The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

17 November 2004

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

The Mad Hibernian wonders if that's all there is:

American conservatives rage against the liberal leanings of The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, the wire services and the major networks, among others. Still, the alternatives tend to be obviously conservative-leaning outlets, such as FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, New York Post or talk radio. They all have their uses, but is anyone actually in the middle? For those, on either side, who don't like to live in an echo chamber, there is kind of a missing market. Or, in reality, is being truly "fair and balanced" just a pipe dream?

The facile answer: USA Today, which the Hibernian himself cites in his previous paragraph. But USA Today, still reviled by many as "McPaper," is taken far less seriously than any of the outlets which list either left or right — not, I suspect, because of any perceived neutrality, but simply because it doesn't do the sort of long "think" pieces that some people associate with so-called Good Journalism. Indeed, one of NPR's major selling points during semiannual pledge drives is that it does interminably-long stories.

Which invites another question: does digging deeper into a story inevitably open the door to bias? Can you do, say, two paragraphs perfectly even-handedly, only to let your feelings creep into the picture somewhere in the middle of the third? (I'm not saying that this is the average, only that each writer may have a threshold of his own.)

And while I don't buy the notion that everyone in this polarized age is way out there on the edge of the spectrum and no one is in the middle, I do think most people tilt slightly in one direction or another, and to the extent they recognize that tilt — and to the extent that choices are available — they tend to select media outlets that run more or less parallel to that tilt. If choices aren't available (American cities, except for the very largest, tend to have only a single local daily paper, for instance), the tendency is to take what's there and filter according to perceived need.

In some ways, this is no answer at all: "fair and balanced" is in the eye of the beholder. Still, I can't think of any reason why I'd want it anywhere else.

Posted at 8:07 PM to Almost Yogurt

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Few things have ever frightened me more than the occasional proposal to set up some kind of national political umpire whose job is to determine which side of a given issue is "right."

And increasingly it appears that the default is answer is going to be "the one in the middle."

That bothers me because of what I generally see in the middle of the road when I'm driving down it. Oh, and when I'm driving, the "right" side of the road manages to be the, er, right side of the road.

Hmmmm...

Posted by: McGehee at 8:39 PM on 17 November 2004

... of course the great majority of the most widely read and viewed media is ACTUALLY owned by some of the most conservative people around. The next person that says "yeah, but that doesn't mean they interfere with the papers writers and editorial staff" will be directed to the Stan Tiner memorial exit at the Daily Jokelahoman building. Sure, a lot of big names get a LOT of leeway but when the leash is yanked it's always in the hand of the big dog or one of his middle management minions ... been there ... done that ... seen the bodies.

Posted by: Ron at 9:05 PM on 18 November 2004

Yeah, but who thinks of the Oklahoman as "widely read"? It's a badge of honor not to subscribe to the damned thing.

Then again, the WaPo has handed Ted Rall his drawing papers, which I suppose demonstrates that there are some things not even the shade of Katherine Graham will abide.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:17 PM on 18 November 2004

hey, I just found your site...very interesting. I've taken a few journalism classes in school, and dispite what "serious journalists" believe, most people don't particulary care for long stories, which is why USA Today doesn't have them; they did the research and found that any given story loses 75% of it's readership when it jumps to another page, so USA Today has no page jumps. I tend to think that this is a more effective means of delivering the news, which is what a paper is supposed to do. I think features and in depth reporting are better suited to magazines.

Posted by: Colin Newman at 2:01 AM on 24 November 2004