17 November 2004
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
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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