Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jonah Goldberg: Where the media leads, we don't follow

False ‘national debates’ that journalists only have with themselves
In a New York post op-ed, Jonah Goldberg examines the media’s role in the events of the last week, which began with tragic shootings in Tuscon and culminated in the total exposure of the media's confirmation bias - which is its tendency to favor information that confirms its preconceptions and hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. Confirmation bias has contributed to the media's overconfidence in its own leftist beliefs in the face of contrary evidence, which led to some disastrous editorial decisions last week:
There’s no disputing — nor any surprise — that left-wing activists didn’t need to wait for accurate reporting to jump to conclusions about the “real” culprits in the Tucson massacre. For instance, within minutes of the news hitting the wires, commentator Markos Moulitsas wrote on Twitter, “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin.”


Of course, activists and pundits play a different role than allegedly straight reporters. And yet, the “mainstream media” seemed to be suffering from the same groupthink. Even as evidence mounted that Jared Lee Loughner was no Tea Partier, was not a Sarah Palin disciple, and didn’t even listen to talk radio or watch cable news, media outlets seemed to tighten their grip on the story they wanted rather than the story they had. At the end of the week MSNBC was still using a graphic for its news coverage showing Loughner’s deranged mug shot along with the text “The Power of Words.”

Confirmation bias is a problem for all people and institutions of all ideological stripes, but in this instance it is synonymous with liberal media bias.


This was something of a fatwah for straight reporters and TV hosts to stay focused on Sarah Palin and Republican rhetoric generally. They used the weaselly rationalization that the murders had started a “national debate” on the political discourse. But this is somewhere between an outright lie and a wild distortion. Loughner’s actions didn’t spark the conversation, the media (and the Democratic Party) sparked that conversation because they were already locked into a storyline, like a newspaper that has already written an obituary for a still living actor. “People are debating” or a “national conversation has started” is a cheap gimmick for the author — or his editor — to talk about whatever they want to talk about.


Just because everyone at the Huffington Post and The New York Times reader forums is regurgitating the same pre-baked narrative isn’t proof the narrative is right, it’s just proof that everyone in the bubble needs to get out more.

Indeed, it’s deeply reassuring (though no doubt dismaying to the Times, MSNBC and other outlets), that the American people didn’t buy it. After three days of “discourse hysteria” a CBS poll released Tuesday found that 57% of Americans found the killing unrelated to the political discourse. By Friday a poll by Quinnipiac found that only 15% of Americans blamed the murder spree on “heated political rhetoric.” A generation or two ago, this would never have happened.


But it is also abundantly clear that many of the people and institutions piously speechifying about the desperate need to moderate the political discourse had no problem falsely indicting others in a horrendous murder, not because they knew the charge was true but solely because they desperately wanted it to be.

The same media leftists which claimed Gov. Palin had "blood on her hands" at the beginning of the week, were left with egg all over their faces by week's end.

- JP

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