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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:48 PM ET, 10/01/2012

PostScript: Bias! Bias everywhere!

Far below the normal recesses of the PostScript bunker, farther below even than the PostScript bunker’s bunker, there lies the bunker of bias, the most secure location current technology can fashion. Locked inside it is a strongbox guarded by fourteen fanged dragons, which contains, encoded in Navajo anagrams, the one true secret media bias decoder ring. With it, one can absorb media while remaining completely immune to the the media’s insidious efforts to skew you to their way of thinking.

Unfortunately PostScript’s method of dealing with dragons involves a lot of cowering and avoidance, so it’s unlikely anyone’s ever going to get to use the secret decoder ring anytime soon. So what we’re left with is everyone having his or her own secret bias decoder ring, which conflicts with everyone else’s, without any of us ever being able to prove our ring is correct. Darn!

This situation leads us into Ombudsman Patrick Pexton’s column about reader perception of bias in the Post, particularly as it relates to being fair to the Presidential candidates. Summary: There is a lot of perception of bias. Pexton singles out news analysis and political coverage by reporters who are also probably, as the saying goes, “in the tank” for Democrats: Ezra Klein, Courtland Milloy, Walter Pincus, etc. These writers do not appear on the Opinions page, but are perceived to have political biases or agendas discernible in their reporting.

When does opinionating based on one’s political views (which seems like a perfectly legitimate part of the trade of the columnist) become “bias,” which is presumably when one’s opinions are dishonestly slanted? This is subtle territory; without the one magic decoder ring, though, this would seem to be indeterminate, in the realm of speculation based on one’s own political leanings.

flyover22 thinks the Post’s biggest bias is to cozy up to Washington’s power structure, and readers will know it’s not biased when reporters can burn more bridges without fear. (Basically, PostScript extrapolates, we’d show we are unbiased only if we were more fearless in our unholy partnership with power, and less like a remora on a shark):

I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. The Washington Post has a liberal bias, but you come by it honestly, for you write for, and in, a bubble, that is Washington. A big powerful government, means a big powerful Washington, and a big powerful Post. As a pro business individual I understand this completely. It’s not malicious as much as it’s contacts, sources, environment, profit, neighbors, colleagues, friends, readers, education, etc.
What the Post lacks is the cynicism of journalism and/or the reporters of old,the questioning of anything and everything on both sides -- but, in particular, power and its associated corruption.

QuiteAlarmed says we’ll know the paper is less biased when it is less concerned with not SEEMING biased:

What this opinion shows is that progressives need to start complaining more. Note the complete lack of analysis from Mr. Pexton about whether the Post coverage is actually accurate. His analysis is all about reader complaints. It’s no shock that conservatives complain more: media bias has been one of their cause celebres for years. The Post should worry about whether its coverage actually IS ACCURATE; not what opinion polls say about its coverage’s accuracy. I want to read a news source that reports on the real world, not on the public’s perception of it.

anon99 takes the opposite tack. Unbiased reporting can only be measured in reader reactions:

But the perception is accurate -- and the Post’s own Ombudsman admits it. I am a long-time fan of the WaPo but this cycle it has been almost comically in the tank for President Obama. And don’t kid yourself, even The Fix is not immune, especially when the article is written by one of Chris’ assistants.
Don’t take my word for it, just scan the home page and read the titles of the articles. It is one hit piece on Romney after the other almost to the point of absurdity. Worse, many of these pieces are not news or even pretend analysis. They are often a just a series of sneering comments making fun of Romney for owning a horse or hating poor people or -- and this was an actual comment in an actual opinion piece -- wearing “magic underwear,” a reference to Romney’s Mormonism. I agree with the Ombudsman, WaPo is, or should be anyway, better than that. The reader is always right. If a lot of people including your own Ombudsman think your coverage isn’t balanced then, by definition, it isn’t.

hipshot actually seeks out bias:

I come here because the post actually has some very good writers and I want to find out what the left and radical left are thinking. Of course there are a few windows into conservative views but why read just to verify?

SimJim basically agrees. If you think the Post is biased and don’t like it, seeks out sources you feel are less biased:

Perhaps Post readers are as extreme as you observe in their comments? If so, doesn’t it make business sense if the Post panders to their consumers?
With the internet there’s so many places to go for news and opinion that viability likely exists only in the niches. The Post has found its niche among the extreme left. Why is that bad?

Opinions vary as to the biases the Post has and if bias is really all that bad a thing. PostScript believes some media leanings are determined by the type of people who tend to become journalists — by definition, people who like a good crusade. And people who tend to live in cities. Some media biases are not political so much as strategic and pragmatic: we want to publish what people want to read about — not necessarily what they say they want to read, but topless Kate Middleton, etc.

Technology lets us know exactly what gets clicks, and it ain’t necessarily pretty.

But PostScript also sees bias in accusations of bias. The poll the Ombudsman cites compares readers’ assertions of bias sorted by their self-identified political party, as if there are only two ways to be biased, Republican or Democrat. There are a squillion ways to be biased! For example, PostScript’s bias, if she has one (ha!), is in interpreting comments in such a way as to make order out of chaos: She tries to discern patterns and themes in the comments, and might sometimes be guilty of stretching to make a point. Trying to determine all the biases based on a writer being in or out of one particular tank, when there are so many — Panzer tank, aquarium tank, fuel tank — sells media bias incredibly short, and makes it seem like we really could fix it with a couple more positive stories about Mitt Romney.

By Rachel Manteuffel  |  05:48 PM ET, 10/01/2012

 
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