Sunday, October 24, 2004

A Little Visceral Bias Goes a Long Way

Rick's been talking a lot about the visceral bias of the mainstream news media. ("Visceral" meaning "instinctive" or a "gut feeling.") This would certainly explain why the media don't see themselves as biased, because their bias operates at a subconscious level. I'm reminded of something Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, that the trouble with stupid people is that they're too stupid to realize there's such a thing as being smart. For some in the mainstream news media, they are too biased to realize that they might be biased. (In fact, the only bias they seem aware of is conservative bias.)

While I think this is certainly true when we're talking about many who operate on the national level, the bias problem is exacerbated by another problem in small and medium-market news media

Consider the small and medium market newspapers. They don't generally have a very large writing staff and yet they still want to have national and international news on the front page. The solution, of course, is to use stories from the news services like the Associated Press.

Today, the "A" section of the daily newspaper in Our Fair City had 21 news stories. 17 of those were from wire services--16 from AP and one from Knight-Ridder. Only 4 were produced locally. The "B" section, or City/Region section, had 7 stories. Three of those were AP.

So even if the reporters who run our local newspaper aren't biased leftward, the newspaper will still largely reflect the biases of the wire services. Repeat this scenario for each small- to medium-market newspaper, and you see how the bias of one news organization like the Associated Press translates into the bias of the press at large.

This isn't just a problem in small and medium markets either. There are very few metropolitan dailies who have the staff to really cover national and international news, and few metropolitan dailies that have national distribution. So even large dailies rely heavily on wire services.

The same is true of local broadcast news. Most will attempt to fill the news hole with stories of local interest (or national stories with a local angle) and let the network news feed cover the national/international events. But there's still a large news hole to fill, and the fewer the local resources the more likely that the reporter will just "rip and read" straight from the news wires. Regionally this is particularly true of local stations' 10 pm newscasts which attempt to provide at least a small amount of national and international news.

To counter this, the local news reporters could attempt to verify the stories that come across the news wires, or at least read over them and if necessary reword them to remove bias. More likely, a result of laziness on the reporter's part, or due to the time constraints present in preparing a daily newscast, "rip and read" will be the order of the day.

It is because of this that even a small number of biased reporters at the Associated Press, can get their bias imposed on a national level.


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