacy journalism” crept into the curriculum. Instead of reporting the facts and letting readers make up their own minds, reporters and editors decided their work should advocate for change. Hard investigative reporting would have done the same thing, but it often isn’t as interesting to read as emotion-packed, fictionalized coverage.

When I first started as a copy clerk in 1977, the most of the copy desk editors were conservatives. My job didn’t require contact with the reporters, so I didn’t know their views. These conservative editors, and local newspaper owner, helped balance any overtly progressive reports turned in by writers. There also was a clear distinction between the editorial page, where opinions were expressed, and the rest of the paper, where opinion was banned.

Today’s media outlets look like extended editorial pages. Even Real Clear Politics, one my favorite news websites, runs far more opinion pieces than actual news on its home page. The center is always filled with opinion pieces, while the news items are relegated to the sidebar on the right, typically the last place readers look. It’s a design element indicative of what today’s media thinks about honest reporting; it’s only a sidebar.





Yanny, Laurel, Covfefe

Greg Gutfeld on FOX News created the best analogy for last week’s “yanny vs. laurel” conversation. He said it’s the way we see politics now. As Scott Adams explains it (and Greg likes to reference Adams), we are all watching the same film but seeing totally different movies depending on the bias we bring into the theater. Some see President Trump as Hitler-incarnate, others see him as a common-sense businessman who knows how to cut through the nonsense. Trump did have the best response on the yanny-laurel nonsense.  “I hear covfefe,” he said.

My take on Trump? He is WYSIWYG (wizzy-wig) = what you see is what you get. There is no grand devious strategy. He apparently loves the country, says whatever pops into his head and is blessed with good luck. Try that filter when watching the Trump Show.

Discomfort of watching Tucker Carlson

vladimir-putin-2374090_640 Pixabay

Vladimir Putin (Pixabay)

Good journalism should make us uncomfortable. I was reminded of that this week while watching FOX’s Tucker Carlson interview Col. Ralph Peters about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Peters is unabashedly anti-Putin and argued that the U.S. should not work with Putin in the Middle East. Carlson asked: if Putin takes actions that benefit U.S. interests shouldn’t the U.S. work with the Russian president? (I am paraphrasing.) Although Carlson should have framed the question not as a personal opinion, which has no place in journalism, the point is valid and deserves an answer.

My discomfort began when Peters compared Carlson’s views on Putin to comments made by aviator Charles Lindbergh in the 1930s that seemed to support Hitler. In fact, in 1941 Lindbergh testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging the U.S. to negotiate a neutrality pact with Hitler.

Carlson took offense at Peters’ comparison, heatedly defending himself. I admire Carlson for his response, because too many people quickly invoke “Hitler” and “Nazis” as blanket condemnations in the political sphere. The interview should not have degenerated into a personal attack on the journalist, but Carlson himself opened the door in the way he asked his questions.

As anyone who has seen Peters before, it was predictable that he continued to compare Putin to Hitler and insist the U.S. has no business doing any business with Putin. The pair ended the segment with a friendly exchange.

This segment highlighted the reasons I don’t watch Carlson as faithfully as I did Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly often got in shouting matches with guests, but those never made me uncomfortable. Carlson, on the other hand, goes right to the heart of guests’ inconsistencies, often making me feel bad for the guest and showcasing their ignorance of the facts. Whether or not I agree with his guests, I don’t really want to feel bad for people brave enough to go on television and state their views before an audience that is likely unsympathetic to them.

Nevertheless, this discomfort convinces me Carlson is doing a better job of journalism than many others on his network. It’s not an opinion show, which it was under O’Reilly, and Carlson wades into the fray unflinchingly. I also appreciated the fact he pounced on the throwaway line of comparison to Lindbergh. Many might have let that pass, but Carlson is educated enough to know how damning such a comparison is. How many younger viewers, I wonder, even knew that history?



Here’s some real reporting on minimum wage effects

money-2152843_640 PixabayListen to people argue both sides of the minimum wage issue and there seems to be no common ground: raising the minimum wage either helps low-wage workers or it puts people out of work. The media seizes on one of these points, depending on their own particular political bias. But sometimes a writer manages to present a balanced view.

Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle presents just such balanced reporting in her piece “Seattle’s Painful Lesson on the Road to a $15 Minimum Wage,” published June 26, 2017. She even cites the 1994 study used to argue that small increases in the minimum wage do not result in layoffs.

However, McArdle also tells readers that the picture isn’t as simple as that. Newer studies looking at Seattle’s decision to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour show that the raises have effectively reduced workers’ take-home pay. This is because business owners cut back on employees’ hours to make up for the increased hourly wage.

The writer wisely points out  that “Washington State just happens to have unusually rich data available.” With the big increases that Seattle has imposed over a short period of time, the area provides a real-life case study for those interested in how the minimum wage affects businesses.

McArdle presents both sides in her article and backs it up with references to the studies. That is what journalists should be doing.


2 views of illegal immigration

Two San Francisco Bay Area newspapers published articles within the last week about illegal immigration and its effects on individuals. One paper is a large metro daily, the other a small independent weekly that can be picked up for free at sidewalk news racks.

Which one had more verifiable facts? Surprisingly, the tiny weekly, which devoted 2,407 words to educate readers about “Life on the Southern Border” for people who live in a strip of Texas that lies between the Rio Grande and the border fence. The large metro daily used 1,923 words to recount the story of one family’s decision to move to Mexico after the father left the United States when he was denied a green card. That article was sparse on verifiable facts while the weekly used actual numbers from the Border Patrol about the amount of drugs smuggled in the U.S. and number of aliens crossing the border.

In journalism school we learned about something called “content analysis,” which is  objectively reviewing text for items of interest. In this case, I did a quick content analysis of both articles to see how they compared.

Points of interest:

  • The metro paper’s headline is “Dad’s deportation rips Bay Area family apart,” and in paragraph 8, readers are told the father was “forced” to leave the U.S. last August. However, in paragraph 22, the father is described as “climbing into his truck and making the long journey south.” Deportation is an official act by law enforcement. The article reads as if he decided to leave on his own.
  • In “Dad’s deportation” the only facts that appear verifiable are in paragraph 8, where the writer tells us that the father, now 46,  was brought to the U.S. when he was 6 years old, and married an American citizen when he was 23.  In all that time in the U.S., he apparently never bothered to try to obtain legal status, and the reporter either didn’t ask why or didn’t want to tell the readers. The writer cites, without verifying, that the father had two drug-possession convictions. No government officials or official records are cited anywhere in the story. Readers have no way of knowing whether the drug convictions are true, or whether he was denied a green card because of them. The stated facts come only from the family.
  • The weekly’s article tells readers about those living along the Texas border and the effects on their lives of illegal immigration and drug trafficking from Mexico. However, the article also presents several facts, including the amount of drugs seized during a week on the border (paragraph 12) and the number of illegal aliens picked up by the border patrol in 2014 (paragraph 22).
  • Both articles open with similar scene-setting descriptions and both rely heavily on quotes to tell the story. “Dad’s deportation” runs 50 paragraphs, 18 of which are quotes. “Life on the Southern Border” has 72 paragraphs, 35 of which are quotes.
  • “Life on the Southern Border” includes a large graphic that provides information not included in the article itself, such as the fees paid to smugglers to sneak aliens into the U.S. and 10 years of data on the number of aliens apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector of Texas.

What’s interesting is that the resources of the metro daily probably far exceed the weekly paper and yet the weekly did a much more complete story. The weekly also used quotes to illustrate both the negative effects of illegal immigration and the compassion those affected have for the aliens and their struggles. The daily paper took the easy way: tug at readers’ heartstrings by interviewing the wife about how tough it is to be separated from her husband and to have to leave the U.S. There are more problems with the metro’s story, such as a mention of President Donald Trump, trying to tie him to the father’s exit from the U.S., which actually happened in August 2016, during the Obama administration.

Can popular vote be trusted?

america-875164_640In the 2016 presidential election, totals showed that Hillary Clinton received at least 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, but the Electoral College system gave the victory to Trump. A similar situation existed in 2000 during which Al Gore received about a half-million more votes than Electoral College winner George W. Bush.

Many Americans who don’t understand the purpose of the Electoral College cry foul and claim that we should move to a direct popular vote. But can the popular vote totals be trusted?

An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily published on June 24, 2917 asks whether the votes of illegal aliens cost Trump the popular vote. Highly likely, it seems, as IBD credits the Democrats highly effective get-out-the-vote efforts in areas heavily populated by noncitizens.

The IBD editorial cites several studies that estimate millions of votes were cast by noncitizens in 2008 and 2012, casting doubt on the validity of election results.

Where are the journalists who should be reporting this information? This would take some real work and it might not get a lot of front-page headlines, but Americans need to be able to trust the election process and these studies undermine our trust.

Sustainable development foe battles for local control of planning

A trend toward regional government must be stopped because it will severely limit personal liberties and property rights, speaker Debbie Bacigalupi told the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women during its May 20 meeting at the Three Flames Restaurant in San Jose, CA. Drawing on information from the United Nations, local government agencies and historical events, Bacigalupi explained how American communities are being crafted to dramatically change how people live, work and travel.

Bacigalupi, a former candidate for Congress, a daughter of California ranchers and vocal advocate for property rights and constitutional governance, provided several examples of planning changes that she said would eventually affect everyone across the nation.

In particular, California is serving as a pilot program for regionalism, a means of governing an area that transfers power from elected city council and county boards to regional entities, such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The underpinning political philosophy to regionalism is sustainable development, a planning process that emphasizes public transit and high-density housing while discouraging suburban and rural housing.

Bacigalupi criticized sustainable development, which is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (source: “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future,” also called the Brundtland Report, after Gro Harlem Brundtland, the commission’s chairwoman and former prime minister of Norway).

Sustainable development can encompass concepts as wide-ranging as economic justice, environmental justice and climate change. California’s current water shortage is partly a result of the state’s unwillingness to build new dams for water storage, a concession to environmentalists, Bacigalupi said.

She urged SVARW members to fight the regionalism efforts and to stand for our republic.
“What’s happening with liberty and freedom? It is disappearing,” she said. “America was founded on dreams. America was born to win.

“It was based on God’s creation, natural law, individual rights. That’s what makes America worth fighting for. Regardless of how tired you are. Regardless of how sick you are. Regardless of how poor you are. This is the most important battle of our lifetime,” she said.