Fair and Fairly Unbalanced

So then there's this feature which explores political bias at The Times. The conclusion they come to: it's debatable, apparently. While I may often agree with the Times' position on political issues, I do not agree with the Times' position on its position on political issues. The contributor they have arguing for the "The Times does not have a liberal bias" side spends the entire article detailing all of the ways in which the paper could, but doesn't, scewer the Bush administration and its members, as an apparent implication that The Times is not nearly as liberally biased as it could be.

The way I see it, the question of does political bias exist has a few possible readings. One is asking, is there a political agenda? In the case of an operation like The Times, that's a very hard thing to specify. How do you measure it, by whether a political agenda is evidenced in the mission statement? Do you add up the political agendas of its workers, and take the corporate agenda to be the aggregate? Do you measure the political activity of its owners and its biggest funders? You clearly can't measure people's internal motivations.

The second interpretation is asking if something resides on one side of a posited political center point. The problem with this question is, say you could determine a political center empirically (I assume that the notion of an a priori political center point is meaningless). What use does that have? Sure, it will tell you, statistically, where one member of a population falls in relation to the entire population in respect to political affiliation. But in order for it to follow that the reltionship is meaningul, it must be assumed that there is some inherent wisdom in the political choices of the masses. What makes that true? What makes the average view intrinsically correct or significant. So in this sense, asking if something is biased is statistically, and perhaps socially, meaningful, but politically not meaningful.

A third reading of biased is, does the paper give fair coverage to both sides? This is a little harder to define. Fair coverage doesn't neccessarily mean equal coverage. If there is more evidence for Kerry's assertion A than Bush's assertion B, then a fair treatment of the matter would give more evidence for A than for B. Likewise, if X has more evidence than Y of being true, it's fairer to make a bigger deal out of X than of Y; that's simply a reflection of the party's confidence in its truth. Therefore, if Bush has much more credible damning evidence against him, then it is not biased for a paper to come down much harder on him.

So I don't know if I have a point in all this rambling. Is The Times biased or not? Well I do think it's curious that this article was printed on the same day as the editorial titled "John Kerry for President."In my mind that's a pretty clear answer. The Times is saying it's biased, there couldn't be any clearer answer than that.

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