Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Tuesday, August 12, 2003  

Further thoughts on Michael Tomasky's study of editorials in liberal and conservative newspapers. Since I first wrote about the article last week, it has been the subject of some debate (Arcturus, Rhetorica, Begging to Differ, and FrontPage). Predictably, conservatives were not convinced, and used that time-honored tradition of nitpicking details to avoid discussing the conclusions.

(There is some meager cover for the argument about methods advanced in some of these criticisms. It's impossible to find identically comparable situations to pair and discuss. But the criticisms mainly dispute Tomasky's motives and assumptions, and ignore his findings and conclusions. Yes, Tomasky's a liberal, but he didn't hide his work--it's right there for all to see. Let me critique the critics. You don't like the assumptions of Tomasky's study because you agree, not disagree with it: he was attempting to determine which papers were more partisan. Who's really surprised by his findings?)

I read the entire report, just to see what I thought of his methods and findings. I'll agree on the point that not all the pairs work as well in comparison. But there are two things that emerge unrebutted, and I'll bet they never will be: the conservative papers do not criticize their own, and when they criticize liberals, they do it in far more aggressive, personal language than the liberal papers.

The conservative papers were critical of Bush 7% of the time negative about Clinton 89%. The liberal papers were critical Bush 67% and Clinton 30%. Here's a challenge to those who question the methodology: select any period of time and merely count positives and negatives. If you choose the first year of both presidents' terms, do you think these proportions will change? Of course they won't. Which is, of course, Tomasky's point.

As to the language; this, too, is obvious. Here's one example (Tomasky provides dozens). During the Ashcroft nomination period, the Wall Street Journal wrote "With the crew that made Bork a verb now lining up to oppose John Ashcroft as Attorney General, you have to wonder precisely what lies are coming." I challenge anyone to find an occasion when either the Times or the Post has ever taken an ad hominem attack and dismissed a "crew" of Republicans as liars. Even when the President is caught in lies, those papers don't stoop to ad hom attacks.

Say what you will about Tomasky, but let's hear a legitimate defense about his conclusions, not his politics.

posted by Jeff | 11:07 AM |
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