Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another front page campaign piece

The front page story in the Oregonian today titled: "Educators See Pinch in Money Measures," was another good example of the Oregonian's use of the news pages to promote their editorial agenda.

Last week Bob Caldwell, chair of the editorial board, wrote that there is zero crossover between the editorial staff and the news staff. He wrote:

"Those of us in the editorial department do not participate in the newsroom's journalistic process. We do not assign, edit or write anything that appears on the paper's news pages. We do not decide how to display news stories. We do not attend story-planning meetings or even make informal suggestions about what might be newsworthy."

This may be true, strictly speaking. I've never said that the editorial staff actually intervened in the Oregonian's news coverage to bias the tone and content of the articles.

Rather, the constant bias we see in the news coverage on tax and spend issues comes from reporters who have such an ideological bias that they actually think they are being fair, but their perspective is so tilted that they literally do not understand how their coverage is biased.

Let me use today's article as an example. It is the second front-page-above-the-fold-story-with-large-color-photographs in a week on how Measure 48 would affect the government. Today's story has a little bit more of a bow to telling both sides than the article last week (which I critiqued.) But whole point of the article was to give the government class a forum in which they could tell grim stories about what would happen to their essential service if Measures 48 and 41 pass.

But here's the problem: In the universe of these reporters, balance means talking about the effect of the measures on government, and allowing some of the points made to be refuted by the measures' supporters.

That is not balance. Balance would be roughly equal articles talking about the effect on taxpayers if the measures fail!

Think about this: how many articles over the years have you seen in the pages of the Oregonian that told us what would happen if we didn't pass new taxes or if we voted to limit taxes or spending? Countless.

How many articles over the years have you seen that discussed the effect of various tax measures on the taxpayers? I can't think of a single one!

I'm waiting for the articles on the front page of the Oregonian headlined "Taxpayers see pinch in money measures."

They could interview working families who talk about how the library bond or the Multnomah county tax or the local option or the construction bond or the Metro land grab levy would result in them having less to spend on their kids, their clothes, the quality of their groceries, or their ability to have the mom at home instead of working to make ends meet.

They could interview entrepreneurs who talk about how the Portland BIT and the constant threat of new taxes proposed by government types makes them unlikely to try to expand in Portland.

When I see these stories, then I will happily congratulate the Oregonian for being unbiased.


Ken said...

If the Oregonian ran stories about the effects of a measure failure, those stories still wouldn't be balanced -- they would gush over how the state is so "progressive" because it retained the programs that help (fill in the blank: women, children, poor, students, hungry, etc. etc. etc.). Those stories would never dream of asking whether those programs are 1) Necessary; 2) Effective; or 3) Affordable.

rickyragg said...

They could stop characterizing those who ask for accountability and fiscal responsibility from schools as selfish children-haters. The "selfish" term in this discussion really belongs with the teachers and their unions who are perfectly willing to use children as "human shields" to deflect legitimate questions and concerns about their compensation and effectiveness.

They could stop swallowing whole and regurgitating the line that those who agitate for more, more, more are simply "concerned about the children".

They could spell out the fact that putting more money "in the classroom" is really code for putting more money in teachers' pockets. Everyone else's income goes down with each new contract.

They could point out that local school boards would rather give in than actually negotiate with teachers' unions. Would it require too much investigative effort to demonstrate the lack of concern for the taxpayer that this "negotiation" style betrays?

They could play up the tactics of teachers' unions and their fellow (union thug) travelers (see the Oregon Trail District strike).

Gimme a break - the O is as partisan as the OEA or PAT and their so-called "separation" of news and editorial sides is a transparent sham.

Anonymous said...

Virgina Postrel wrote about this in The Future and Its Enemies.

"Today we have greater wealth, health, opportunity, and choice than at any time in history - the fruits of human ingenuity, curiosity, and perseverance. Yet a chorus of intellectuals and politicians loudly laments our condition. Technology, they say, enslaves us. Economic change makes us insecure. Popular culture coarsens and brutalizes us. Consumerism despoils the environment. The future, they say, is dangerously out of control, and unless we rein in these forces of change and guide them closely, we risk disaster.

In The Future and its Enemies, Virginia Postrel explodes this myth, embarking on a bold exploration of how progress really occurs. In areas of endeavor ranging from fashion to fisheries, from movies to medicine, from contact lenses to computers, she shows how and why unplanned, open-ended trial and error - not conformity to one central vision - is the key to human betterment. Thus, the true enemies of humanity's future are those who insist on prescribing outcomes in advance, circumventing the process of competition and experiment in favor of their own preconceptions and prejudices."

Don Smith said...

I could hardly believe my eyes. It's as though Betsy took our critiques and said, "Who do you think you are? You want it, I'll bring it." And she brought it.

Of course, this time, she'll say, "I was trying to write a more focused piece bringing the critics in." But you got it just right, Rob. If you base the argument on the premise that it's all about the government class and M48's effect on them, of course it looks bad.

Rob Kremer said...

I'd like to ask the editors of the Oregonian:

"If a newspaper, in the runup to an election where several tax/bond measures and other important fiscal items were on the ballot, ran nothing but articles sympathetic to the taxpayer's wallet and failed to run a single article that discussed the effect the measures might have on government services - would you say that would be biased and slanted?"

RINO WATCH said...

If there's ever been one facet of newspaper "reporting" v "editorializing" that has driven me up the wall is what's going on right now.

There isn't an honest-unbiased bone in their bodies.

RK, your question is straight up & right on!

Anonymous said...

The Oregonian's Bob Caldwell is a careful and clever speaker whose words are narrowly true. What is even more true is that the newspaper's local leaders have a pervasive influence that extends far beyond formal relationships. The reporters that get hired, or not hired, the dining out conversations, the social relationships, gossip on who is up and who is down, off-duty social contacts, and friendships in and out of the newspaper are all factors that signal to savvy reporters of where they stand in the complex web of newspaper relationships. The supervisors who are hired, or fired, plum assignments granted, or withheld: all these reflect power and ideological relationships. All rivers of internal power flow from the top. Newspaper professionals have long had problems in being candid on these aspects of newspapers and their biases. I suspect that no reporter works long at the Oregonian without understanding that frequent hard-hitting reports on teachers' union power and power abuse are not the way to reportorial permanency and power at the Oregonian. Few indeed will be the reports on the billions of dollars that non-union Oregonians--that's most of us--have paid due to outsized teacher pay, benefits, and retirements.

Rob Kremer said...

anon 9:58 -

That is one of the best comments I have ever seen posted on a blog thread. I am going to make it a blolg topic of its own.