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July 16, 2003

Partisan Columnists and Rush Limbaugh

The fact that newspaper columnists are partisan is not new. It doesn't take a college degree to deduce that a well-known columnists like Molly Irvins, Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan, or Paul Klugman are partisan. Usually reading the column's headline or the first paragraph or two will tell the reader from which side of political spectrum they are coming from. What is new, to me anyway, that there is a dedicated soul out there who tracks partisanship on his website. If this sort of thing interests you, truck on over to Lying in Ponds and see where your favorite columnist is ranked. This is Lying in Ponds's mission statement:

Lying in Ponds is an attempt to encourage vigorous, independent commentary in the American punditocracy by quantifying and analyzing partisanship. Lying in Ponds tries to draw a fundamental distinction between ordinary party preference and excessive partisanship. The presence of an excessive partisan bias transforms journalism into advertising, too distorted and unreliable to be useful in any serious political debate.

Looking over the data on Lying in Ponds I noticed that the Democratic pundits are primarily writing negatively about the Republicans and not writing positively about Democrats while the Republican pundits do the same but write considerably more positively things about their own party. Most of the conclusions I can draw from why this difference between negative and positive stories about the pundit's own party exists are obvious. It is interesting nevertheless.

One of the disturbing things about the punditry world is that many of the pundits who inhabit this world of words actually, with a straight face no doubt, claim they are not partisan. Paul Klugman is one. At one time in his career that may have been almost true but he has morphed into one of the league leaders in partisan hits on Republicans. His op-ed pieces in the New York Times generate such a visceral reaction from some people that anti-Klugmanite and pro-Klugmanite web sites and blogs have popped up on the web here (take a look at this one just for the beautiful picture of the Golden Gate Bridge) here here, and here (Klugman's own site) devoted to debunking or supporting Klugman's ideas. One of the reasons that these pundits do not think that they are partisan is, according to Bernard Goldberg in his book Bias, that all their friends and co-workers think exactly the same way they do. Diversity of political opinion does not exist in the world that these people live in. It probably comes as a rude shock that some people actually disagree with them.

There is an interesting book on bias in the visual news media called Bias by former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg that dissects the TV news business. And of course, Rush Limbaugh has beat the drum loudly and often that the media, visual and print, has been biased for years and years. He, without a trace of bias himself, would document case after case of it on his daily talk show. Limbaugh actually trained, some would say brainwashed, his listeners with his daily media jabs (whether they were true or fair or not) to become more critical viewers, readers, or listeners when they listened to, read, or watched what the media and pundits were presenting to the public. If a listener, viewer or reader knows what to look for it is relatively easy to detect bias in reporting or editing. It seemed that Limbaugh thought it was his primary mission to expose the media's propaganda methods to his listeners because people who listened to his show are or became big media consumers and the media was/is primarily and, to Limbaugh, dangerously liberal. Limbaugh's listeners, for the most part, were probably not initially aware of how the media slants the daily barrage of news. Limbaugh was trying to immunize a huge number of people from what he thought was the daily onslaught of liberally biased news and commentary. FoxNews' popularity probably grew from those people Limbaugh had educated over the years. Limbaugh's daily rants about media bias over the years may be the orgin of a growing concern and discussion today about media bias.

A quick observation of mine on how to detect political bias in the news: I have found that there is just one word that can reliably be used to determine the bias of the reporter or commentator when he or she is talking about the current administration in Washington. It is the word "this" as in "this administration" with the word "this" almost sneeringly pronounced with a hissing sound. Check it out. A conservative speaker would use the term "Bush administration" in a similar sentence. I can imagine all the liberal media types standing around in glittering beltway cocktail parties using the words "this administration" as sort of a perjorative code word for the Bush administration in a vain attempt to be smart, cool, urbane, hip, or intellectual. To me it is hilariously funny. The speaker might as well have LIBERAL PARTISAN tattooed on his or her forehead. Listen to NPR sometime. It is wall-to-wall discussion of actions "this" administration is taking. Do they really think they are fooling anyone?

- posted by Mad Jayhawk and Seven @ 7/16/2003 12:41:00 PM    |

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