Media bias 101 42


By Tom QuinerFRESHLY PRESSED header

“Iowa’s airports face loss of some services.”

This was the headline to a story in this morning’s Des Moines Register. The news story relates how the pending sequester will impact Iowa airports.

The future of some regional airports in Dubuque, Sioux City, and Waterloo is in jeopardy.

Why?

Here’s how the reporter framed the issue:

“U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, a former Republican member of Congress, urged lawmakers to approve a compromise for $85 billion in spending cuts that are scheduled to hit every agency March 1. Republican lawmakers have opposed Obama’s proposal to close tax loopholes in combination with targeted spending cuts to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts.”

The reporter identifies Mr. LaHood as a former Republican Congressman. Why? He is setting the stage for the next sentence which lays blame on the Republicans, that Republicans oppose Obama’s solution.┬áThe implication: that the Republicans now in Congress are the ones out of touch when compared to Republican Congressman of old, such as Mr. LaHood.

It’s sneaky journalism, because Republicans are the ones who proposed the very plan to which the reporter now gives credit to Mr. Obama. Yes, Obama does propose closing loopholes, so do Republicans. In fact, Republican Speaker John Boehner and President Obama shook hands on a deal two years ago to do just that, close loopholes and LOWER rates.

The plan would have been revenue neutral.

It would have simplified the tax code.

Economists agree that tax simplification is a good thing, that it spurs economic growth by reducing compliance costs.

And then the president reneged on the deal.

The president’s plan is to increase taxes on everyone by eliminating loopholes and maintaining rates. He has presented no plan to cut spending, and in fact has rejected two such plans presented by Republicans which call for targeted cuts.

The reporter’s language was not dishonest. But he made a choice on how to frame the issue. He could have just as easily, and more accurately, written the key sentence like this:

“President Obama has opposed the Republican’s proposal to close tax loopholes in combination with targeted spending cuts to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts.”

Instead, he chose to put the blame on the Republicans.

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42 comments

  1. I don’t think the Republicans’ hands are clean on this matter. Boehner had to repeatedly refuse Obama’s proposals because they increased tax rates, even when Obama threw in a chained CPI for Social Security. And during the Republican presidential primary debate, all of the candidates said that they would reject a deal that offered $10 of spending cuts to $1 of increased revenue. Also, Mitt Romney’s plan to close loopholes and decrease tax rates would have increased the deficit.

    • I would be the first to acknowledge that Republicans’ hands aren’t clean. They spent like drunken sailors under Bush II and paid the price in the midterms. The Romney proposal was revenue neutral. In fact, tax simplification would ultimately increase tax revenues by reducing compliance costs. Thanks for weighing in. Come again!

  2. You couldn’t be more right. They set it up so that the GOP looks like it’s not working with the White House. Biden was actually the one that originally pitched the sequester to top Republicans. Any news outlet that places all the blame on one side has to be questioned.

  3. I initially started taking this article in as an anti-Obama article and had to check myself and my thinking. Sorry about that as I did you a disservice. The fourth estate is just one of society’s institutions that have let us all down. Great article and would like to have read more on this topic. I cover something similar in m blog if you would like to have a look.
    Cheers from Australia

  4. The way you rewrote the key sentence also contains bias. It is also misleading because the House passed those proposals in the 112th Congress so they are no longer valid. By mentioning Lahood’s Party affiliation, the author is merely attempting to portray both the divisions amongst the parties and within the parties (Dems disagree on how to tackle this as well)

    • I think previous Republican proposals are valid, especially in light of the fact that the CBO says Democrats’ budget proposal will increase spending, not decrease it. Nonetheless, I appreciate your comments and invite you to come again. Thanks!

  5. Well… Yes, unfortunately news and entertainment are blended so closely together these days that people are going to read or watch or listen to what they want to hear, aren’t they?

    I recall hearing a FOX news report referring to Keynes as a “Liberal economist” and shuddered. Similarly, every time I read the Sun Herald, I cringe at how little subtlety there is in the choice of words for their connotations and the misnomers they blatantly wave around.

    It’s across the board with every news outlet now, BBC, Al Jazeera, CBS, FOX, DW and PRISA. We can’t stop people from hearing what they want to hear, but we can encourage them to allow more plurality into their consumption of the media, identify the biases and the reasons behind them with each individual news source, and come to construct their own position taking these into account.

  6. Excellent. If enough people would just read what so called journalists are writing, paying attention to the wording, this country just might wake up to the games being played.

  7. I remember when they used to used this one little word as the yardstick for the merit of a piece of journalism, Objectivity. Now a piece’s worth is gauged by the number of hits, and the amount of vitriol in the comments section (pro or con, it matter not).

  8. It’s interesting how as a society, we are inclined to believe that lawyers, politicians, and auto mechanics are all a bunch of liars, and yet somehow the press doesn’t fall under that category. There’s no such thing as un-biased media.

    Points for the nod at Iowa in the intro – I’m a Cedar Rapids native :)

    • I always love to hear from Iowans. I wrote a musical which was performed in Cedar Rapids at the Immaculate Conception church. That was really my first significant contact with the city, and it was a great experience. Thanks for writing.

  9. Typical of the deliberately distorted reporting that’s so prevalent today. Nothing more than lackey propagandists who hope the public remains out-to-lunch while they whittle away at our liberties.

  10. Yes, Republicans say that they want to close loopholes an awful lot. Problem is, the only “loopholes” Republicans actually say they want to to close are Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. That will pay for about an hour of the annual budget deficit or will save you a couple of bucks on your taxes (not even both). But when asked if they actually want to close any of the loopholes where the real money are, like mortgage interest deduction, offshore profits deferrals, carried interest, big Oil subsidies, the Republicans consistently say “no”. So I’d think it’s pretty fair to say that Republicans oppose closing actual tax loopholes.

    • As they say, the devil is in the details. The two sides have to agree on the concept before either will feel comfortable getting too specific. The Republicans thought they had that agreement two years ago before Obama reneged. Republicans are willing to close more loopholes than you suggest, but the president needs to be onboard before details can emerge. Thanks for writing. Come again.

      • That whole sequestration agreement was never meant to be specific. As you may remember, it was only put in place to avert the default on the sovereign debt which would have been much worse than any sequester, and was supposed to scare the Congress into passing alternative law to replace the sequester. Well, we know how that’s worked out…
        I suppose I could be wrong on which deductions GOP wants to close, so in that case I’d like to have a full picture. Can you name at least one significant loophole that the majority Republican congressmen wants to close? “Significant” meaning that it would reduce the deficit by at least 1%, which would be around $10-$11 Billion for 1 year.

      • Two years ago, Congressman Paul Ryan presented a comprehensive road map to fiscal prosperity that embraced everything from tax policy to entitlements. Regarding taxes, the Ryan Roadmap advocates a revenue-neutral tax simplification. He calls for but two tax rates of 10 and 25 percent with a corresponding elimination of most deductions. I understand that even the mortgage deduction was on the table as part of bi-partisan negotiations, negotiations that the president and his party haven’t been interested in pursuing. The Ryan plan, according to the CBO, would spend $5.3 trillion less over the next decade than the Obama budget, because it does address entitlements.

      • Ryan Plan is whole other topic, but I’ll take that as a plan that a majority of GOP wants to do. But then the Ryan plan has the same exact problem: it does not specify which loopholes it would actually close. “Most loopholes” means nothing: there are hundreds of them in the tax code, and most are relatively small, and you could close 70% of loopholes and still not make a dent in the deficit.
        Mortgage deduction may have been on the the table, but it only takes one person to put it there. I don’t remember crowds of GOP congressmen actually going on record to say that we should close it. BTW, I’d close it, but I don’t have to worry about being elected.

      • Fair point. Ryan and Republicans pointedly did not get too specific on closing loopholes for two reasons. First, Democrats would demagogue each suggested loophole closing to death, especially the mortgage deduction. (For the record, Republicans would be no better if the tables were turned.) Secondly, tax simplification would be more likely to achieve bi-partisan accord if a broad framework was in place, but not the specific details. Tax simplification requires both sides to come together, wrangle, and resolve a plan, much as Reagan and Tip O’Neil did back in 1986. Obama said he was on board with the concept two years ago before he reneged on his handshake deal with Speaker Boehner.

  11. Hang on, it wasn’t the reporter who framed it that way. It was part of what I read that LaHood himself said. Perhaps, the story you read echoed theme without attributing it to LaHood. I got that news from the AP story about the airport cutbacks (last paragraph of feb 22 story, “Obama administration: Cuts to cause flight delays “).

    I’m not disputing the issue of bias. I’m just saying this may not be a particularly good example.

  12. All media is biased. It’s inevitable. A lot of people just don’t notice it until the particular news source they’re reading/watching displays a bias that goes against their own personal beliefs.

    I try to read news from a variety of sources, but I only find myself getting worked up or noticing the misrepresentations when I’m looking at those outlets that support opposing political views to my own. The result? I don’t visit those sources as often. I try to be open-minded at look at multiple sides of the issue, but sometimes it’s just not worth getting my blood boiling. No news source is going to change my core political opinions at this point.

    It’s always important to look at the core facts behind the reporting, and admittedly it does take a conscious effort to look past the way those facts are framed. But as long as there are multiple political viewpoints, news will always be biased and people will always shout “BIAS!” at things they don’t agree with.

    • Thanks for your excellent commentary. I read my local newspaper, The Des Moines Register, pretty closely. Their reporting is pretty straight forward. It is the Associated Press stories that demonstrate consistent bias, especially in certain areas. The bias is more glaring, and trackable, in mainstream television networks. I periodically point these things out on my blog. One of the things I notice the most is what the mainstream media does NOT cover. Nonetheless, you have weighed in with a thoughtful response. Thanks for visiting Quiner’s Diner, and please come again.

    • I always find it interesting when politicians employ double speak and people look on incredulously as if their entire belief system was shaken. I find people that declare a party even more laughable that those who express dismay at political double speak. These parties, our politicians, serve those who fill their coffers (corporations and lobbyists) and sadly, it isn’t any of the esteemed people commenting on this well thought out piece. Politicians are ONLY concerned with preserving their tenuous grip on power not serving their constituents.

      • I agree. Political parties are not about ideology. You can see that in the lack of outrage from the Left on Obama flip flops and the lack of outrage from the right as Bush II drove government spending through the roof. Parties are about power. That’s why gridlock isn’t all bad: it is an effective check on each party’s power. I get concerned when media bias gets so out of whack. The article to which I referred in my blogpost covered the sequester story decently, except for a few sentences, which is why I pointed them out. Thanks for writing and sharing comments that are right on the mark.

  13. Just as a catcher attempts “to frame a pitch” to get the umpire to call what is really a “ball,” a “strike” by the way he catches a pitch. Unfortunately, that tactic also helped Obama get four more years. He fooled 51% of the voters.

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