Friday, November 23, 2007

November 21 Media Critique: “New York Times 6 Month Study”

Once again we are treated to the spectacle of HR trying to dress up their preconceived notions in the garb of objective analysis. Remember their last dismal effort?

An important indicator of bias, balance means the news source gave equal weight to conflicting claims over a period of time. Both subject matter and style are important factors in weighing bias.

I can feel a HR moment coming on. This is the concept most abused by the partisans who scream “media bias”. You may be slightly surprised that HR,

found that reporting favored the Palestinian side through both text priority and selection of images.

Text priority”?

This is the story.

HR’s problem with this is that the Israeli bombing got the first mention (that is the story you dimwits!), and the earlier Palestinian rocket fire is mentioned later. This argument only begins to make sense if the earlier Palestinian rocket fire was unreported. Was it? No, the previous days story from the same reporter mentions the Palestinian rocket fire. HR are concerned that the ordering of elements of the story fails to give sufficient “justification” to Israeli actions, highlighting HRs total commitment to objectivity. The article also quotes the Israeli spokesman first. Is this “text priority” indicating bias?

Editors have many choices which photographs accompany news articles. We looked at the photographs that ran with the New York Times' articles and found that there seemed to be an inappropriate and unbalanced emphasis on either Palestinian suffering or Israeli military operations.
Now we lurch into crazy territory. Despite HR’s best intentions to apply a veneer of objectivity to their partisan opinions, they just can’t keep it up.

Graphs and charts are good for such purposes, hence HR throw up one which purports to show “Proportion of Images Sympathetic to Israeli or Palestinian View”. Let’s ignore the crude simplicity of the entire idea and run with it for a second. Firstly, HR mention this story as an example of the problem. It’s a story primarily about the in-fighting in Gaza, but has a photo of an Israeli air-strike. HR include 2 other photos “sympathetic” to a “Palestinian view - but they aren’t even in the NYT story. Just added for dramatic effect I guess. HR also fail to mention that there is one other photo in this story they claim is an example of pro-Palestinian “bias” – but it’s a photo of Israelis after a rocket attack on Sderot. Isn’t it great how completely ignoring certain facts that undermine your argument, makes your argument appear stronger? HR are masters at this kind of self-delusion. No doubt if pressed on the point they would argue about the size and position of the photos. Just goes to show that if you are determined enough, you can find bias everywhere.

Of the images showing one point of view or the other, over 60% were pictures that evoke more understanding or sympathy for the Palestinian side. The viewer thus gets the impression that there are far more Israeli military strikes against Palestinian civilians than Palestinian rocket attacks.
So, if 60% is too much “understanding”, what does HR suggest? Nothing. They just know that 60% is too much. Perhaps by some unexplained mathematical miracle, 50% is OK? This is the hallmark of utterly vacuous faux-media analysis – that balance in reporting might be represented by the Golden Mean, a midpoint between 2 opposed positions. An objective reference point would be to look at casualties. Given that the ratio of deaths is about 4:1 in ‘favour’ of Palestinians, maybe an objective use of photos to portray reality would have 80% of photos evoking understanding of the Palestinian situation. Now where’s the bias? Of course, HR could not even begin to contemplate such an idea. It has the wrong outcome.

Style can have a significant impact on how news events are perceived.

Now this is something that HR has in spades – consistent pro-Israel partisanship, no matter what.

HR contrast 2 headlines – “Israeli army Kills 3” and “Rocket injures 40 Israeli soldiers”. That the Israeli army is named seems to be the entire point of this secton. The “rocket” headline is “neutral” according to HR, as “we do not know if anyone fired the rocket or if it went off accidentally”. The first sentence of the story might help the poor fools at HR,

A Palestinian rocket fired from Gaza early Tuesday wounded some 40 soldiers….

There is quite a simple explanation for what HR sees as a conspiracy. Actions by the Israeli army are usually clearly attributable to the Israeli army, which is not the case with Palestinian rocket fire, where exactly which group was responsible is often not known immediately. The alternative headline to satisfy HR would have to have been – ‘Hamas/PFLP/Al-Aqsa? rocket injures 40 Israeli soldiers”.

We looked at examples of articles that were less than accurate or lacked important context.

HR and context. Always good for a chuckle.

HR give a few trivial examples which don’t illustrate much at all, let alone bias. Their major contribution to the field of accuracy and context is that the term “disputed territory” is much better than “occupied territory”. Not even Ariel Sharon would agree with them on that. How’s that for accurate!

Yet in terms of balance, consistency and context, we found that the coverage is more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

It’s a fact free environment at HR. Applying the same kind of junk-media analysis to NYT coverage of a concentration camp, HR would find the NYT was not fair and balanced because it was more sympathetic to the victims. The objective reality of the situation is of no concern to HR, only that a sterile and confected “balance” be achieved that might serve to reduce critical reporting of Israeli actions.

One journalist from the NYT might have had HR in mind when he made this comment about those who accuse the paper of bias,

They don’t want you to be balanced in your coverage; they want you to portray the morality of the war as they see it.
HonestReporting are a case study of the phenomenon known as the Hostile Media Effect. Put another way, the amount of media bias perceived is directly proportional to the degree of partisanship of the media consumer. Which in HRs case, is a whole lot.


Thanks to regular commentor Phillip, for reminding me of another study of the NYT coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It serves as an interesting comparison to HR, both in conclusions and methodology (if HR can be said to have one).