Media Reports – We Decide

“…the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion.” — John Stewart Mill, On Liberty.

A couple of weeks ago, Linda Foley the President of the Left-leaning Newspaper Guild, speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform accused, without the courtesy of providing proof, the American military of deliberately targeting journalists. Perhaps more revealing was that Ms. Foley’s remarks were greeted with applause and cheers confirming that her audience was sympathetic to her remarks. One gets the sense that there is an incestual reinforcement of views between Ms. Foley and her audience that blinds both to alternative points of view.

After the firestorm that followed Ms. Foley’s remarks, one might have thought she would be more circumspect in her comments, at least for a little while. But the lure of an enthusiastic, like-minded audience proved too great a temptation. Following Ms. Foley around with a microphone in search of an incendiary statement is akin to following a fuse to a bomb. The inevitable happens. On a discussion panel on media reform at the Take Back America Conference held at the Washington Hilton in Washington DC this last week, Ms. Foley seemed to eschew balanced news reporting. She said: “The conservatives have got us, as a country, now believing that balance — giving both sides — is the same as truth, and there are some things that are just false.”

Deconstruction of the statement provides and interesting insight into the maelstrom of ideas swirling around what counts for modern Liberal minds. By “balance,” Ms. Foley is referring to equal coverage of competing ideas. Ms. Foley believes that the press should identify ideas or notions that progressive minds have decided are settled and not open to debate, upon which there is no longer legitimate controversy. In such cases, according to Ms. Foley’s prescription, giving both sides is misleading. It gives people the false impression that both sides of the argument have equal merit. Foley’s argument reveals an arrogant distrust in the public’s ability to properly weigh the arguments.

Josh Silver of the Fair Press, on the same panel, offered an example of a settled issue that does not require balanced presentation: global warming. The media should not present both sides, because one side has been so discredited. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that there remains considerable scientific debate as to the rate of global warming, what fraction of it is associated with anthropogenic sources, and the relative costs between reducing green house gas emissions versus dealing with the consequences of warming, would not a balanced presentation on global warming inevitably lead the public to a the fair conclusion based on the evidenc? Given the difficulty Ms. Foley has in choosing her words carefully, one is not inclined to allow her the discretion to decide what issues have or have not been settled.

There are other social questions that have been decided empirically, but which Liberals have chosen to ignore. The correlation between intact families and positive outcomes for children is undeniable, but is certainly not given much attention by progressive journalists. Such a settled question would not be politically convenient for some. That home schooling and private and charter schools are generally at least as good for children as government-run schools does not receive much attention. Such a settled question would politically harm school teacher unions, an important Liberal constituency. That a promiscuous gay-male lifestyle bore considerable responsibility for the rapid spread of lethal AIDS infections is a settled question. However, this settled issue is not given much media attention for fear that it would reflect badly on gays. Intolerance for alternative view points is a Liberal “fundamentalism” more severe, rigid, and exclusionary than the much caricatured religious fundamentalism.

There indeed may be some settled questions that we need not continually debate. Journalists need not spend time presenting both sides on the issue of whether the Earth is flat. That is a settled question among for nearly all of us. However, there are some questions that Liberals might considered settled that many do not. Part of good journalism is recognizing those issues for which there is real disagreement in the public, even if the journalists themselves have reached their own conclusions.

The inability of Ms. Foley to see the danger of unbalanced reporting, it precisely why people are migrating away from Liberally-biased sources of news. People perceive the imbalance and do not appreciate a one-sided presentation. If a question is settled, then it would not be news and need not be reported at all. If there is significant disagreement among a large number of people, a decent respect for the consumer of news requires a balanced presentation. Why should people trust those news sources that don’t trust them; that eschew the necessity for balance and arrogantly presume the wisdom to decide which issues ought to be controversial and which ought to be settled? The comments of Foley and her Liberal compatriots are an outgrowth of the extreme frustration that when both sides are presented, some people arrive to different conclusions than they do.

Reporters should report, we should decide.

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