« Europe Rejects Bush World View | Main | Publius SHOUTS (Part 1: Theory) »

December 07, 2005


I've never heard that phrase before: "balanced is not fair." I like it.

As for Rosen's piece earlier this year, it raises tons of interesting questions, but that there is an argument there at all seems open to debate. I look to the MSM when I want to get an objective read on what I'm seeing discussed outside of MSM. When Miller and Woodward do their deed in the middle of the room and their papers pretend not to see it, it's not a big deal to me. I just quit them for a while.

I still keep WaPo as my homepage (used to use NYT before TimesSelect) just for a daily glance at how MSM is prioritizing the days events, and I've got my ears open at blogs left and right for any efforts MSM might be making to restore lost credibility (Salzburger, nothing? Downey, nothing?). But the argument isn't so much, "which is better," but "which will earn most of my time," and, it follows, "ad dollars."

As for credibility, the MSM thinks it has a lock on wisdom, objectivity, and experience. I feel comfortable saying there are plenty of blogs, left and right, that have earned my trust for those characteristics. Those with the added functions of uncensored comments even more so than the all mighty networks or papers. These comments insure that all sides are represented without limit, freeing the writer to say it like it is. Unfortunately for MSM, it doesn't take a generation's time to learn the usefulness of that kind of power.

Miller and Woodward, I think some doubts are beginning to creep back, and hopefully at the editor level where it belongs. That's where the real Pre$$titution is. The reporters just follow their lead

Ultimately I like the KISS principle to explain the "balanced" smokescrean and why it exists. It is all summed up in the phrase, It is never a good career move to go against the Bosses' wishes! The right wing leaning nature of corporate ownership of too much of the news media is the main cause for biased journalism, which is really what "balanced" or blinded to reality news is all about. I think who gets to own media outlets and their resultant social responsibilites needs to be handled by a law change or even a contitutional change which will keep intact this safety net from dangerous propaganda brainwashing.

BTW, did anyone see the interview Wolf Blitzer had last night with Ramsey Clark? It was amazing to me how easily Ramsey Clark was able to show Wolf how subconsciously(??) biased he was in his reporting of Saddam issues! Blitzer and others have been so conditioned by their own corporate brainwashing that they don't even recognize fair reporting anymore. Mantra sayings, slow, steady, and continuous over time, are the background tone that allows brainwashing to work!

I haven't read the whole thing, but the smackdown on Anderson Cooper doesn't begin to describe the horror that is now CNN. Please, somebody, take AC by the hand and lead him to the sports desk. Please. I'll pay you to do it.

Below I have posted the main part of that Ranmsey Clark evisceration (IMO) of Wolf!

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what President Bush said today on the Saddam Hussein trial. Listen to this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He should be on trial. I think his trial is -- is indicative of the change that has taken place in the Iraqi society. In the old days, if Saddam and his cronies didn't like you, you didn't get a trial, you were just put to death or tortured.

Today, there is a system, a judicial system in place that'll give Saddam Hussein a chance to make his case in court.


BLITZER: What do you think about what the president said?

CLARK: Well, you know, the president organized the court. The court's a creation of Paul Bremer and the people who were working for him. They've been pushing for this all the time. The question is whether they want a fast trial and a quick execution.

And if they do, they are just going to tear this country and the Arab and the Muslim world apart. You don't get over injustice quickly, and particularly something that is -- if this trial doesn't appear to be fair, you have to hope it's fair in fact. But if it doesn't appear to be fair, it's going to create irreconcilable division, anger, violence and war.

BLITZER: Do you think he should be standing before this court as a defendant for the crimes he has committed?

CLARK: Well, wait a minute, you've already concluded he's committed the crime. I believe in the presumption of innocence. Not because it's a legal rule, but because it keeps you open-minded, you know. If you have already decided the case, why try anyway? Let's keep open minds and wait until we hear the facts. You don't know. You haven't seen what he's done. You just heard a lot of stuff.

BLITZER: Well, we've heard a lot of...


BLITZER: ... evidence over the years that he ordered the poison gassing of Kurds in the north. He used poison gas and chemical weapons against Iranians, and that he slaughtered a lot of his own citizens.

CLARK: Yes, you saw the evidence or you read it in the newspaper, you heard it on CNN. What are you trying to tell me? What do you really know about the use of poison gas? Have you seen the...

BLITZER: All of the above.

CLARK: Have you seen "The New York Times" op-ed piece by -- yes, but you haven't seen the evidence. But you know that. If you are going to presume his guilt, then you don't care about a trial. You say, go ahead and first the punishment and then the trial. Join in with Alice in wonderland. I believe in the presumption of innocence. I think everything in life depends on keeping open minds.

BLITZER: Well, I think you're right. He certainly deserves...

CLARK: I also believe in a fair trial.

BLITZER: He certainly deserves a fair trial. But over the years, don't you think Saddam Hussein...

CLARK: He more than deserves a fair trial. We need a fair trial. We need it more than he does.

BLITZER: Of course -- everyone needs a fair trial, including Saddam Hussein. But don't you believe in your heart that over the years he's committed...

CLARK: This trial is unique.

BLITZER: I was going to say, don't you believe that he has committed....

CLARK: This trial...

BLITZER: ... that he has ordered atrocities? Do you believe he has?

CLARK: Look, I've just told you, I believe in the presumption of innocence. I believe in keeping an open mind. I don't prejudge people. If you are going to prejudge people, just forget fairness, just forget reconciliation. You know, how do you know?

You know, the head CIA person that went up and investigated the claims about gas in Halabja say that the Iraqis did not do it. That's what he said. I don't know if he's right. I don't know if the others are right. I know this: He's been systemically demonized. It's one of the most dangerous things that happens in life. You can't consider the possibility that he might be a human being.

But if you want a fair trial, you better presume innocence, because you are not going to have a fair trial otherwise. You are not going to have one unless you protect the defense counsel. You're not going to have one unless you determine whether this court is legal, whether these judges are impartial, whether the court itself is independent of outside pressures saying here's what you do, you do what we say.

And those are essential things to a fair trial. And it will be very important to the future of this area. You are dealing with historic truth. This case is about history. You distort history when you have an unfair trial. It's public justice. Is it possible to have -- is it possible to have justice of a public figure? And it's about peace more than anything else, because if you don't have a fair trial, you are going to have more violence.

BLITZER: Well, Ramsey Clark, be careful over there. Thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

"Balanced is not necessarily fair", I would edit it to read. It is like the adage in law that equal treatment is not necessarily fair, unless the parties are "similarly situated". Or, like Anatole France's famous quote that the law is fair because "the law in its majesty forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges."

If the parties are unequal in power or circumstances or unequal in their conduct, "balanced" can't possibly be fair. That is the flaw in this reasoning, and we see it every day in the coverage of the corruption scandals. Moreover, the Dems in their heyday (at least in the last 65 years) never concocted the schemes that have sprung from the brains of Norquist and Rove, things like funneling money to "defense contractors" who then funnel it to GOP candidates or front groups, things like the Abramoff extortion of the tribes.

So before "balanced" has to come an appraisal of the relative positions of the parties being compared and their conduct. And once you've reported on that, what more is there to do? Fairness is the watchword here, not balanced. "Balanced" is inherently unfair unless the parties are equal to begin with, and how do you know that without doing some real digging?

Fox must have been on to this from the very beginning, just like the people who demand an "equal playing field" knowing the other group is hobbled by some circumstance.

I agree it's laziness and timidity, infatuation with power and celebrity, and above all desire for access that are the culprits. And the Bushies knew how to play on the vanities of the press likeno one before them.

"Balanced is not necessarily fair", I would edit it to read.

Hmm, I wouldn't; I think it weakens it more than is warranted. At minimum "Balanced is rarely fair," but I think "Balanced is not fair" is close enough to the truth to show the real flaw in the current state of affairs.

Sure, there are cases where two sides really are balanced, but that just illustrates that "balance" is never necessary and often dishonest. Fairness is all you need -- if the sides truly are balanced, then balance will be the result; if they aren't, then it never belonged there in the first place.

Sometimes I think blogosphere attacks on the notion of balance are unfair. Some of this is purely psychological self-defense. I was a reporter and editor for my college paper about ten years ago, and striving to be balanced and "present both sides" was something that sort of got hard-wired into me. But I usually took that attitude to interpretations, not to facts. And, y'know, a student reporter isn't exactly supposed to be up the standards and expertise of the Washington Post. When stuff like the corruption scorecard that Josh Marshall's talked about happens, something's gone wrong with the system. ( http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/007193.php )

then I guess blogosphere attacks on the notion of balance are fair.

Whoops, yeah. I think that most of my comment is me questioning that initial gut reaction on my part, but I should have added a clearer conclusion sentence to that effect. I do think that the idea of presenting all sides is a good one. But the way that it's been perverted into distorting facts (or failing to do sufficient fact-checking) in order to make things appear balanced is not good, and I'm glad the blogosphere is calling attention to that.

I think FOX has a point in its attempt to have a different kind of reporting to the liberal media. Kurtz is describing a powerful argument that only liberal attitudes should be in reporting, such as speaking truth to power and helping the weak. But these are innately liberal policies, is it possible to be a journalist and have conservative policies?
The genius of FOX is they saw this other journalist philosophy needs to be developed, but in many ways they have done a bad job of it. The fact that they are so popular means they do strike a chord with many people.
Why should journalism focus on injustice and against the powerful? Because there is a presumption the powerful don't need a voice of their own, and victims need the press more than others.
But often so called victims are those conservatives feel no need to protect so they don't concede covering victims to be conservative journalism. Also they like the powerful and don't want them bashed just because they are powerful and are presumed to be able to take it.
Conservative and liberal journalism have to find their own policies just as in politics now. I think eventually things will be better for this experiment in openly conservative journalism. I do think though some of them are very bad, like Brit Hume is astonishingly bad. O'Reilly is pretty good but completely loses it sometimes.
Bush will be good for America if it survives him, because it exposed the right wing fanatic that lurks in every suburb, and now they won't be able to hide. Germany went through the same thing with the Nazis, they could no longer deny some of their citizens liked what Hitler did. In the same way some Americans like torturing and invading countries, and the world will likely never forget this, and they will make sure America never forgets it either.

i have no issues with openly conservative POV. I enjoy NRO frequesntly. I like perusing the thoughtful conservative sites. It's the 'openly' part.

Bush will be good for America if it survives him, because it exposed the right wing fanatic that lurks in every suburb, and now they won't be able to hide. Germany went through the same thing with the Nazis, they could no longer deny some of their citizens liked what Hitler did.

This is very perceptive! Well said, but I have a question then about alternative political philosophies in this contry and what are their objectives and likely chances of success?

The exposure of the fact that there is a right wing fringe in America and the fact that this fringe has many followers may well be Bush's legacy IF (a big if) the majority does not follow these right wing political beliefs. That brings up the point of who are these critical swing voters, and what do they really believe in their heart of hearts? Are they right wing nuts and thus we are doomed to a third Reich like ending, or are they more tolerant, and just fooled by the current group of right wing fanatics? Important questions to answer before one makes political strategies that might work, although I suppose there is nothing lost in trying to convince them.

But again who are they these swing voters in America and what do they want?

They want no part of politicians. Same as it ever was.

They want no part of politicians. Same as it ever was.

DemFromCT, this is what I wrestle with in my mind on this subject. When I was growing up in the 1960s, the progressive Dems ran the show! They held both house of Congress and everyone seemed to be a Dem (ahh the good ole days). Then slowly over the last 40 years a sizable portion of this Dem base eroded over to the conservative side, or they went somewhere else! Why?????

My theory is that as long as the Dems stood for just broad worker's rights and unions, they were popular, but when they got into the egalitarian social issues and racial equality issues, that is when a hidden bigots bolted. The right wing has learned how to court them in subtle and not so subtle ways.

In my post about swing voters, I am mainly referring to this tension between workers (who are what most voters are) who should always be united, and this tendency for many voters to be bigoted and thus right wing fanatics if you will. There are still many liberals out there, but enough of the swing Rt wing fanatics have gone over to the dark side that the RW fanatics now control the government. That is the problem in our democracy that with 51% of the votes you are in total control potentially.

What to do, what to do?

Feingold and Wellstone found ways around it. Start by standing for something and be honest about it.

Bush will be good for America if it survives him, because it exposed the right wing fanatic that lurks in every suburb, and now they won't be able to hide. Germany went through the same thing with the Nazis, they could no longer deny some of their citizens liked what Hitler did. In the same way some Americans like torturing and invading countries, and the world will likely never forget this, and they will make sure America never forgets it either.

Unfortunately, the US has been a lot cleverer that the Nazis, and as a result has achieved far more world domination, all the while claiming to promote freedom and democracy. For some insights on this, read Harold Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech, delivered on Dec 7th.

Although this may seem to be slightly off topic for this thread, Pinter's analysis of the issue is actually highly relevant, because it centers on the distinction between the message or spin, and the actual truth. And it makes you realize that the problem being discussed in this thread is really just the tip of the iceberg, one very small symptom of the underlying issue.

Here are just a few extracts:

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?


Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.


Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed.


The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.


know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

I invite you to read the whole thing. Has it been (or will it be) published in the US? And if it is, will it be immediately dismissed as the rantings of a left-wing extemist, who is taking advantage of his Nobel Prize to broadcast his anti-American rhetoric? And if the media then report this controversy, will they give equal time (maybe 30 seconds each) to Pinter and his critics?

Somehow, I don't think Pinter would approve of that kind of "balanced" coverage.

[EW, I know this post is very long, but the full speech is much longer. Maybe this should be moved to a separate post, but the comments I extracted seemed relevant].

The comments to this entry are closed.

Where We Met

Blog powered by Typepad