Media Bias

The Massachusetts Supreme Court is hearing the Boston Herald’s appeal of a libel lawsuit it lost several years ago. Here’s the crux of the matter:

Of the six justices who listened to oral arguments and questioned lawyers for both sides, only Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall , who is married to a nationally prominent journalist, seemed sympathetic to Sanford’s argument that the courts should not impinge on the ability of the press to criticize public figures.

“It seems to me that what the prosecutors were complaining about, in criticizing Judge Murphy, was a bias in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs,” Marshall said, adding that “this goes to the heart of what the judge should be most concerned about.”

The mere presence of factual errors in a story does not prove malice on the part of the media, she said. Actual malice must be present for there to be a libel finding against a public figure.

If the state Supreme Court finds for the plaintiff, this case will surely go to federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court set the burden of libel pretty high for public figures in Sullivan v. New York Times — I can’t imagine they’d agree that the Boston Herald’s reporting — however flawed — rises to the level of actual malice.

I think the issue here — just with the recent libel verdict in Illinois — is that the affronted party is a judge. Jurists seem to be the only public figures for whom the burden of libel is less than actual malice.

By | February 10th, 2007|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Bad poll

Incredibly poor news judgment shown by the editors of the Wall Street Journal Online. This story‘s headline reads: “Poll Shows Strong Public Support For Range of Health Practices.” One of these health practices is a 75 percent support for universal health care, the message touted in the email alerting me to the poll.

But, the poll was conducted online — presumbably by computer users who chose to log on and answer the questions. By no means does this represent a statistically representative sample of the “public.” (Very little detail was given regarding the collection of the poll, but online surveys as a rule can’t be called representative because no attempt at getting a cross-section of the public is made.)

The fact that the editors chose to make this into a news story either shows (a) their bias in favor of universal health care or (b) their illiteracy in reading polling data. At the very least, the story should point out that the poll isn’t representative. And the headline shouldn’t have the word “public” in it.

By | October 20th, 2005|Uncategorized|0 Comments


The NY Times editor admits a bias in his paper. In a memo (PDF link) to his staff, Bill Keller said “even sophisticated readers of The New York Times sometimes find it hard to distinguish between news coverage and commentary in our pages.”

Perhaps journalists and journalism professors will take this criticism seriously. But, I doubt it.

Not surprising that this admission made little news, as noted by this blogger. The people in charge of most media outlets share the bias and therefore don’t see problem.

By | August 2nd, 2005|Uncategorized|0 Comments

CJR bias

It now appears that the former editor of the Nation, a leading left-wing magazine, has led the Columbia Journalism Review for as long as the last two years. The revelation helps explain the curious response from the CJR to the Dan Rather debacle.

A quick refresher — a sitting anchorman for one of the big-three networks airs an investigative piece very damaging to the president of the United States a month before a general election. The documents upon which the story is based are extremely suspicious, and the producers of the piece were well aware of the suspicions. The scandal ended with the anchor resigning and the ouster of four staffers. That’s the biggest journalism scandal that I’ve ever witnessed.

How does CJR cover this story? The headline to their piece read: “Yes, CBS screwed up badly in ‘Memogate’ — but so did those who covered the affair.” The latter culprits were mainly the bloggers who broke that story. So, CJR essentially ignored the story and focused instead on the alleged errors of those who covered it. Great idea! (I would have enjoyed sitting in on the budget meeting where that idea was floated and ultimately approved. Talk about groupthink.)

With the revelation about who’s leading the CJR, the decision becomes a little more understandable. The fox is watching the henhouse.

By | June 10th, 2005|Uncategorized|0 Comments

AP Pulitzer

Interesting controversy brewing in the blogosphere. Some pundits are objecting to the Associated Press winning the Pulitzer Prize for a series of photos including this one showing the broad-daylight execution of an Iraqi election worker.

The AP has said that their photographer was “tipped off” to a “demonstration” that would occurr on that street. Of course, this doesn’t mean the photographer was in cahoots with the terrorists, but it does raise the same uncomfortable questions about when are journalists being used as tools of terrorist propaganda.

There’s no easy answer here. Only the photographer (an Iraqi stringer, apparently) can tell us if he knew a public execution would be held on that street. I won’t judge him without knowing all the facts.

But perhaps the AP shouldn’t have released the photo. Terrorists contacted the photographer, the photographer showed up, and then the terrorists killed a man in front of the camera. Is that news? It was staged for the camera. Staging a photo is the cardinal sin for most newspaper photographers I know.

So, it’s a judgment call. Do we release the photo or not? I’m sure they debated it at the AP office. I just hope they used their best judgment.

I think the underlying worry here is that journalists don’t always exercise the best judgment because they’re biased against Americans. If the former international head of CNN thinks its official U.S. policy to kill journalists, then surely this bias could cloud his judgement.

Maybe bias influenced the AP’s decision. Maybe not. But in an effort to tell “the other side of the story” the AP ended up crossing the line of good journalistic ethics. In a bid to appear objective, they lost their objectivity.

I wouldn’t have released the picture; it would only encourage more action just like it. I certainly wouldn’t have awarded it the Pulitzer Prize.

Of course, journalists must make decisions like this one all the time. Tomorrow they’ll make another one.

By | April 5th, 2005|Uncategorized|0 Comments