Category: Politics

Media Bias

Photo by VoxEfx on Flickr
Photo by Vox_Efx on Flickr

The vast majority of the news we consume cannot be described as “impartial.” During the past year, subtle or overt bias appeared in almost all of the news coverage of the upcoming election that I’ve seen. It’s disturbing, it’s unfortunate, and it’s impossible to avoid. In what’s become an exceedingly rare occurrence, I agree with the main premise of one of Joe’s recent political blog posts.

Varying degrees of left- or right-leaning bias can be found on all of the major media outlets, whether it’s print, broadcast, online, or radio. It’s difficult to determine when such comprehensive bias hijacked our news sources, but I think the cause is easier to pinpoint. Let’s blame it on the Internet.

A medium itself is impartial technology, generally invented for altruistic purposes, but as soon as a printing press or broadcast gains an audience, there will be an effort to sway the masses that consume it. Mass media bias is not new and has many possible sources and causes. However, for the past century or so, we’ve enjoyed many major media organizations that strove for—and prided themselves on—having as close to impartial coverage as possible. Claiming to be “fair and balanced” while actually being anything but does not count. It’s difficult to maintain neutrality on controversial topics and doing so requires unceasing vigilance, so it’s unsurprising that there are many notable failures in that struggle.

In an era when daily newspapers are bleeding subscribers, when TV stations are losing viewers to the Internet, and when the big money of classifieds has been lost to Craigslist, it’s no wonder that mass media is looking to compete with what’s available online. And it’s no secret that most bloggers have not attended the Columbia School of Journalism. If a blogger can say whatever they wish, they are bound to be more entertaining than an unbiased report; inflection and voice can go a long way. Here’s the problem: mass media has forgotten that they need to be informative first, entertaining second, and the public has forgotten that this order of priorities is ultimately for the best.

Blatant, widespread disregard for neutrality seems to be a recent development: something that’s surfaced in the past few years. Like Christians before the lions, liberals are often called to appear on Fox News, but their purpose is merely to serve as anvils to the hosts’ hammers. While Fox is an easy target for their blatant Republican love, the fact is that no network is untainted. It’s my choice to scoff at John McCain or Sarah Palin after their latest gaffes—most appropriately when assembled in a fantastic Daily Show segment; it’s frightening when respected news anchors are snickering along with me.

Rather than wax on about how Obama is the Second Coming of Christ—though he may, in fact, be the Savior of American Politics—I want the media to ask tough questions and demand answers of all politicians so I can make the most informed choice possible. That’s your job in a nutshell: report facts in a coherent and digestible manner.

Disclaimer: I am one of those ivory tower, far-left wing, liberal elitists.

Baltimore’s Smoking Ban

Baltimore City and Maryland State are each considering bans on smoking in all indoor buildings including bars and restaurants. While some are saying that this is another example of the government overstepping its bounds, I think that this will be a great thing for the city and/or state.

Most of the concern stems from the idea that smokers won’t go out to the bars as frequently as they do now, but this neglects the other side of the issue. The main reason I don’t go out to pubs more often—and I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling this way—is because I don’t like smelling like an ashtray when I come home. I’d be much more likely to pop into a bar for dinner and a drink if I knew I wouldn’t reek of smoke all evening.

Update (4/29/07): Both Baltimore City and the State of Maryland have passed laws designating all bars and restaurants (excluding cigar or tobacco clubs) smoke free beginning January 2008 and February 2008, respectively. I don’t see the need to wait so long to enact the ban, but I’m still thrilled that the bills passed.

Ignoring Disaster

When I wrote my last post about Katrina, I believed that the situation in New Orleans had sunk as low as it would, but I was very wrong. I knew that people had died and the city itself was devastated, but I never thought that the disaster response would be this bungled. It’s insane that dozens—if not hundreds or thousands—of people were dying of dehydration and starvation in front of American television cameras in America. In a developing nation, a nightmare of this magnitude with an inept response would still be tragic, but not surprising.

The Blame Game shifts focus away from the people to the numbers: five days without food and water, a million survivors displaced, thousands dead, two-hundred billion dollars to rebuild. Why did it happen? Who should be blamed? It doesn’t make a difference for those who suffer or those who died. But it’s important to “Make Sure It Never Happens Again.”

Tragedies of Katrina’s magnitude rarely result from one person’s actions; they’re systemic products and it’s criminal. Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans’ levees’ failures were not unimaginable events. An excellent National Geographic article clearly describes the events of the past two weeks in October 2004! It’s chilling to read history when it was predicted with crystal-clear precision a year ago. Really, I’m begging you to read it. Terrorists and tornadoes command the element of surprise, but New Orleans was declared a Federal State of Emergency the day before Katrina struck.

So when our president says that the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans was unthinkable, “he’s either lying, grossly misinformed, or thinks the American people are all idiots” (thanks, jb). The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans was foreseeable and preventable; it’s criminal that our leaders did not foresee or prevent it from happening.

Catching Things

It’s rare that I brag about something I said, but I think that this time it’s funny enough to share. Yesterday, Dan was talking about how the photos/video of John Kerry trying to catch a football was hilarious and about how bad Kerry looked. I said, “Do you know what’s funnier than that? Watching Bush try to catch Bin Laden.” Laughter and rebuttals ensued.

A Perfect Democracy

I think H. L. Mencken (1880 — 1956) had it right when he wrote:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Congratulations, America, you have someone you can relate to as your President. I just wish you weren’t dragging the rest of us down with you.

A Draft Dream

Last night, I dreamt that I was drafted by the Army to fight in Iraq. As part of a new law passed by Congress, students were no longer able to avoid the draft while they were in college. Unsettling as it was, I reported for basic training and received a rifle, a uniform, backpack, and the rest of the standard military gear.

I wasn’t sure what to do as I was getting ready to ship out, but as I was standing in my kitchen of the house I lived in when I was in grade school (for reasons I can’t fanthom), I decided that I would not be going to Iraq. Why? Well, of course there is the fact that I don’t want to die. But the real deciding factor was that I felt I shouldn’t serve a government that was willing to send men to die in a crusade for oil. So, I gathered up all my military gear and some other camping supplies, hiked out past my backyard into the woods and set up camp a few miles from my house. In my dream, this made perfect sense: I wouldn’t be caught trying to cross the border into Canada and imprisoned.

I’m still not sure what I would do if I was drafted in real life—it would depend on the pretense of the war, I supposeā€”but I’m fairly certain that I would not be camping out in the backyard.

Election 2004 and the Aftermath

I wish I had written something on Wednesday, when all of my emotions were raw and vitrolic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really write anything besides angry rants and whiny raves as a result of the deep emotions I felt. However, several other people summed up this election better than I could in its immediate aftermath.

William Saletan at Slate wrote:

[Simplicity] is what so many people like about Bush’s approach to terrorism. They forgive his marginal and not-so-marginal screw-ups, because they can see that fundamentally, he “gets it.” They forgive his mismanagement of Iraq, because they see that his heart and will are in the right place. And while they may be unhappy about their economic circumstances, they don’t hold that against him. What you and I see as unreflectiveness, they see as transparency. They trust him.

Greg Knauss at Waxy wrote:

This determined emotionalism—which is another way of saying anti-rationalism—is what drives us today. You can find it distasteful, you can find it depressing, but it’s most important impact is that we have turned over the direction of the country—our future—to the part of our psyche that doesn’t want to think.

It’s not about smarts. The lunatics aren’t stupid—just the opposite. It’s about the willingness to abandon the deductive process in favor of epiphany. It’s about the abandonment of the brain in favor of the gut.

Jason Kottke wrote:

It’s not necessarily that America as a whole validated the actions of George Bush over the past four years… it’s that the Republican Party got more of their people to the polls than the Democrats did. Looking out across America, what’s one of the largest groups of people with a single strongly-held set of beliefs? The evangelical Christians. They comprise a large portion of the US population and believe in God more strongly than most other groups believe in anything. The Bush camp used a coordinated campaign to speak directly to those people and put their strong belief in God in direct opposition to what the other side stood for: liberals want to kill innocent babies, allow gays to marry, and let non-Christians run the country/world. To an evangelical Christian, the fear that those things will happen is almost overwhelmingly unbearable.

Jesse at Hyperion Court wrote:

We need to remember that the contest was close. While Bush will act like he has an overwhelming mandate, he received no such thing. The country is divided in half, and the divide runs deep. We can’t win by outvoting or outspending or outsliming the forces arrayed against us. We have to bridge that divide. We have to make people understand why we think the way we do. If you want to take your country back, you’re going to have to change it first. That battle will never end, but it can be won. It starts now.

I think these four posts sum up the election result in great ways. I’ve sampled some great bits, but read the full posts for even more good stuff. I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but all of them are worth the read. Eventually, I was able to get my thoughts together in writing.

The Political Spectrum

“I am, as far as I can tell, more or less a centrist, equally repelled by either extreme of the political spectrum. Indeed, I believe that the spectrum forms a full circle, with right and left merging, as they meet at their respective extremes, into luminous batshit evil.”

by William Gibson

Vote Kerry Button

Vote Kerry for President!

I wanted to add a little John Kerry button to this site, but I didn’t like the downloads at the official site. And what kind of web designer recommends using an iframe for an image anyway? So I made my own John Kerry button!

I used the flag from the official Kerry/Edwards images and added it to a button I made using the Kalsey Button Maker. I Photoshopped the two into one image, and voila! An attractive button to promote John Kerry for President. Just save the button, upload it to your website, and add the following bit of code to your page:

<div><a href="" title="Vote John Kerry for President"><img src="votekerry.gif" alt="Vote Kerry" width="80" height="15" /></a></div>

If you’re using the button, just leave a little comment to let me know—I’m curious to see where the button shows up. Thanks!