Media Bias? What Media Bias? (Long post)

[I know this is about a week old, but I needed to let it simmer in my mind for a while.]

There’s a growing opinion that the media treats the Obama campaign better than the McCain campaign. The media, of course, denies this, claiming to be neutral and just reporting the facts. I have commented before about how an article can be 100% factually true and factual, while still being biased. It can be done with nothing more complicated than simple word choice, picking words and phrases that cast the facts in a favorable or unfavorable light. Compare the following sentences, “A bystander legally carrying a concealed handgun interrupted the robbery, exchanging gunshots with the robbers before they fled the scene,” and “Another armed man in the store started a gunfight with the alleged robbers, causing them to run for their lives.” Both tell the facts, but one uses charged language, making the CHP holder look dangerous and reckless.

But that’s a discussion for another post. The purpose of this post is to point out how the media is showing thier bias against the Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin, and favoring the Democrat ticket. I start with this.

It’s funny, but I don’t remember seeing anything like this after Obama’s convention speech, or after Biden’s acceptance speech. Just Governor Palin’s. (I will freely admit I may have missed either if they exist. If anyone knows of it, and can provide a link to prove it, let me know and I will stand corrected.) Now most of the time, a Yahoo! headline will stay “on top” like this for one or two hours, and then be rotated to one of those four bottom positions before it’s taken of the main page completely. This one was on top for almost eight hours!

Now, let’s look at the actual article.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her Republican supporters held back little Wednesday as they issued dismissive attacks on Barack Obama and flattering praise on her credentials to be vice president. In some cases, the reproach and the praise stretched the truth.

Some examples:

PALIN: “I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending … and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress ‘thanks but no thanks’ for that Bridge to Nowhere.”

THE FACTS: As mayor of Wasilla, Palin hired a lobbyist and traveled to Washington annually to support earmarks for the town totaling $27 million. In her two years as governor, Alaska has requested nearly $750 million in special federal spending, by far the largest per-capita request in the nation. While Palin notes she rejected plans to build a $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents and an airport, that opposition came only after the plan was ridiculed nationally as a “bridge to nowhere.”

I’ll admit, $750 million is a lot, especially when compared to other states. But that figure is absolutely meaningless in this context unless you compare it to how much Alaska requested before she became governor. Did it go up, or down? Did it stay the same? Did she veto any requests and have the legislature override her? How much higher than other states requests was that? How does this amount compare to other states when adjusted for the higher cost of everything in Alaska? Is it unusual for a town that size in Alaska to have a lobbyist in DC? How does that $27 million compare to other Alaskan towns that size?

I’ll be the first to admit, I actually wish she would shut up about the “bridge to nowhere.” It’s too easy for the Dems to turn it into a great sound byte against her. Bottom line, she did originally support it. But let’s think about that bridge for a moment. Let’s remember what her job actually was at the time – mayor of Wasilla, AK, and then Governor of Alaska. Part of both jobs is to support funding necessary improvements in her town and her state. Apparently, any people in Alaska, and especially in Ketchikan, felt that the bridge was needed. Without the bridge, the only way to get to that airport is by a ferry, which runs a set schedule and is vulnerable to weather delays. Remember, in Alaska, airports are much, much more important than in the rest of the U.S. (except maybe Hawaii), because there are places you can’t get to except by air. And as for the cost, building that bridge in Alaska is going to be substantially more expensive than building the exact same bridge anywhere in the lower 48.

These “facts” may be true, but they don’t support the AP’s accusation because they have no relevant context. The AP shows it’s bias because it presents these facts in a manner that makes them appear relevent.

PALIN: “There is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state senate.”

THE FACTS: Compared to McCain and his two decades in the Senate, Obama does have a more meager record. But he has worked with Republicans to pass legislation that expanded efforts to intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction and to help destroy conventional weapons stockpiles. The legislation became law last year. To demean that accomplishment would be to also demean the work of Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a respected foreign policy voice in the Senate. In Illinois, he was the leader on two big, contentious measures in Illinois: studying racial profiling by police and requiring recordings of interrogations in potential death penalty cases. He also successfully co-sponsored major ethics reform legislation.

The AP is not even addressing the same issue here. Gov. Palin’s assertion was that Obama has not “authored a single law or reform.” They never state that he has. They simply list a few laws that he “helped” pass. As far as the “two big, contentious measures in Illinois,” there are several points they don’t address. Did they become law? What do they mean “he was a leader” on those measures? Did he actually author them? Did he author any major sections? Again, an answer without relevant context.

PALIN: “The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes, raise payroll taxes, raise investment income taxes, raise the death tax, raise business taxes, and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars.”

THE FACTS: The Tax Policy Center, a think tank run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, concluded that Obama’s plan would increase after-tax income for middle-income taxpayers by about 5 percent by 2012, or nearly $2,200 annually. McCain’s plan, which cuts taxes across all income levels, would raise after tax-income for middle-income taxpayers by 3 percent, the center concluded.

Obama would provide $80 billion in tax breaks, mainly for poor workers and the elderly, including tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit for minimum-wage workers and higher credits for larger families.

He also would raise income taxes, capital gains and dividend taxes on the wealthiest. He would raise payroll taxes on taxpayers with incomes above $250,000, and he would raise corporate taxes. Small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year would see taxes rise.

They shoot themselves in the foot with this one. They say it themselves. McCain’s plan would cut taxes for everyone. Obama’s plan raises taxes on the wealthy and on successful small businesses. That sounds like what she said, with more detail. As far as how much each plan would increase after-tax income, notice that they only compare for the middle class. What about the poor, or the “upper-middle” classes?

MCCAIN: “She’s been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America’s energy supply … She’s responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s energy supply. I’m entertained by the comparison and I hope we can keep making that comparison that running a political campaign is somehow comparable to being the executive of the largest state in America,” he said in an interview with ABC News’ Charles Gibson.

THE FACTS: McCain’s phrasing exaggerates both claims. Palin is governor of a state that ranks second nationally in crude oil production, but she’s no more “responsible” for that resource than President Bush was when he was governor of Texas, another oil-producing state. In fact, her primary power is the ability to tax oil, which she did in concert with the Alaska Legislature. And where Alaska is the largest state in America, McCain could as easily have called it the 47th largest state — by population.

This one seems a bit of a wash, although I think that the size, terrain, and isolation of Alaska create unique challenges for a governor that balance out the smaller population. Under the Alaska constitution, the oil belongs to the people of Alaska, and the oil companies lease the right to drill and sell it. I believe that the governor’s office is responsible for any lease negotiations that come up, and for interfacing with the oil companies otherwise. Beyond that, I don’t really know enough about the governor’s role in managing Alaska’s oil to comment. Though I do believe that is more than the governor of Texas does.

MCCAIN: “She’s the commander of the Alaska National Guard. … She has been in charge, and she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities,” he said on ABC.

THE FACTS: While governors are in charge of their state guard units, that authority ends whenever those units are called to actual military service. When guard units are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, they assume those duties under “federal status,” which means they report to the Defense Department, not their governors. Alaska’s national guard units have a total of about 4,200 personnel, among the smallest of state guard organizations.

Again, I don’t really know enough about how much interaction a governor has with their National Guard to comment here, though I do believe that any border state deals with national security issues. Additionally, unlike any other border state, Alaska shares a water border with a less-than-friendly nation with a history of aggression – Russia. Given Alaska’s isolation from the rest of the U.S., that has to be a concern of any Alaskan governor.

FORMER ARKANSAS GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Palin “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States.”

THE FACTS: A whopper. Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor’s election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries.

I have to think this is just jumping on a misstatement. My bet is that Huckabee intended to say that she got a higer percentage of the vote than Biden. For him to have meant it the way they say here would simply be non-sensical. Without knowing the actual numbers, of course, I can’t say if he would have been right or not.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV. MITT ROMNEY: “We need change, all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington — throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin.”

THE FACTS: A Back-to-the-Future moment. George W. Bush, a conservative Republican, has been president for nearly eight years. And until last year, Republicans controlled Congress. Only since January 2007 have Democrats have been in charge of the House and Senate.

I can’t say much to that, except that Republican – especially over the last eight years – doesn’t neccessarily equal conservative. Don’t forget that one of the biggest complaints conservatives have had in recent years has been about RINOs – Republicans In Name Only. This is one reason “change” has been such a popular message this election, and why Gov. Palin is so popular with conservatives.

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