Blind to Bias

Posted: Dec 25, 2009 12:01 AM
Blind to Bias

Some time ago I found myself explaining the value of a flat tax to a liberal.

“You’d be able to fill out your return on a postcard. Put in the amount you earned for the year, write 10 percent of that in the next box, and you’re finished,” I explained. “That would never work,” he said smugly. “Where would you attach the check?”

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There’s some logic for you.

Sure, buddy. Let’s keep our tax system, which is so incomprehensible even those who wrote it cannot seem to comply with it (ask Rep. Charlie Rangel). Let’s keep the stacks of forms, the thousands of bureaucrats, the constant intrusions into American’s privacy. Let’s keep all that, because -- while the average middle-class American can never be certain he’s paid the government what he’s supposed to every year -- at least he gets an envelope out of the deal.

That discussion came to mind while reading a recent Thomas Frank op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Frank boldly opposes one of the most controversial ideas of our time: that newspapers ought to hire a conservative or two. “Ordinarily, such a bad idea would not draw much concern,” he tutts. “But it has now been repeated several times in the great organ of journalistic consensus. Clearly they mean it seriously.”

You think? Actually, it seems more likely that the idea is brought up by newspapermen from time to time specifically because they know it will never go anywhere. Sort of like the balanced budget amendment that lawmakers propose periodically: it’s floated so they can seem serious but never need to actually, you know, balance the budget.

Still, Frank’s opposition is a version of the question about attaching the check. “How is the [Washington] Post supposed to check up on its reporters’ politics?” he wonders. “I’m hoping for loyalty oaths and televised hearings, with stiff penalties for employees who refuse to talk or to name names: It would be the perfect spectacle for the end of the newspaper era.”

Cute, but beside the point.

Newspapers wouldn’t have to test for ideological purity, (although if they did, they might find their staffs are made up completely of liberals). Just having one or two people on hand who think the federal government is too large and intrusive could make all the difference in how a potential story is covered.

For example, day after day the Post carries stories saying the proposed health reform bill would cost (to choose one example at random): “$848 billion over the next decade to extend coverage to more than 30 million additional people.” (“Senate health bill gets a boost,” Lori Montgomery, December 1, 2009).

Does anyone at the paper ever point out that this price tag assumes future Congresses will cut hundreds of billions in Medicare spending? Those cuts will never be made, of course, so the actual tab will be well over a trillion dollars. Somehow that never makes it to the front page.

In some ways, this isn’t even a liberal vs. conservative discussion, though. Frank’s interest in this is rooted in the ACORN scandal. Several months ago The Washington Post’s ombudsman wondered if his paper’s failure to cover that story proved it didn’t “pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints.”

And indeed, newspapers including the Post and the New York Times basically ignored the story. But it’s astounding that nobody in those newsrooms pointed out that this was a juicy story, likely to interest people and sell newspapers. And isn’t that the point? If photos of Hannah Giles can’t move newspapers, nothing will.

The same thing is true for other ignored stories such as Climategate. readers are certainly up on that one, but those who rely on the self-proclaimed newspaper of record, The New York Times, haven’t seen much coverage of the scandal that shook Copenhagen. Without conservatives in their newsrooms, mainstream media outlets will go right on missing story after story, month after month. You think they’d be tired of that.

In his column, Frank sets up a straw man, yet still fails to knock him down. “Anyone setting out to appease bias-spotters on the right should know that the conservative movement feels that it is plagued by impostors and fakers, and it won’t be satisfied until these RINOs, too, are chased from the newsrooms of the nation,” he writes.

Try us, MSM. I dare you.