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Opening Arguments

An ant leaves the hill

For today's excursion into liberal bias, let's look at The New York Times:

I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

Wish I could do one of those "You read it here first" things, but those sentinments are being expressed by the outgoing ombudsman of The New York Times.

As he recognizes, bias does not usually spring from a grand consipiracy or even a conscious effort to help ones friends and frustrate ones enemies. It comes from like-minded people working together and reinforcing each other's prejudices. The come to think their world view is the world view; anything else is simply inconceivable. That is why those outside the center-left bias of the mainstream media -- mostly conservatives and cranky libertarians -- have had the frustating experience over the last few decades of liberals not even acknowledging there is a bias. As I've noted a time or two in this and other contexts, an ant doesn't know it's in an anthill.

I hasten to add that this works for all points of view. Those of political persuasions other than liberals -- even (gasp!) conservatives and libertarians -- are inclined to hang out with people who think like them and help create an echo chamber that endlessly replays familiar and comfortable memes. That's why true objectivity is so hard to achieve.

The bias of the press has been a fact for at least all of my lifetime. The only thing different today is that the bias is more recognizable because alternatives to the prevailing worldview have sprung up in the so-called "new media" of cable, talk radio and the Internet. We have a competition of biases now, a choice of echo chambers to reside it. It isn't quite like the old penny press days, but it's close. I'd rather have a "from many voices, truth" situation than a press that pretends to be objective and unbiased but really isn't.

Speaking of ants in an anthill, here's Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson reacting to the column:


In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane's sweeping conclusions," Abramson told POLITICO Saturday night.

"I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base," she continued. "But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping 'the paper straight.' That's essential."

"Urban and cosmopolitcan base." What a crock. They still don't get it and likely never will.