Bad Press

Chait, Jonathan
November 2003
New Republic;11/10/2003, Vol. 229 Issue 19, p20
The author argues that, thanks to a handful of bad habits, some good intentions gone awry, and a new breed of politicians adept at exploiting these vulnerabilities, today's political reporters routinely provide the public with misleading, sometimes wholly inaccurate coverage of public policy and the officials who make it. Liberal bias does affect news coverage, but not always in the ways conservatives suspect. Journalists share the priorities of the educated classes--liberal on social issues but not necessarily on economics. Another surprising thing about liberal bias is that it manifests itself not so much in outright hostility toward conservatism--although there's some of that--but as simple bewilderment that, in turn, fosters misleading coverage. Once the news media has settled on a perception of a political figure, it becomes nearly impossible to dislodge. For all the talk about the importance of objectivity, reporters are surprisingly willing to express their opinions openly when it comes to matters of pure politics. Yet, when it comes to real matters of fact--that is, things that involve figures, dates, actual events--reporters frequently take the opposite approach. They are evenhanded to a fault, presenting every side of an argument as equally valid, even if one side uses demonstrably false information and the other doesn't. Political coverage is also hampered by the assumption that there is some relationship between the emphasis a politician gives to an idea and its actual importance. It's not that journalists fail to report on business influence; it's just that such reportage tends to get segregated.


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