Patterico's Pontifications

5/13/2008

L.A. Times Asks: Are We Biased? Try Giving Your Answer!

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 5:54 pm

Jamie Gold asks: is the L.A. Times left-leaning, or nonpartisan? (The question arises in the context of the paper’s use of the label “conservative” to describe conservative organizations, and “nonpartisan” (or no label) to describe left-leaning ones.)

If you’d like to give her your feedback, you may answer her question politely here. Save your comment, and note the date and time you left it. If it doesn’t get published within 24 hours, email it to me, and I’ll publish it here.

(H/t Bradley J. Fikes.)

31 Comments

  1. I posted a reply at about 9:30, Eastern. It was polite.

    Comment by driver (faae10) — 5/13/2008 @ 7:00 pm

  2. Sorry, Patterico, this was the best I could do:

    “The terms, or labels if you wish, are “loaded”. They should not be used at all by the reporter in the straight story unless the subject describes itself as one of such and even then the should be qualified with “self-described”. The terms are really editorial opinions and if the editors feel that that opinion is important to the story they should append a footnote, e.g., “XYZ organization is antidisestablimentarialist — The Editors”.”

    [Two typos. I thought I had corrected them but I guess their form was too much for me.]

    Comment by nk (397bef) — 5/13/2008 @ 7:39 pm

  3. Oops, I didn’t do a good job of following your instructions either.

    Comment by nk (397bef) — 5/13/2008 @ 7:45 pm

  4. This issue of labeling was discussed in some detail in Bernard Goldberg’s Bias (2001):
    ———————————————————-
    I noticed that we pointedly identified conservatives as conservatives, for example, but for some crazy reason didn’t bother to identify liberals as liberals.
    Harry Smith, the cohost (at the time) of CBS This Morning, intro¬≠duced a segment on sexual harassment saying: “… has anything really changed? Just ahead we’re going to ask noted law professor Catharine MacKinnon and conservative spokeswoman Phyllis Schlafly to talk about that.”
    It sounds innocent enough, but why is it that Phyllis Schlafly was identified as a conservative, but Catharine MacKinnon was not identi¬≠fied as a radical feminist or a far-left law professor or even as a plain old liberal? MacKinnon, after all, is at least as far to the left as Schlafly is to the right. Why was she simply a “noted law professor”? The clear implication was that Catharine MacKinnon is an objective, well-respected observer and Phyllis Schlafly is a political partisan.
    ———————————————————-
    To be fair, maybe Goldberg’s a partisan hack. But a simple google check reveals from 2:1 to 10:1 ratios in the number of

    “conservative analyst” vs. “liberal analyst”
    “right-wing organization” vs. “left-wing organization”
    “right-wing group” vs. “left-wing group” [with "congressional" as a limiter]

    [though the ratio was reversed for
    "left leaning" vs. "right leaning"]

    So does anyone actually believe that conservatives/right-wingers outnumber their lefty counterparts in such numbers? Or that righties are so much more tech savvy? The honest answer should be “no” to both.
    The lesson here should be that if labels are applied, then they should be applied uniformly to both sides.

    Comment by Socrates Abroad (a58dc8) — 5/13/2008 @ 8:13 pm

  5. I think reporters should give some indication of the think tank’s ideological views. This could be done by listing a few key positions on which the think tank has an established position, if it has one. And yes, it should be done uniformly.

    On the Web, a link to the think tank’s mission statement would help. Even better, a link could go to a description of the think tank, its self-declared purpose, how it was founded, who funds it, and so on. This would all be prepared by the news outlet. Further links from that description would go to the think tank itself, and its critics, if any. So curious readers would get a quick guide so they can evaluate the think tank.

    The nonpareil Jim Romenesko deserves credit for highlighting the “Readers’” Representative column. That dude is awesome.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4) — 5/13/2008 @ 8:14 pm

  6. Non-partisan should mean that the organization’s positions are not closely identified with a political party. Ideally, members of both major parties should be represented on the board and fundraising letters should not appeal to partisan sentiment.

    Leftist, Rightist, Statist, Libertarian, etc, might all apply to a non-partisan organization as much as to a partisan one.

    Having been a member of both CATO and the ACLU, I would say that the former is non-partisan and the latter solidly in the Democratic pocket, judging solely by fundraising mailers.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy (0b2493) — 5/14/2008 @ 1:41 am

  7. Excuse me, Pat, but I don’t pee into the wind, and that is trying to tell Gold to acknowledge her and her paper’s bias.

    Comment by PCD (5c49b0) — 5/14/2008 @ 4:51 am

  8. I tried posting this, but I wasn’t allowed to.

    When you are so biased that you can’t see it, you ask such questions with a look of a deer in the headlights, and I’ve, unfortunately, hit several deer. You have that look.

    Back when Democrat Robert Citron was bankrupting Orange County, your paper was cheerleading ANY Democrat in OC to the exclusion of any criticism of the Democrats, their positions, and their tactics. Hiring Jean O. Pasco hasn’t helped as she was the Santa Ana Register’s attack dog for GOP office holders.

    How do I know? I not only was living in OC, but I talked to then Chair of the Supervisors, Bill Steiner, more than YOU did, and I did tell him the whole raising taxes to loan Citron more money to gamble on derivitives was a bad idea. Too bad none of your reporters will listen to criticism of Democrats, and you have a long history of it.

    Comment by PCD (5c49b0) — 5/14/2008 @ 5:42 am

  9. I’m going to follow NK’s lead in breaking your rule and posting my comment now:

    “‘Nonpartisan’ doesn’t necessarily mean that a group does not have a political bent or philosophy.”

    No, but that is the clear implication of the word. To most readers, nonpartisan means neutral. Granted, the Brookings Institution and the Mike Mansfield Foundation are not formally affiliated with any political parties, but then again, neither are most conservative think tanks, including AEI. Would the Times ever publish an article citing “the non-partisan American Enterprise Institute” as a source for anything? I think not. Ditto for the non-partisan National Rifle Association, the non-partisan Cato Institute, and so on, ad infinitum. The pattern is clear: anyone can eschew formal party affiliation, but only a left-leaning institution can be “non-partisan.”

    I say we reserve the loaded word “non-partisan” for the rare instance where the point of contention is an issue relating to the political parties directly, as political parties, and not to the respective ideologies they espouse.

    Comment by Xrlq (b71926) — 5/14/2008 @ 5:54 am

  10. PaulB in the LAT comments gave the best deconstruction of how “non-partisan” is used:

    The word “non-partisan” when used to describe any organization means the reporter agrees with their view.

    Comment by Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4) — 5/14/2008 @ 6:08 am

  11. I couldn’t post either, but didn’t really try too hard. What would be the point? No one would read it there, and lots of people will read it here.

    I don’t know about the LA Times as I don’t read it. But my impression of the mainstream media is that conservatives are always identified as right wing. Liberals are identified as centrist. Socialists are identified as left-leaning. The MSM never describes the ACLU as left leaning, or democrat supporting, but that is what they in fact do. Non-partisan only refers to groups that support liberal policies.

    Comment by Jack (d9cbc5) — 5/14/2008 @ 6:19 am

  12. xrlq–

    I’d take issue with the NRA being non-partisan. Whether that’s a choice or just what they are left with is debatable, but the NRA’s fundraising appeals indicate strong opposition to the national Democrats.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy (0b2493) — 5/14/2008 @ 6:40 am

  13. That’s because by and large, the national Democrats generally support gun control measures their Republican opponents oppose. That doesn’t make them any more or less partisan than any other organization that supports candidates who are friendly to its agenda over candidates who are hostile to it. I don’t recall any big push by the NRA to re-elect George Allen over Jim Webb because the former was a Republican and the latter a Democrat (both are A-rated by the NRA).

    Comment by Xrlq (b71926) — 5/14/2008 @ 6:49 am

  14. The late David Shaw was the Times’ media critic and although himself a liberal wrote stories pointing out the Times liberal bias.

    There have been studies showing that “far right” appears most often for conservatives and “left leaning” for liberals.

    As Patterico has pointed out, anytime a conservative makes a point, the headline includes the verb “attack.” I saw this just the other day.

    Comment by Alta Bob (70e63d) — 5/14/2008 @ 7:09 am

  15. the fact that they scrub their comments, primarily all of the ones that would provide evidence of their bias, is proof enough of bias.

    Comment by gabriel (6d7447) — 5/14/2008 @ 8:01 am

  16. At 8:36 AM on Tuesday, I submitted the following comment.

    This is a wonderful turn of events that you would even consider the voices of readers whose opinions have been strangled for so long on your pages.

    There exist a myriad of subtle and not so subtle ways that your coverage of current events, politics, editorial pages and in reality, the whole of your institution promotes a biased worldview.

    This particular example is simply among the more obvious. The manner in which you use wording to shade the story, the items you choose to include and those you choose to omit, how prominent a certain fact is placed within a story (ie, a scandal involving a Republican may indicate his party in the first few paragraphs or even the headline, for a Democrat it may not appear at all, or may be buried deep into the story.)

    Day after day, month after month, year after year you have intentionally adopted a smug, pedantic, arrogant and denigrating tone to seep into the stories you put forth, wholly disregarding conservative, moderate, or even divergent worldviews. Your institution represents a very hard left view of the world in which we live and it comes out in every aspect of how you report. For your hardcore supporters, this makes you a safe harbor to ingrain their opinions. However, for the overwhelming majority of people, it is an act in furtherance of denigrating a public trust.

    In point of fact, it is a form of censorship through publication. One worldview is given four crooked umpires to call balls and strikes, safe and out, fair or foul. The game is rigged and the outcome preordained.

    It is refreshing that you might consider moving even a centimeter toward objectivity, however, for those of us who have seen years of the sleight of hand for which your reporting has become infamous, please forgive us if we watch as this unfolds, with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

    Comment by cfbleachers (4040c7) — 5/14/2008 @ 8:38 am

  17. Kevin Murphy, the NRA has directors who are Democrats.

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 5/14/2008 @ 8:41 am

  18. Of course the LAT is not biased;
    it is just the rest of the world that is wrong!

    Their only solution will be in BK.

    Comment by Another Drew (8018ee) — 5/14/2008 @ 8:44 am

  19. LATimes: Biased/Leftist
    Pope: Catholic
    Bear: sylvan defecatory patterns

    Comment by Mitch (890cbf) — 5/14/2008 @ 9:09 am

  20. Still only two comments appear. Did you guys really expect them to actually present the answer to the question? They know the answer, they just don’t want to accept it.

    Comment by gabriel (6d7447) — 5/14/2008 @ 9:16 am

  21. I submitted a comment but it hasn’t appeared; I imagine the reps are sweating bullets fretting over how much or how many examples of free speech they should allow on their pages.

    I feel sorry for these two readers’ rep people: they are the designated bureaucratic flak catchers for an implacable left-leaning institution whose mission is to weaken traditional American values. I hope they are paid well.

    Comment by Patricia (aaa977) — 5/14/2008 @ 10:51 am

  22. Over or under “30 pieces of silver”?

    Comment by Another Drew (8018ee) — 5/14/2008 @ 11:44 am

  23. Here’s the comment I submitted:

    “Here’s just one example of bias from the many I could name each day. In a recent article about Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed tax increases (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-taxes3-2008may03,0,418412.story), you quoted two economists from UC Berkeley and UC Davis supporting the governor’s proposed increase.

    The paper couldn’t find one economist to offer the alternative point of view about possible negative effects of higher taxes?

    This worldview, accepting the liberal point of view without question, or exploring the alternative as equally viable, permeates your paper.”

    Comment by Laura (56a0a8) — 5/14/2008 @ 11:52 am

  24. A bunch of the comments are up, including mine, Xrlq’s and driver’s.

    Comment by nk (572685) — 5/14/2008 @ 12:27 pm

  25. My comment is up as well.

    Comment by cfbleachers (e6f785) — 5/14/2008 @ 12:49 pm

  26. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. Why waste the time?

    Comment by htom (412a17) — 5/14/2008 @ 12:56 pm

  27. I THE L.A SLIMES BIAED? MOST DEFFENENTLY YES ANYONE WHO READS THIS BIRDCAGE LINER FISH WRAPPER KNOWNS THAT

    Comment by krazy kagu (b3db14) — 5/14/2008 @ 1:25 pm

  28. Is this the same L.A. Times that put their story about Hillary’s blowout win in W.Va. on page 14? (This, according to Dennis Prager.) They’re partisan within their partisanship.

    Comment by Missed It By THAT Much (6189a6) — 5/14/2008 @ 1:40 pm

  29. I submitted a comment at 1:42 PM, and by 2:00 PM it had been posted in its entirety.

    VG

    Comment by Voiceguy in L.A. (e5b52a) — 5/14/2008 @ 2:03 pm

  30. i’m off to buy a Lotto ticket………..

    they actually published my comment.

    /looking for airborne pigs

    Comment by redc1c4 (292479) — 5/14/2008 @ 2:34 pm

  31. Posted yesterday morning, 1am-ish:

    The reason people focus on labels is that they are easy to measure objectively. The LAT’s lopsided use of labels does reveal its biases. However, even if the LAT covered up its biases by using labels even-steven, that wouldn’t fix the deeper corruption.

    The LAT is going to spend between now and November telling its readership that our economy is in the toilet (despite that it’s actually a mix of good and bad; for example, an unemployment rate lower than in ’96). The LAT is going to report that everything is terrible in Iraq, despite the progress there (AQI is hurting and Sadr has admitted defeat–things are much brighter now than two years ago). The LAT is going to play up Republican scandals and downplay Democratic ones. Sen. Obama is going to need all the help he can get.

    Fixing the label disparity isn’t going to turn the LAT into a fair paper–it will just make the unfairness a little less obvious.

    Comment by Daryl Herbert (4ecd4c) — 5/15/2008 @ 1:09 pm

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