The Daou Challenge, or the Washington Press Corpse, Part MMVI

Last week, Salon's Peter Daou issued a challenge to right-wing bloggers: If you hold the news media responsible for the "Cheney mess...prove it." He listed numerous examples of what he calls pro-Bush "storylines" (or narratives), then asked right-wing bloggers to list counter examples. So far, none has. Daou did, however, receive one interesting reply from Jon Henke of QandO, who argued that anecdotal evidence proved nothing:
I'm positive that the kind of challenge issued by Peter Daou will be useless, as are his own answers. Anecdotal data is interesting, certainly, but it's usually confirmation of the whatever you want to learn. Fact is, there's a plethora of anecdotal data for media bias in either direction — left or right (etc, etc). The idea that there is a monolithic media bias is tempting — it appeals to our idealogical desire for a bogeyman — but I think it is ultimately an obscurant.
My take is this. I think Daou's right about the national news media channeling pro-Bush narratives, but I also think that: 1) His litany of examples was convincing and yet 2) John Henke was right in saying that the list did not prove his assertion. It did, however, make Daou's assertion difficult to argue against.

Underlying Henke's point is the typical scientific bias against anecdotal evidence, which, while understandable, is often used to dismiss many observations out of hand. Anecdotal evidence may not be hard evidence, but it's still evidence. If we didn't use it, we wouldn't have a news media, a judicial system, sociology, history books or He's Just Not That into You.

One of the biggest problems is that, when it comes to allegations of media bias, the GOP has so purposefully muddied the waters that the word "liberal" means nothing anymore, as Glen Greenwald recently observed. (Daou's posts on the resulting fracas are must-reads, as are Greenwald's.)

For a successful study we need 1) definitions of "liberal," "conservative," and everything in between, fleshed out with policy examples (you could use a neutral, multi-category taxonomy even, that eschewed all political terms), and 2) the systematic application of that taxonomy to a series of major "storylines." A list of apolitical media biases would help, too. That would include biases favoring drama, bad news, etc.

What Henke doesn't appreciate is that Daou's post was a blog post and not an article, let alone a thorough scientific study. It was a challenge which should have resulted in counter examples. Unfortunately, it did not.

What I'm more concerned with than storylines, though, is that the Washington Press Corpse (a term I coined here), while played by Rove and Company, routinely neglects major stories. They have been doing this for years, but in the last five it's been appalling. Coverage of 9/11 and Iraq was sorry, at best, so much so that you had to read the foreign press (or Knight-Ridder) to find out what was going on. A few (familiar) examples: The complete, devastating Phoenix/Rowley memo, fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Downing Street set of memos, the latest UK memo (reported on by the UK news media but not the US), the use of a PR firm to sell a war to the public, the revelation that outed CIA agent Plame was working on Iran, and a recent allegation by one of the sources of the NSA story that there is a much larger and widespread domestic surveillance program than the one in the papers now. And that's the short list. If it weren't for sites like Salon and Raw Story, I'd probably lose my mind—assuming I haven't already.

The big question isn't why all this is so, it's Why haven't the Democrats learned how to use the media?

RELATED: Daou's recent post "Blog Wars: Bush Cultism versus Bush Derangement Syndrome" (linked to above) is a heartbreakingly true lament on the internicene blue-versus-red battle in America and why progressive bloggers are so upset.

No comments: