D.C. Shooting Gives News Orgs A Chance To Refute Bias Charge

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...” The first lines of W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” may yet be a fitting epitaph for our civil society and indeed democracy in general.

That is, unless the American people are able to draw on our inner strength and renew the wellsprings of its success – kindness, moderation, virtue.

This is a broad test of character, touching every aspect of public life. But one small part of this test concerns the functioning of the mainstream news media, which has manifestly lost the trust of around half the country, making it difficult (if not impossible) for people from different regions and ideological traditions to communicate, understand, or empathize with each other.

Some of the charges leveled against the news media are unfair or irrational — and alienating partisans of hate is no discredit. In fact, part of the recovery process will be ensuring they are sent skulking back to the margins.



But it would be foolish to conclude that everyone who questions the objectivity of our establishment media is a bigot, crackpot, or ignoramus. Because they have a point.

Even the most committed “progressives” should be able to see that the news media has a pronounced left-leaning slant, and it is pervasive: when even sportscasters supposedly display a liberal bias, something is going on.

Of course, it’s not the news media’s job to tell people exactly what they want to hear, but trying to package liberal opinion as objective reporting and analysis is a fool’s errand. In the 21st century, Americans are savvy news consumers, on the whole, and the rise of blogs and social media just makes it that much easier to detect and highlight distortions and omissions.

It’s an open question whether the mainstream news media will ever be able to win back the trust of the alienated skeptic, but they have to at least try, as the alternative is accepting a divided society and throwing in the towel on democracy. Their coverage of Wednesday’s shooting of U.S. Representative Steve Scalise is as good a place to start as any.

The Scalise attack presents three tests that will demonstrate whether the news media can do its job fairly — and happily most have already passed the first (admittedly low) hurdle, which is simply acknowledging that the shooter, now dead, was without question a left-wing zealot who attacked Scalise and others simply because they were Republicans.

True, critics will point out the news media had no choice, given his social-media profiles, which made his ideological leanings clear. And that’s why the next two tests are so important.

The second test is harder. Will reporters, pundits and talking heads tackle the potential role played by the media and public figures in inciting or provoking political violence?

The last few weeks have already seen some controversy around, for example, Kathy Griffin holding up what appears to be the bloody, severed head of Donald Trump, as well as a staging of “Julius Caesar,” where the doomed title character bears a strong resemblance to Trump.

As reliably conservative news outlets like Fox News have pointed out, it’s natural to wonder whether these kinds of acts and images have the effect of normalizing and encouraging violence against the political “other.” Will The New York Times, New Yorker, or Salon, with their penchant for big-picture cultural analysis, also engage with these questions? (Or are they focusing on debunking the inevitable exaggerations of right-wing pundits about the same issue?)

To do so would be to acknowledge the possibility that left-wing media, for all its talk of tolerance and civility, can be just as irresponsible as the opposing side.

And that brings us to the third test, which takes us further into “meta” territory. Can the media at least admit the possibility that there is a double standard in how it covers itself and its own relationship to extreme partisanship?

This might sound opaque, but thanks to Griffin we can conduct a simple thought experiment: How would major newspapers and news broadcasters have responded if, in 2009, Larry the Cable Guy appeared holding a mask made to look like the severed, bloody head of Barack Obama?

Would this have sparked a long, serious discussion about the potential for images in popular culture to encourage violence, rather than just some passing remarks to the effect of “how tasteless,” followed by sympathetic pieces on Larry’s ruined career?

Taking another example, after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, major news orgs rushed to connect the shooting to political partisanship and alleged incitement by conservative media, even though the evidence pointed to the shooter suffering from mental illness, with no discernible ideology. So why is there no “mirror image” discussion of these issues in the same news outlets now, when the shooter had clear ideological motives?

It’s not remarkable to see Fox News demonizing the liberal news media, protesting leftist “incitement” and generally reveling in conservative victimhood. But it would be remarkable — and encouraging — to see The New York Times or The Washington Post take a hard, fair look at the same issues.

2 comments about "D.C. Shooting Gives News Orgs A Chance To Refute Bias Charge ".
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  1. Nicholas Fiekowsky from (personal opinion), June 16, 2017 at 11:13 a.m.

    You have good points about apparent left-right asymmetry in major news media coverage.

    Scott Adams' "Two Movie" blog entry explains how someone inside a worldview finds it difficult to perceive a second perspective.

    My perception is that right-leaning people experience dissonance when consuming major media. This drives many to fact-check. This exposes some of the gaps you mention, reinforcing the division.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 16, 2017 at 1:27 p.m.

    Yes, Kansas doing what the national houses want to do is quite a success ?

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