Sunday, July 10, 2005

More on Fox News . . .

Originally posted on July 4, 2005
Seeing as I've been blasted twice in the past 24 hours as a conservative mole for my previous post, I figure a spot of clarification is in order re: its reasoning. I have no special interest in defending Rupert Murdoch or his network, but as a fledgling social scientist I must be prepared to accept whatever conclusions the data point toward. Anything less would be anti-intellectual. What I found most surprising about my critics was that they seemed personally threatened by the very suggestion that Fox News might not be any worse than other major news organizations. Now bear in mind, this hypothesis wasn't anything I set out looking for. I first starting visiting for the express purpose of exposing myself to news with a conservative bent--and I was frankly quite surprised not to find it. But I was gracious enough to allow my experiences to adjust my opinion accordingly (a tendency I wish was more prevalent in the Bush administration). So, the moral of the story is: if you allow your preconceptions to blind you to the facts, you're no better than those idiots on the "Truth Tour."

But what "facts" are we talking about, anyway? Mom brought up the important question of how to operationalize journalistic bias when you, as a spectator, don't have access to all the facts of the case. I can think of several questions one might ask to ascertain bias:

*Who is interviewed? Are we getting multiple perspectives on the issue or just one? Is disproportionate attention paid to one side? Are the interviewees actual subject-matter experts with relevant opinions or just uninformed cranks?

*How is the article framed? Does its presentation (word choice, subject focus, etc.) cast an unduly positive or negative light on the subject? Have the official frames been lazily regurgitated, or has the reporter adequately investigated their validity?

*Are certain stories being systematically ignored or kept off the front page?

*Do the reporters editorialize inappropriately in straight news pieces? I.e., do the words they use and points they raise stick to the facts, or do they make a partisan argument?

*Do the perceived biases in articles from a given news outlet all operate in the same ideological direction? Do they seem to be driven by market forces or by partisan intentions?

*What parties might benefit from the alleged biases?

The above questions aren't specific enough to use in real experiments, but they work pretty well as a starting point for an informal guide. Plus, they can be extended into an operational framework that can serve as the basis for true experimentation. One day I'll have the institutional support and background knowledge necessary to make it all work correctly, but until then, this is all I got.