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December 07, 2005

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» Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Washington Post Republican Bias Edition) from Brad DeLong's Website
Hilzoy writes about pro-Republican bias at the Washington Post Obsidian Wings: Media Bias Strikes Again: Chris Cillizza... at the Washington Post, wrote up a 'scorecard' on corruption scandals in politics. He said at the outset that he was going to lim... [Read More]

Comments

Good post, Hilzoy, but it might be more useful to the folks it's aimed at if you could re-do it shorter words. And maybe keep the sentences to 10 words or less. ;-)

Reoublican nonsense about media bias is why mainstream media nows thinks it must skew things for Republicans. Otherwise its "biased" per our favorite righties.

Why do I get the sense these "editors" were the last ones chosen for kickball and have been obsessed with some skewed concept of fairness ever since?

"About ten days ago, Chris Cillizza, who blogs on politics at the Washington Post...."

If I read further, the answer will surely be clear, but my response right here is to wonder if he blogs at the Washington Post on politics, or blogs, in fact, on politics at The Washington Post. That is, does he "blog, on politics, at The Washington Post," or does he "blog on politics at The Washington Post"?

The latter is potentionally more interesting, perhaps. Sadly, I suspect the odds are that it's the former, not the latter.

Please, don't thank me; thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

A lot of discord in that family, possibly some smiting in front of young Gary. Explains a lot.

I'm thinking that Cilliza (or his editor) wasn't trying to shape the news to meet his preconception of reality, but rather was trying to stack the deck a little to deflect some of the criticism that doubtlessly would have erupted for daring to report that there were more Republicans than Democrats embroiled in scandal.

That doesn't excuse the editors actions, but I think it is useful to draw a distinction between someone who is trying to preempt reprisals from the O'Reilly crowd and someone who is trying to deliberately misrepresent reality to suit their ideological agenda. If nothing else, it is a diagnostic distinction for addressing what is wrong with mainstream media and culture. Or I could be full of beans.

ND: it was his editor, not Cillizza. (According to Cillizza, at least.)

Who knows why he did it -- I don't know the editor's name, much less anything else about him -- but your explanation strikes me as a plausible one. Still, I think two things:

first, that that makes the need for the little lesson clearer. It's a complete misunderstanding of journalistic objectivity to think that it's anything like this.

second, there are lots of motives behind shading the truth. In addition to wanting to slant things to fit one's own bias, there's slanting things to fit the bias of the people who run your paper, to keep out of trouble; slanting things to fit the biasses of people you think are worth trying to impress; slanting things to keep your advertisers happy; etc., etc. And all, I'd imagine, can be fully conscious, unconscious, and anywhere in between.

But it's still a total lapse of professional duty. -- If I graded a student down just because I disliked him or her, that would be bad; if I graded a student down because my chair didn't like him or her and would ask: how could you give that idiot a good grade, that would be bad in a different way (more craven, less spiteful...), but still just plain bad.

Grading honestly is my job. No motive (absent some really, really unlikely scenario involving, say, Osama bin Laden threatening to set off an H-Bonb in a major city if I didn't grade someone down) makes it OK. imho.

So you're saying you will grade students down in response to terrorist threats? Appeaser!

"Please, don't thank me; thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God"

If I read further, the answer will surely be clear, but my response right here is to wonder if you are saying that your character is the product of three influences: 1) your parents, 2)Ayn Rand, and 3)God, or whether you are saying that you are, in fact, the product of a tryst between Ayn Rand and God.

The latter is definitely more interesting. Sadly, I suspect the odds are that it's the former, not the latter.

Please, don't thank me; thank DaveC, who made the joke earlier, pithier, and more funnier.

...was trying to stack the deck a little to deflect some of the criticism that doubtlessly would have erupted for daring to report that there were more Republicans than Democrats embroiled in scandal

behold the The Chilling Effect

st, since Gary was talking about ambiguity and punctuation, he alluded to an old copyediting joke about a book dedication and the desirability of the serial comma.

hilzoy:
I'm in complete agreement with you on all those issues, in particular that this was both a lapse of professional duty and that it illustrates the need to make the lesson clearer.

I guess my point was that the distinction might be useful in how to attack it: a fraidy-cat editor who caves into pressure from the MRC or O'Reilly types can at least be receptive to appeals to his professional journalistic integrity. On the other hand, in places like FoxNews and CBN, where advocacy "journalism" rules the day, the editors not only have no shame in their agenda, they celebrate it (e.g. anyone see the PBS "News Hour" piece on CBN where they basically said as much?)

The latter is an issue that requires a different approach, as it is fruitless to make appeals to an intellectual integrity that is non-existent.

he alluded to an old copyediting joke about a book dedication and the desirability of the serial comma.

An old joke? Damn, it aplies so well to Gary, I thought it was true.

Oops. Sorry. How was I supposed to know that copyeditors have their own jokes? "An umlaut, a dangling participle and a run-on sentence walk into a bar..."

"...he alluded to an old copyediting joke about a book dedication and the desirability of the serial comma."

Quite so.

"How was I supposed to know that copyeditors have their own jokes?"

What group of people doesn't have their own jokes?

But I think it's probably safe to say that "my parents, Ayn Rand and God" is the most famous and cliched copyed joke. It's the one used against the serial murderers of the serial comma, and it manages the trick of being both blunt and pointed.

Speaking of Chip Delany, as DaveC and I were last night, I do sometimes wish that everyone had read "About 5,750 Words" early in their lives. It's a shame I don't have a copy here just now to reread.

"An umlaut, a dangling participle and a run-on sentence walk into a bar..."

Actually, it's the panda that walks into the bar, eats shoots & leaves, by the way.

Less funny is, say, comparing:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Punctuation is crucial to meaning. Inextricably so.

But the jokes are funnier ways of making the point. When people actually get them, at least. (Trying to use a joke to gently point out a bit of knowledge to someone not already possessing it often doesn't work, it turns out; ditto regarding using jokes to point out typos/misspellings that people already are being mysteriously blind to; however, you'll have to pry my alleged "sense of humor" from my cold, dead, uh, humors.)

Of course, there are also the lousy jokes: What happens to publications that don’t pick nits? They become
lousy.

Of course the serial comma foes (misguided though they are) can respond with "To my wife, Ayn Rand, and God." Maybe book dedications should be formatted as bulleted lists?

I'm reading the new bio of Isabella of France, wife of Edward II. After Ed2 was captive, the Queen's friend Bishop Orleton sent a message to his jailers:

Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est.

Depending on where the missing comma should go, the message means either 'Kill not Edward, it is good to fear the deed' or 'Fear not to kill Edward, it is a good deed.' Pretty good plausible deniability.


Those of you who don't know the story can look it up, but I was struck to learn that when Isabella and her lover Mortimer arrived from Hainaut, to overthrow Ed2, and were greeted as liberators, this did not stop Londoners from rioting, looting, etc, for a rather extended period. There really is nothing new under the sun.

The issue of objectivity has been debated to death by historians (who are long-distance, research-driven journalists of a sort). There was the hagiography camp (Xenophon, Porcopius part I), and the "just the facts" camp (history as "it actually happened" without interpretation (Procopius II, von Ranke, Meinecke). This argument more recently morphed into history as "art" versus history as "science."
Most now occupy a middle ground, saying it is a mixture of the two.
Finally, following the verdict of philosophy (Husserl/Phenomenology), most say that every perception has some point of view in it--unless we are talking about pure mathematics (which Kant called "synthetic by definition)."
Now I have a headache.

The issue of objectivity has been debated to death by historians (who are long-distance, research-driven journalists of a sort). There was the hagiography camp (Xenophon, Porcopius part I), and the "just the facts" camp (history as "it actually happened" without interpretation (Procopius II, von Ranke, Meinecke). This argument more recently morphed into history as "art" versus history as "science."
Most now occupy a middle ground, saying it is a mixture of the two.
Finally, following the verdict of philosophy (Husserl/Phenomenology), most say that every perception has some point of view in it--unless we are talking about pure mathematics (which Kant called "synthetic by definition)."
Now I have a headache.

every perception has some point of view in it--unless we are talking about pure mathematics

Not even then:

frequentists vs. Bayesians

Kroncker vs Cantor

ancient Greek abhorrance of infinity vs modern embrace of it

intuitionism vs logicism vs formalism vs modern criticisms of formalism (Lakatos)

Since the Washington Post always slants so heavily Republican, I'm sure we won't have to worry about this happening again. (ROTFLMAO!) Yes, sarcasm intended.

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