Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Biased labeling?

Former Express-News political reporter Sherry Sylvester, who is now working for a right-wing think tank out of Austin, wrote an Op-Ed column last week for the Houston Chronicle that touts a study by a Stanford University professor as demonstrating a liberal bias in the nation's newspapers.
The study does this by looking at the use of the labels "liberal" and "conservative" and counting how many times they were used to describe various politicians or groups. The study apparently does not take into account the fact that the term "liberal" has been continuously vilified since the 1980s while the term "conservative" is widely embraced by people in both political parties. The study concludes and Sylvester concurs that the newspapers have been biased because they have more readily used the term "conservative" to label conservative groups and Republican politicos than they have used the term "liberal" to describe liberal groups and Democratic politicos.

"Reviewing news stories over a 12-year period -- from 1990 to 2002 -- Brady and Ma found that The New York Times and The Washington Post were far more likely to label a U.S. senator "conservative" than "liberal."

But what if a politician objects to the term "liberal"? Are the newspapers supposed to force the label on them anyway? By whose standards? How does one define a liberal?
And is it wrong to use the term "conservative" when the person in question embraces the term and uses it constantly to refer to themself? This is what is really being revealed in the Stanford study. Not an ideological bias in favor of liberals, but a willingness to acquiesce to the wishes of the people the newspapers are interviewing, quoting and using as sources.

I'm sure if asked, Sylvester would readily produce a list of who should be called a conservative and who should be called a liberal, but I'm afraid that it isn't up to her. In the column, Sylvester vaugely defines a conservative as someone who is opposed to an income tax, opposes legal abortions, favors the death penalty and supports the war in Iraq. Of course, there are a lot of Democrats who hold most if not all of those positions to some degree.

And what if someone opposes legal abortion but also opposes the death penalty? How do we label them, Sherry? Is the Pope a liberal?

Sylvester and the conservative moneybags who fund her organization are so blinded by their zeal to expose left-wing bias in the media that they can't see how ridiculous their arguments come across some times. Case in point: Sylvester points to this example to show how Republicans are more frequently labeled as conservatives than Democrats are labeled as liberals:

"U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett was labeled as "liberal" in 61 news stories this year but most of those reports were from Washington not Texas....
By contrast, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, was identified as conservative in 2,816 state and national news reports."

Wow!! 61 to 2,816!! Well, there is some liberal bias for you! The fact that Tom DeLay was written about in more than 2,816 stories while Doggett and other Texas liberals were written about fewer than 100 times doesn't even seem to phase Sylvester at all.

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