Thursday, April 20, 2006

Today's "Liberal Media" Myth Buster

Nashville City Paper News Correspondent, Christine Buttorff, wrote a piece for this morning's edition on yesterday's debate between U.S. Senate candidates, Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. and three Republicans, Van Hilleary, Bob Corker, and Ed Bryant. But her characterization of the proceedings at a downtown hotel did not fit the conservative mantra that reporters lead with a liberal bias. Point of fact, her description of all three Republicans was neutral while she seemed at one point to represent the lone Democrat (who by no means fits the liberal stereotype) as having an ulterior motive in the debate.

Here's a sampling of Ms. Buttorff's description of the Republicans' comments:
Hilleary called the ... $9 trillion federal debt limit a bi-partisan problem, saying the Republicans "along with the Democrats" help are spending money like drunken sailors." Hilleary said entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are swelling the deficit ....

Bob Corker said reform to ensure legal immigration is important .... Corker added, "I don't think we ought to turn businesses into INS ... agents," cautioning that it's difficult for businesses to determine whether documents presented by job applicants are authentic.

Ed Bryant said he supports the recent U.S. House bill that would have strengthened border security.
See how Ms. Buttorff uses value-neutral verbs? See how she merely reports what the Republicans said rather than reading veiled political intentions into what they say? If the Republicans have ulterior motives, Ms. Buttorff is not letting on that she assumes what they are.

But she sums Harold Ford, Jr.'s performance up by attributing an ulterior and partisan motive to it:
Ford ... criticized his Republican colleagues on what he terms the party's fiscal problems .... Ford played up his fiscal conservative side by saying he makes colleagues on both sides of the aisle angry at budget time [emphasis mine].
She starts describing Ford's performance objectively, but then includes her own personal bias of what Ford was up to, and I was left with a less than favorable picture. Ideally, she should have stuck with "Ford said he makes colleagues on both sides ...." But she still could have described Ford as a "fiscal conservative" and been considered objective, given that relative to other Democrats, Ford is generally acknowledged as conservative.

But the term "play up" carries insincere connotations, and in this story could be construed to mean that Ford is sucking up to Tennessee voters by promoting qualities that are not true to form. Worse, yet, Ms. Buttorff's clearly neutral presentation about the Republicans' performance ironically makes them look a lot better than Ford, who could be interpreted in this story as ingratiating and dishonest. The Republicans, on the contrary, were merely presenting their honest and transparent thoughts. There are definitely more egregiouseous examples of conservative media bias in reporting that draw into question the myth of "liberal bias," but small ones like this also alter, however imperceptibly, local popular perceptions about candidates.

Conservative media critics are fond of referring to the way reporters vote to perpetuate the "liberal media" myth. I personally don't think it matters how Ms. Buttorff votes. Just look at the one-sided treatment she gave the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate in today's City Paper. There is some evidence to indicate that, if she leans at all, she leans away from Democrats in print if no where else.

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