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Sunday, October 19, 2008


Where the Media Bias Comes From

The media's left wing bias is all but universally acknowledged (despite Obama's great line at the Smith Dinner the other night - "Is Fox News in the media?") these days, and one sees it's impact in all kinds of subtle and not so subtle ways. The question is, how did this come about?

I am old enough to remember when the media had a pretty strong right wing bias. The papers were all owned by wealthy publishers, and they rarely wrote editorials endorsing Democrats. The strong line of demarcation between the opinion pages and the news reporting pages in the tabloids was no better than it is today, likely worse. Only the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal, and maybe the Washington Post could reliably be expected to provide objective news coverage. The same is true today, only the bias is to the left. Now the Times and the Post evidence subtle but sure bias in their news reporting (and subtle is more dangerous since it is less transparent). For sure, there are still conservative oriented papers, the best being the Journal, and the worst being the NY Post. Only the WSJ, of the papers I ever see, gives you reporting that is objective, accurate, and clearly separated from editorial.

As for the broadcast media. the networks still pretend to be non-partisan, but that has not been the case for a generation or more. The cable networks and talk radio make little or no pretense about their slant, and that is actually OK; at least they are pretty much warning you where they are coming from. You have to watch CNN carefully though - it will not acknowledge its lefty slant.

What has driven the media to the left? I claim it is less the media ownership than it is the motivation of those entering its work force. In effect, there has been self - selection by media personnel that has driven the bias. Surely, Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate expose, a legitimate investigative journalistic triumph that uncovered a Republican administration acting shamefully, inspired a generation of other would-be investigative reporters. But why does a journalistic career still appeal mainly to left-oriented students, and why have the nation's editors forsaken the ideal of objective reporting in favor of writing that supports political ends?

I found a great example in my college's current edition of its alumni magazine. The College held a series of seminars for students interested in a journalism career and brought back alumni now enjoying careers in the media. The students wanted to know how to get their first jobs, but what they mainly heard were the reasons they "should" get into a career in journalism. Here are some representative comments:

Adi Ignatius ( Haverford class of 1981, exec editor of Time Magazine) -"I decided to attend the workshop because I believe in journalism, in its power to change the world, and I want to do what I can to help inspire smart, passionate young people to get into the field." Change the world? Is that the job of journalists? Maybe when you reach editorial, like Paul Gigot, or if you're a pamphleteer like Tom Paine. How about teaching these kids to report accurately before they go about changing the world?

The article's author, Brian Johnson, Haverford 2008, on his overall impression of the alumni professionals: "I thought the majority of them must have gone on to journalism school but I learned that few of them had, and even fewer recommended it. They all agreed that you could learn more about journalism by hitting the streets, talking to people, and looking for stories; and that the key to success was getting your "bylines" on as many published pieces as possible." They all agreed? I rejected the idea of J school, but they all agreed? No training, just go for the story, the byline? Yikes!

And how about this from John Carroll, Haverford 1963, most recently editor of the LA Times, in a lecture he gave at the University of Kentucky - "There are many reasons to be a journalist...Maybe you'd like to expose the next Enron scandal - or thwart some future president's plan to invade the wrong country...I won't attempt to list all the new forms journalism is taking. A noteworthy example is YouTube, which is playing an important role in the current presidential election campaign...At the same time, I'm hoping that the old media will continue to employ large teams of professional journalists, to propagate their traditional definition of ethical journalism and, when necessary, to stand up decisively to the government and other big institutions." Mr. Carroll has a big reputations, earned over a long career, but it may be OK that he is out of his job at the Times.

I would have added emphasis to these comments (in bold or italics) but I wouldn't know where to stop. Suffice to say that with this attitude, it should not be any wonder that recruits to journalism are coming in with a sharp left slant and believe that their legitimate role is to advance their own policy prescriptions. Is it really any wonder that the media treated Sarah Palin to a feeding frenzy of "investigative reporting" but continues to question why the Ayres connection is a legitimate story worthy of follow up (or even that it should have been raised)?


Of all the Motown Groups, the most enduring have been The Four Tops and the Temptations. Surely, none of those groups maintained the original personnel as long as the Tops, and its lead singer Levi Stubbs, though clearly among Motown's greatest talents, likely had much to do with keeping the group together. He never seemed to seek individual star status - no one ever called the group Levi and the Tops or anything like that. He was a team player on an incredible team, capable of the most wrenching soul style and also the most alluring ballad work.

I really loved watching the Four Tops in person, and did so on several occasions, and their records will live forever. We lost a great artist this week in Levi Stubbs.

My pick at the beginning of the playoffs was for the Phillies to beat Tampa Bay in the series, and I still feel they will because they have the best closer and because of the dominating presence of Ryan Howard. Nonetheless, you really have to admire the Rays too, and they will be a solid opponent with their youthful spirit and talent, and with the odd game at home.

On Monday, I bought 100 shares of Expeditor's International (EXPD) at 28.24, a "zero buy." Wednesday, the value buy was 400 shares of ADC Telecommunications (ADCT), a long-time under performer because of the overcapacity in its industry. That overcapacity may finally be brought back to a reasonable level by the end of the recession, and that might allow this stock to pop. The price was 5.59, which brought my average cost down quite a bit.

No surprise, the market tested its low last week after the short covering rally. The test was surprisingly successful, given the economic challenges we still face, and the mountains of stock pushed on the market because of mutual fund withdrawals, hedge fund catastrophes, and margin calls on executives. If ever there was a demonstration of the importance of avoiding margin, (recall the advice of Sir John Templeton), the last two weeks have been it. We have probably begun a protracted bottoming process.

Why didn't the media cover the failure of the rating agencies in the latest Wall Street mess? If they had been working instead of chasing daydreams we might have mitigated this mess somewhat.

Hail Freedonia !

Rufus T. Firefly
Firefly is correct. The rating agencies not only failed, they appear to be part of the fraud since it was in their financial interest to provide investment grade ratings to the securitizations.

Red Wave
Firefly is correct. The rating agencies not only failed, they appear to be part of the fraud since it was in their financial interest to provide investment grade ratings to the securitizations.

Red Wave
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