My sincere apologies to those who have been following my work, but I have come to the conclusion that I must suspend my efforts to measure political bias in the media, at least for the time being. The demands of other life priorities, coupled with the challenges of getting the system to work to my satisfaction, have made this decision necessary.
Despite this unfortunate turn, the effort was highly educational and afforded me certain perspectives on political news bias —- both in how it is delivered and in how it is received — that I will share with readers over the coming days, weeks, and months. Having devoted over 60 hours a week to this task for 6 months, one cannot help but gain a few insights along the way.
Perhaps most interesting (and amusing) was the reaction I received from the blogosphere when my efforts came to light. I have often commented that so-called media “watchdog” groups are all about watching the other dogs, and therefore lose their value for those who simply want a way of handicapping the political information they gather. But the most engaged viewers ARE partisan, and the feedback I received from them suggested that they were not interested in an objective bias metric. This phenomenon parallels the media construct of the day; “slanted” news outlets are far more popular than those which tend towards the middle, particularly in cable news.
Simply put, partisan viewers tend to be engaged and participate like sports fans at a pep rally.
Not surprisingly, some media people aggressively challenged the fundamental value of measuring news bias at all. My favorite comment came from a British journalist, who starkly said that,” I’m not so into the whole impartial journalism ideal. My ideal is fealty to the truth, not to balance.” When I first read that comment, I pictured a court room in which a lawyer imperiously states that, “I don’t have facts or witnesses, but I am uniquely blessed to know the absolute TRUTH!”
In fairness to that commenter, my view of media objectivity is not — nor has it ever been — robotic commentators stating cold facts without passion or perspective. Rather, it is a healthy balance of thoughtful, engaging analysis that fairly presents BOTH sides of key political issues. That, and the fact that I’m an early riser, is probably why I am a fan of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Viewpoints are intelligently and passionately delivered on both sides of any political topic, although the format equally exposes them to raging partisan criticism (especially when Joe Scarborough takes issue with his own). Still, for an independent like me, it’s a great way to hear a passionate, 2-sided discourse and form my own opinion, discounting for MSNBC’s over-arching liberal bias, of course.
One conclusion I could not help but come to is that those most passionate and engaged about their political views want to be affirmed by the media, not informed. Of course, those folks were not the market segment I was trying to reach, but they were the most vocal. The challenge for any media bias rating service like the one I had envisioned was reaching the next tier — those who are going about their busy daily lives, and simply grazing the news for political insights. As I have noted elsewhere, I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with uninitiated viewers who proudly state that, “The only news program I watch is the O’Reilly Factor … or Hardball …,” etc.
If such low engagement viewers and voters are acquiring their political insights this way … or from political news sound bites that resonate throughout our society at the speed of light … or from the deluge of Super-Pac ads sponsored by some seemingly high-minded “citizens” group …
… then we all have cause for concern.