Liberal Critics Claim MRC's A 'Failure,' Obsession With Balance Isn't 'Useful'
For his debut on The American Prospect’s "Horse’s Mouth" blog on political reportage, Brendan Nyhan accurately explained the new frontier of "progressive" media criticism: that the Clintonistas at Media Matters for America have surpassed the Noam Chomskyites at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).
There’s two easy reasons he doesn’t cite: MMFA is the liberal Democrat establishment, while FAIR is ultra-left. Or put it this way: MMFA is in the tank for Hillary, while FAIR favors her hard-left primary challenger, Jonathan Tasini. Two, MMFA has to have a lot more cash. Nyhan is right that MMFA’s online methods are more up to date, but I’m not so sure about "they are vastly more useful than FAIR because they write articles that are often convincing to non-liberals." I’m non-liberal, and I almost never find them convincing. I don’t really take issue, though, until Nyhan suggests the MRC is an untrustworthy pile of hacks:
"Indeed, I think we need a conservative counterpart to Media Matters to keep liberals honest. Media Research Center, the most prominent conservative media critic, is unfortunately much more like FAIR than Media Matters, as we argued at Spinsanity -- it complains about balance and perspectives it doesn't like, and its analysis is frequently untrustworthy."
But in the Spinsanity article he links to, his colleague Ben Fritz misleads about what MRC does, as he treats MRC and FAIR like Tweedledee and Tweedledum:
Despite their blatantly ideological agendas, both organizations claim to engage in impartial analysis. In practice, however, these groups often treat reporting that reflects the other side's perspective as de facto evidence of bias, with facts supporting their own views ignored or dismissed as an aberration. With MRC and FAIR, it seems, there's often no such thing as a balanced report.
Now who’s engaging in "spinsanity"? First, MRC does not generally claim to engage in "impartial" analysis. We’re not trying to look as absurd as the "objective" media in claiming we have no allegiance to conservatives. We do claim to document, expose, and neutralize liberal bias. That would seem to be an admission of a conservative mission. We often tell reporters it's accurate to describe us as a "conservative media watchdog" -- even if we also insist they use the liberal label at least once in a blue moon.
Second, and this is where Fritz really punches low, MRC is not in the business of objecting to a liberal getting to speak on a newscast. We do not think that when a liberal gets to open their mouth on air, liberal bias has been committed. Often, we are pointing out that the liberal attitude isn't coming from a liberal think tank spokesman or a Democratic politician -- it's coming from an "objective" journalist like Katie Couric. Fritz tried to take apart a Cyber Alert item and a Media Reality Check, but his analysis is pretty lame. (I won't trying writing a book on this today.) Fritz underlines the conservative censorship argument: "It appears that both groups' real beef is that perspectives they disagree with are aired at all."
MRC is asking the news media to balance liberal viewpoints with conservative viewpoints. We don't generally say liberals should be removed from the air. This line is especially odd from Fritz or Nyhan, considering anyone who pays attention to Media Matters knows it's an aggressive promoter of taking conservatives off the air.
Third, MRC has acknowledged that there’s such a thing as a balanced report. Rich Noyes found a pile of them in his Iraq war study, for example. It’s just that we don’t tend to emphasize them, the same way the news media don’t emphasize planes landing safely on the runway. Balanced reports ought to be the norm.
Fritz is cartooning the MRC with terms like "it seems" and "it would appear," which are merely introductions to.....liberal spin. Oh, but Fritzy wasn't done. MRC is a failure, and a cancer on the political debate:
Perhaps the worst part of all this is that the methods of these ideological media watchdogs are spreading, with more and more commentators adopting their tactics of selective quotation, and lumping together all reporting they don't like under the rubric of "media bias." This is not only lazy; it is intellectually dishonest.
One is forced to conclude that FAIR and MRC are falling well short of their self-professed goals to, respectively, "invigorate the First Amendment" and "bring balance and responsibility to the news media." The American press, so desperately in need of less ideology and more objectivity, is worse off for their failure.
Doesn't it get a bit confusing for the reader as Fritz turns himself into a pretzel, saying on the one hand that seeking "balance" isn't helpful, and then turning around and saying the media's desperately in need of more objectivity? How on earth can you expose a lack of objectivity without discussing the balance of a story or the tone of journalist rhetoric? The big failure here is Fritz's failure to make a cohesive argument.
Now, back to Nyhan's original, newer valentine to Media Matters:
It also focuses more on correcting misinformation than complaining about "balance," which results in frequent corrections and public shaming of inaccurate journalists. And finally, the organization writes in a relatively neutral tone about topics that are relevant to mainstream political debate, making it accessible and appealing to both journalists and the public.
Once again, anyone who visits Media Matters will see that its focus isn't always on "misinformation." It's often, alert Ben Fritz, mere offense at conservative speech. Take these examples from their short list of recent items:
Robertson: "Osama bin Laden may be one of the true disciples of the teaching of the Quran ... because he's following through literally word-for-word what it says"
Hannity: "[M]aking sure Nancy Pelosi doesn't become the [House] speaker" is "worth ... dying for"
Coulter on Sen. Chafee: "They Shot the Wrong Lincoln"
Even this one: On Fox, boxing promoter Don King defended Bush on Katrina, claimed African-Americans supported Kerry in 2004 "because they didn't know any better"
But on so many occasions lately, Media Matters is interested at how reporters aren't "challenging" enough, that they let conservative arguments go "unchallenged." I get a kick out of this one. MMFA complains that Robin Roberts didn't bat around the First Lady half enough. Roberts touted a New York Times story saying Bush will be forever smudged by Hurricane Katrina, and Mrs. Bush said "consider the source." MMFA wanted Roberts to tell Bush off. This is a typical Media Matters post. "Misinformation" is not the issue here. It's about the reporter not having enough liberal spin.