The World of the NY Times

July 27, 2010

“He who denies my version of the facts is to me perverse, alien, dangerous. How shall I account for him? The opponent has always to be explained, and the last explanation that we ever look for is that he sees a different set of facts. Such an explanation we avoid, because it saps the very foundation of our own assurance that we have seen life steadily and seen it whole. . . .”

-Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, quoted in Jeffrey Friedman, “The Epistemology and Politics of Ignorance”

I don’t want to press this one too hard, since I mostly agree with Robert’s position that the New York Times aims to fill a demand for objective news coverage. Still.

News:

Congress Passes Increase in the Minimum Wage

“Congress handed a major victory to low-income workers on Thursday night by approving the first increase in the federal minimum wage rate in a decade.”

Seductively Easy, Payday Loans Often Snowball

“While such lending is effectively banned in 11 states, including New York, through usury or other laws, it is flourishing in 39 others. The practice is unusually rampant and unregulated in New Mexico, where it has become a contentious political issue. The Center for Responsible Lending, a private consumer group based in Durham, N.C., calculates that nationally payday loans totaled at least $28 billion in 2005, doubling in five years.”

Right, this was not a random sample. I picked these topics because I expected the New York Times to present them from a certain perspective. And they do.

The only point here is a tired one: everybody has a bias. Yes, even you, and even when you try really hard not to be biased. Until you’re 100% sure that your beliefs are correct, it’s probably best not to sneer at people who watch Fox News, if you can help it.

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2 Responses to “The World of the NY Times”

  1. Rrrobert! Says:

    Sure. The thing about the Times, though, is that its biases are relatively transparent, and it has a cohesive set of rules by which it usually operates. It’s not hard to scrub the stories in a way that makes them factually useful for my day-to-day life, particularly when combined with other sources that have slightly different biases and play by roughly the same rules (e.g., the Journal). Most notably, they scrupulously (in fact, to a fault) include multiple perspectives on each issue; and if a demonstrable fact is brought to their attention that contradicts the facts in their story, that fact must at least be mentioned.

    Fox plays fast and loose with the conventions of traditional journalism, and it’s a mistake to digest Fox in the same way as the Times. To make a legal metaphor, Fox has different rules of evidence than the other outlets. Shitty ones. So if you’re trying to synthesize a picture of reality from disparate biased sources, as we’re wont to do, Fox really fucks that system in a major way.

    The New York Times builds its stories on a certain set of facts. The Wall Street Journal has a similar standard of evidence but will select a somewhat different set of facts. You can legitimately take the Journal’s facts, apply them to the facts in the Times, and synthesize your own perspective. Not so with Fox, whose facts require a different level of scrutiny.

    Fox is also a master of the performative utterance in a way the Times is not. Though the Times’ bias definitely shapes its determinations about what is or isn’t news, and that can have real-world repercussions, it again operates on a set of rules that govern what can be in or out. Fox (and the much less effective MSNBC) practice making mountains out of molehills in a way that advances its ideological agenda. Not cool for people just trying to get an idea of what’s going on around them. (CNN does this too, but my sense is that for them it’s more in service of their agenda of filling time on CNN and getting people to think CNN is important – for “liberal” media, they can be pretty mercenary about what they’ll yell about).


  2. Fair enough. I have no experience with Fox News beyond rumors and occasional video clips, so I’m not in a position to advise people on its merits.

    Yes, I would trust the New York Times’ reporting and their story selection more than Fox News’.


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