Opinion

Jack Shafer

The press reveals its crushes — once the crushes are dead

Jack Shafer
Jun 30, 2014 22:37 UTC

U.S. flag flies at half-staff on the Capitol dome in memory of former Senator Howard Baker in Washington

When prospecting the media for signs of bias, don’t forget to read the obituary pages, where reputations go to get taxidermied.

Because most deaths follow the actuarial tables, newspapers bake and freeze ahead of time the obituaries of the famous and aging, defrosting and garnishing them with final details for serving when death finally claims the subject. Last week, the aged obituaries of former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), who died at 88, were published. Though they might not teem with bias, they illustrate the media crush on Republicans who make deals with Democrats.

If Baker’s obits were theater reviews, you’d have to say he earned raves for being, as the New York Times Page One headline put it, the “‘Great Conciliator’ of the Senate.” The bias on display in the premeditated Times obituary, as well as obits in the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, is not for left or right. Instead, it swings prejudicial in favor of a politician who kept legislation moving.

The press disdains inaction because of the difficulty of writing about nothing. Without overtly editorializing, the Baker obituaries smile on his traffic cop-like skills at preventing Washington gridlock, his ability to use his personal skills to sluice bills through committee, build compromises, collect and trade votes and get bills passed. As long as Baker was around, there was something to write about.

To his list of legislative wins, the obits cite Baker’s support of environmental legislation, civil rights and fair-housing bills, and the relinquishing of the Panama Canal. He also supported the Equal Rights Amendment, another liberal initiative. Yet Baker was no Democratic Party flunky: He opposed school busing and, as Senate majority leader from 1981 to 1985, backed cuts in food stamps and other entitlements, as well as President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts and military build-up.

Free the Gannett 25!

Jack Shafer
Mar 27, 2012 21:59 UTC

Last week, the hall monitors who run Gannett’s 11 newspapers in Wisconsin brought the mean end of the ruler down on the wrists of 25 journalists for signing petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker.

Kevin Corrado, publisher of the chain’s Green Bay Press-Gazette, spoke the company line in a Mar. 24 column in which he stated that signing the petition constituted a “breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.” Promising “disciplinary measures” and additional “ethics training” for the signatories, Corrado continued:

A number of the journalists told their editors that they did not consider signing the petition a political act. They equated it to casting a ballot in an election. But we do not make that distinction.

I don’t trust you, either

Jack Shafer
Sep 29, 2011 20:16 UTC

As long as the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press continues to insist on conducting opinion polls about “trust” and the media, I’ll continue to insist on writing columns like this one.

I’m not knocking Pew. As collators of public opinion go, it’s not a bad organization. But you’ve really got to break the spines on Pew’s trust-in-the-media reports to glean the higher truths about how the public really feels about journalists and journalism.

Pew’s latest survey, released this week, reports that negative opinions about news organization performance have reached new highs, based on many of the measures it has tracked since 1985.

Media bias? Give me more, please!

Jack Shafer
Sep 20, 2011 20:48 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

Before we go any further on the topic, may we first please thank the gods for media bias?

If not for media bias, I’m certain that my news diet would taste so strongly of sawdust and talc that I would abandon news consumption completely. As long as I’m eating news, give me the saffron smoothness of New York Times liberalism and the hallelujah hot sauce excitement of Fox News Channel conservatism. Anything but a menu of balance, moderation, and fairness!

Not that I don’t value balance, moderation, and fairness—a good Associated Press story can nourish the soul as well as a six-pack of Bud on a hot summer day. But as a rule, I like my news chefs to make spicy meals or no meals at all.

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