Spinspotter: Exposing Media Bias or Reinforcing It?
What if you could download a program that would scan, magically, any article written anywhere and expose the spin, bias, and misinformation? Would that interest you?
The application's algorithms work off six key tenets of spin and bias, which the company derived from both the guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code Of Ethics and input from an advisory board composed of journalism luminaries.
The tenets are: reporter's voice (adjectives used by a journalist that go beyond the supporting evidence in the article); passive voice (example: a story says "bombs land" without stating which party is responsible for them); a biased source (a quoted source's partisanship is not clearly identified); disregarded context (a political rally's attendance is reported to be "massive," but would it have been so huge had the surviving members of the Beatles not played?); and lack of balance (a news story on a controversial topic gives much more credence to one side's claims).
All of this seems to be fine and good (Jonah Goldberg even lent his name to the effort), but initiatives like this one--similar to the collaborative participation employed by Wikipedia--are subject to misinformation and tainting by partisans and internet graffiti artists. Who will "referee" in those instances when such bad behavior occurs? Here, the Wall Street Journal informs us:
The system is designed to deter misidentification of bias and inaccuracy by allowing users to vote on whether a news story was appropriately flagged. Human "referees" employed by SpinSpotter -- most of whom will be journalism graduate students -- will provide further oversight of the system.
Journalism students as the arbiters of bias? Might as well introduce the fox to the hen house. Don't get me wrong; SpinSpotter does seem to have some promising founding tenets. I just think we should all exercise a little "buyer-beware" when approaching its exposed spin.
My recent conversation with friends attending journalism school at [redacted] is illustrative of the worldview of journalism students who would oversee operations at SpinSpotter.
They, all three of them women, thought treatment of Sarah Palin by the media has been fair--even when compared to its investigation of Barack Obama. What about the media's treatment of the McCain non-controversy in February vs. Edwards' scandal which was completely ignored by the media? 'Leave it to National Enquirer.' What about the media's repugnant attacks on Bristol Palin? 'She's fair game.' Does that mean that Obama's kids are 'fair game' too? 'Of course not, they're too young.' Shouldn't the media leave Trig Palin alone too, then? 'Well ...'
The point is, they are trained to believe that traditional media is infallible and unassailable. And these are the types of people SpinSpotter put at the wheel of their magical bias-detecting machine.