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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 07:42 AM ET, 06/30/2011

BIAS WATCH takes on the naysayers

Thanks, readers, for your indulgence. On Monday, I issued a call for mercilessness. People have complied, especially in reaction to yesterday’s BIAS WATCH item.

That piece broke down the story by NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg on the Supreme Court’s landmark Wal-Mart decision. Though the final part of the NPR story was heavy with implications for civil rights litigation, it didn’t give comparable space for the stakeholders on the opposite side of the matter.

In the comments, there were some neutral viewpoints and a positive one or two. But many, many thumbs were pointing downward.

Here are some samples.

Geezer4 writes: “ ‘Balance’ in the mind of the blogger, is more important than the article. One of the problems with our news gathering and writing elite is that balance has become so important that even if there is no ‘other side’, one must be invented.”

Lydiatusson1 writes: “This blog is ludicrous. The idea that one person can decide what is and is not biased, assuming he himself does not bring bias into the equation, is just silly. Good journalism is about presenting well-founded facts to whatever extent they are available, but it does not preclude having a perspective. The claim that ‘equal representation of viewpoints’ is either the ideal or somehow an unbiased approach is ridiculous.”

Rogied25 writes: “This column is an example of what has gone wrong with the print media. In striving for some sort of utopian standard of ubiquitous neutrality, the Fourth Estate has abrogated its essential mission, the verification of facts. Of course analysis has a slant, otherwise it would be worthless.”

Gannon_dick writes: “Bias in reporting is not a legitimate measure of authoritative decisions. Who died and elected you Brethren, Brother?”

Jb1151 writes: “So if I say, ‘Based on my reading of the case, Brown v. Board of Education makes it harder to segregate schools,’ I’m biased?

“All Professor Hensler says is that based on the content of the Wal-Mart decision, it will be more difficult to bring employment discrimination lawsuits. That’s not a personal opinion, it’s a legal analysis. She doesn’t say it’s a good or bad thing. The Chamber of Commerce quote, however, is straight-up opinion.

“Perhaps Mr. Wemple is showing his bias against female professors from the Ivy League?”

A lot of waterfronts to cover here. Here’s a shot at covering them:

*Who elected me? Yeah, uh, no one. The reason I want to do BIAS WATCH is twofold: 1) Bias is constantly in play, from cable TV to the op-ed pages to dining room tables; 2) It too often gets adjudicated in generalities. And when it does get debated, the actual work — the transcripts, the manuscripts, the videos — is never on hand to facilitate a meaningful discussion. BIAS WATCH seeks a remedy here.

*Equal time problem. Getting hammered all over the place on the so-called 50-50 rule — that in my critique of Totenberg’s piece I am implicitly endorsing the notion that both sides need to be given equal time in the story, down to the second. Well, I didn’t sit there with a stopwatch toward that end.

The problem with the Totenberg story was that the listener comes away with a much better understanding of what the decision means for the losers than for the winners. As complainant @kevin_reiss stated, the takeaway is, Oh, what a blow for civil rights. The other side got less, if any, attention: Just what does this mean for big companies? Lower liability insurance rates? Bigger profits? A hiring spree? That dimension was left unexplored.

*Question of bias. The feature is titled BIAS WATCH, but the piece itself was a little less nuclear, concluding only that it contains a slant. That judgment applies to this piece alone, not to Totenberg’s oeuvre. Maybe “Slant Watch” would be a better title.

By  |  07:42 AM ET, 06/30/2011

 
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