When we decry the liberal bias of the media, we are offered the National Post and the Sun papers as examples of conservative bias in the media. Apologists for MSM will point to criticism or condemnation of the Liberals in publications and by broadcasters that we perceive as left-leaning, and they're right. All major media outlets condemn the Liberals for wrong-doing, because to do otherwise would be to expose their biases and sacrifice credibility to indulge partisanship.
Sometimes, as in the Star editorial of May 20, they are unable to control themselves and give way to ugly bursts of naked conservative bashing. They grant approval of Martin's barely legal tactics to stay in power, and lay blame for Martin's unseemly behaviour squarely at the feet of Stephen Harper. It's their paper, their editorial page -- their business.
Columnists come in with a bias. We know where they stand and we read them because of it -- either because we want an argument or an advocate. They can't pump their side too much, lest they come off looking like cheerleaders, and most try to give the impression that they are politically neutral. Here are four pieces from the National Post's Adam Radwanski. Has Harper's Time Come? (May 20th) and Sucking them in, Blowing them off (May18) Stephen Harper's Tipping Point (March 18) Harper has five weeks to prove he's PM material (May 2004 -- this one you'll note, was written early in the 2004 campaign, when Radwanski says the press was being 'easy' on the Conservatives) When you read them, remember that despite its ownership, the Post is considered by liberals to be a conservative paper. Radwanski's liberal history aside, he is trying to appear impartial -- and this is fairly representative of 'impartial' media.
Editorials and columnists are meant to show bias. They express the viewpoint of the author and the editorial slant of the paper's owners/shareholders/advertising base. But when opinion goes beyond the comment pages, it stops being bias and begins to be propaganda.
Back on May 16, headline bias jumped out at me, and I collected these headlines:
PM calls for return to dignity -- Globe & Mail
PM calls for civility -- Toronto Sun
I was struck by the accusatory tone of CTV in particular.
Anyone who watches Parliament, knows that both sides give as good as they get, but that when things get particularly nasty and personal, it is often a Liberal mouth burning a Conservative ear. Where Conservatives are like attack dogs worrying any scrap of scandal, the Liberals go for the acid splash. A mild example from May 18, in response to a question from Diane Albozy, Scott Brison replied:
"I know I'm not allowed to say that's a stupid question, because Mr. Speaker, you've already told me I can't say it's a stupid question. I will say it's an obtuse question . . . "
He went on ripping into Albonzy with venomous enthusiasm, about how stupid she was without ever quite coming out and saying it. All the while, he apparently felt very clever indeed. So, although the headlines make it clear the PM is trying to restore civility to the House, his MPs carry on in the same old way, and no one notices.
Beyond the headlines are the nuances of language. English is such a rich language that there are often many words to describe the same things, and each word evokes a slightly different meaning. Earlier this week I visited Civitatensis, who had pulled an interesting quote from the Globe & Mail from May 19th.
Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe accused Mr. Martin of persuading Mr. Cadman by saying how awful it would be if the separatist won the vote.
But he said his party would continue to vote on an issue-by-issue basis.
When we think a bill is good for Quebec, we will support it, Mr. Duceppe said.
Mr. Duceppe refused to admit his party was wrong in forcing a confidence vote, adding the Liberals lacked the moral authority to govern.
In the coming months, we will see that we were right, and that this government does not deserve to be here, Mr. Duceppe said.
This quote is taken from a news story, not a columnist, not an editorial.
Admit is a word we use when we are implying guilt or blame. It is synonymous with: accept, acknowledge, avow, concede, declare, grant, own up.
The writer could have said: Mr. Duceppe still believes forcing a confidence vote was the right thing to do. But he didn't. He used a simple word to convey a very important meaning -- forcing a confidence vote was wrong.
It's subtle, but it is pervasive in the media. Taken with the boldly biased headlines, and the unabashedly biased editorials, one is left to wonder how the Tories manage to pick up even 30% in the polls --- and the polls . . .
It is a fallacy that polling companies engage in market research. They are well-paid advertisers. A poll is commissioned, the ask loaded questions to a random sample of people who bother to answer their phones to 'unknown caller', they release the results which are picked up in the media and advertised to the public. Advertising works and the public buys in.
It's a stacked deck. No wonder Stephen Harper has a reputation for being stand-offish with the media.