Sunday, June 22, 2008


Monitoring the media

by Larry Geller

Now that there is one Republican and one Democratic candidate for president, the media move into full swing. Anyone who believes that the commercial (or “main stream”) media Media Matters snippet are fair and balanced is somewhat gullible, to be generous. Mostly the newspapers, magazines and TV station owners feel they can be players in politics. Our local papers are no exception to this.

The news may be blatantly slanted or the bias may be more subtle. Often bias is expressed by omission, or by adopting a particular frame (see below). By using the linguistic frame, the reader is psychologically biased while reading. It works.

Bias can be almost invisible if only certain letters to the editor are printed, or only certain op-eds are selected or solicited. Bias can occur when the paper prints the propaganda put out mainly by particular self-serving think tanks. Bias can be expressed by selecting mostly right-wing commentaries with some token writers from the left sprinkled in to produce “balance” that is really badly skewed.

In our modern media the truth has been sadly devalued. And let’s not even get into the extent to which the media cheerled this country’s march toward war in Iraq. Without the support of a compliant and unquestioning press, George Bush could not have done it. Yes, the media have blood on their hands.

So it’s helpful to have ways to monitor the media and reveal its biases. This is seldom done for local papers, but national media can justify the investment of time. One of my favorites websites is I subscribe to their email notification and each day they send a short summary of the day’s lies, distortions and omissions. You may have your own favorite, there are other choices and several “fact checking” sites as well (try the email feed from Another favorite is Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and their radio program Counterspin, which is also available as a podcast.

For an antidote to the whole thing, watch or visit the website of Democracy Now!.

If you subscribe to one of the monitoring services you’ll see how badly biased things are. Our commercial media are willing to spread unfounded rumors and outright lies. Obama is the usual target these days, but anything “left” of extreme right is fair game.

Clearly the commercial media would like to see McCain elected. You won’t believe the lengths they’ll go to each day to achieve this. Subscribe to one or more of the above websites and see what you think after a couple of days.

See also if you can figure the biases driving our local media.  One, of course, is a bias related to their advertisers. Product placement for the big payers, and of course they try to avoid printing very much bad news that might offend them, though I’m glad to see what does appear.

Here’s George Lakoff:

[George] Lakoff argues that the differences in opinions between liberals and conservatives follow from the fact that they subscribe with different strength to two different metaphors about the relationship of the state to its citizens. Both, he claims, see governance through metaphors of the family. Conservatives would subscribe more strongly and more often to a model that he calls the "strict father model" and has a family structured around a strong, dominant "father" (government), and assumes that the "children" (citizens) need to be disciplined to be made into responsible "adults" (financially and morally responsible beings). Once the "children" are "adults", though, the "father" should not interfere with their lives: the government should stay out of the business of those in society who have proved their responsibility. In contrast, Lakoff argues that liberals place more support in a model of the family, which he calls the "nurturant parent model", based on "nurturant values", where both "mothers" and "fathers" work to keep the essentially good "children" away from "corrupting influences" (pollution, social injustice, poverty, etc.). Lakoff says that most people have a blend of both metaphors applied at different times, and that political speech works primarily by invoking these metaphors and urging the subscription of one over the other.[4]

Lakoff further argues that one of the reasons liberals have had difficulty since the 1980s is that they have not been as aware of their own guiding metaphors, and have too often accepted conservative terminology framed in a way to promote the strict father metaphor. Lakoff insists that liberals must cease using terms like partial birth abortion and tax relief because they are manufactured specifically to allow the possibilities of only certain types of opinions. Tax relief for example, implies explicitly that taxes are an affliction, something someone would want "relief" from. To use the terms of another metaphoric worldview, Lakoff insists, is to unconsciously support it. Liberals must support linguistic think tanks in the same way that conservatives do if they are going to succeed in appealing to those in the country who share their metaphors. [from Wikipedia]



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