Bruce Bartlett defends the media against charges of partisanship at RealClearPolitics. Maybe the press was partisan once upon a time, he says, but not any longer. He tells the lefties now complaining about the partisan media (since he acknowledges that it has moved rightward):
The problem for those on the left these days is that during the long period when there was a pronounced liberal bias in the media, they got lazy. They just assumed that the major media would automatically take their side, do hit jobs on conservatives and basically do their job for them. By contrast, conservatives have always had to contend with an adversarial media and thus learned better media skills and techniques in order to compensate.
Now I dispute the claim that the media was ever “liberal,” I think the press is mostly just a friend of the status quo. But Bartlett’s claim here represents a harmful way of thinking about what the press is for.
He’s right that the right wing has worked hard to mau-mau reporters into treating various issues as if they have more sides than they do – evolution is obviously my favorite example of that. Supply side economics only persists in the public mind because conservatives will complain if that nonsense theory isn’t given its place at the table.
And I don’t really blame Bartlett or the general efforts by the wingnuts to work the refs. Knowing how to game the rules is a mark of greatness in American culture, as it has been in Western traditions back at least to “resourceful Odysseus.” That doesn’t mean it’s good.
One of the Conservapedia’s “examples of bias in Wikipedia” is its “neutral point-of-view”:
For example, CNN would ensure that Crossfire had a representative of the political right and one from the political left. In contrast, Wikipedia policy allows bias to exist and worsen. For example, even though most Americans reject the theory of evolution, Wikipedia editors commenting on the topic are nearly 100% pro-evolution.
To which the editors responded:
Objective, or neutrally biased, articles present different opinions as equally legitimate regardless of validity, while unbiased articles focus on accuracy and validity. For example, the evolution article is not objective because it does not present creationism, a counter argument to evolution, as a valid scientific theory. However, this does not make the article biased because evolution is an accepted scientific theory. CNN’s Crossfire, on the other hand, was considered objective … because it had representatives from the political right from the political left.
And they were right. The goal of the press should not be objectivity at the cost of veracity. Presenting a conservative talking point just to achieve “balance” is absurd. Reporters and editors need to use their best judgement about who to quote and whether to bother getting comment from some people at all. The press is a filter (“all the news that’s fit”), and a blind obligation to “balance” can easily be gamed to produce an unfair advantage for bad ideas.
Until journalists start acting as independent referees, all anyone can do is remember to hate the game, not the player.