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Opening Arguments

The echo chamber

The BBC is infected with liberal bias, and that affects its news coverage. That's not the opinion of a rightwing crank but the finding of a report commissioned by the BBC itself:

Their review hit out at programme-makers for misjudging where "cultural mainstream" opinion stood and for wanting to "swim" against popular opinion.

Staff were told to avoid imposing their own liberal assumptions on the audience and told to "embrace a broader range of opinion".

I've worked in a few newsrooms and seen a lot more, and they all, nearly without exception, have a "liberal bias." It seems to me the evidence for that is overwhelming, but I keep seeing denials of it, usually by liberals who work in newsrooms.

There is nothing sinister in the bias -- it's not a case of a cabal of conspirators on a mission to transform the world. Newsrooms just happen to be peopled mostly by people of a more liberal persuasion. And when you hang out mostly with people who think like you do, you talk about the same kinds of things in the same kinds of ways, and you start thinking the whole world thinks the way you do. You're not being "biased," you're just reacting to and reporting on the world as you see it. That's the well-known "echo chamber" effect that we're all prone to.

The answer is, partly, what is recognized in the BBC report, to be open to other viewpoints. There is nothing wrong with having a point of view that affects what you do -- that's part of the human condition. What is  irritating -- and a contributing factor in the low regard the press is held in these days -- is the stubborn insistence of some that they either don't have a bias or that they are somehow able to rise above it.

That's one of the ways the Internet, especially the blogosphere, is beginning to change the way the press operates these days. Bloggers don't hide their biases; they wallow in them. Blogs are like the first newspapers in this country, which were started by people with strong opinions and used to promote those opinions and demolish the opposition.


Tue, 06/19/2007 - 6:26am

Is there conservative bias in the board rooms of those who own newsrooms?

Leo Morris
Tue, 06/19/2007 - 8:11am

In the sense that wanting to use the capitalist system to make money is a conservative bias, I suppose. But it doesn't necessarily show up on editorial pages, which is the most obvious thing the owners control. We were once owned by Knight-Ridder, and ours was one of only a couple of conservative editorial pages. There were a couple of moderate ones, and the rest were all liberal to very liberal. Again, the point is not we shouldn't have biases, just that we should recognize them and acknowledge that they affect what we do.