Saturday, May 15, 2004

Abu Ghraib, Nick Berg, and the media 

It has become something of an article of faith among right-of-center bloggers, with whom TigerHawk makes common cause far more often than not, that the gross disparity in media coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Nick Berg decapitation is yet another example of leftist bias in the major national media. Along comes Frank Lynch, though, to argue that the comparison is not fair:
Abu Ghraib abuses aren't getting too much attention, if you think about it. I know that many people try to put them in perspective by comparing them to Nick Berg's execution — and even question why that isn't more of the news item — but maybe Berg's execution isn't a proper event to compare it to. Maybe we should look at the attention which Abu Ghraib has gotten, and compare it to the attention which U.S. police brutality cases get. I can't speak for what it's like in other cities, but when it happens here in New York, the Times seems to have a daily article on the case. (When the Abner Louima case happened, for instance, its horrific nature seemed beyond belief. Louima was abused on August 9, 1997; in the period from August 10 to September 9, just one month, he was mentioned in 79 different news articles in the New York Times alone. One event, in one night. He wasn't always the focus, but his abuse impacted the city in many ways.)

This is an interesting point, and I think I agree with it. The media is always fascinated by police brutality. Looked at that way, the Abu Ghraib story is not getting manifestly more coverage than the big police brutality cases of the last twenty years.

Lynch has more to say here, arguing that blogger claims of media bias are usually based on anecdotes, rather than rigorous analysis. Fair enough, but Lynch's example of such rigorous analysis is Tim Noah's article in Slate reviewing Michael Tomasky's survey of liberal and conservative editorial pages. The Tomasky study purports to show that liberal editorial pages (that of the New York Times, for example) are more willing to criticize Democrats than conservative editorial pages (the WSJ) are willing to criticize Republicans. Perhaps this is true, but it is not evidence to support Lynch's argument.

The problem is that Tomasky's study (according to Slate's account of it) actually does not address the point that Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit and so forth have been making. They have not been complaining about bias in the editorial pages, which is the traditional place for the staff of the newspaper to express its political views. Rather, the bloggers have been "outing" liberal bias in the writing of headlines over news articles, the placement of those articles in the paper, the selection of subjects on which to report, and the actual words used to write about those subjects. The Tomasky study may make a useful point about the writing of editorials, but it does not address the claim that the national media is substantially biased to the left outside of the editorial pages.

CWCID: Tom Tomorrow, who has more to say on the topic here. And don't bust my chops for reading This Modern World. It always pays to know what the other guys are thinking.


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