Failures of media outlets, part I

Today's failure of the mainstream media is inserting "balance" into a story where there is none. The media often gives groups the appearance of legitimacy by acting as if some issue is open for debate, when in fact the issue clearly favors one side or the other. As George Orwell often wrote, language is extremely important in framing issues, and a falsely balanced story can give readers a skewed perception of reality. Example #1 is this NYT story on the continued unrest in Iran. The "balance" in the story is that the Mousavi camp disputes the election results, and the Ahmadinejad camp, which won the election, calls it legitimate. All of the evidence the NYT presents about the disputed election is from the Mousavi camp, which may lead the reader to conclude that their protesting is all sour grapes. But we know the election was thrown. Ahmadinejad won, in every province and region of Iran, between 66 and 69 percent of the vote, with over 85% of those eligible to vote casting a vote. Not only is that impossible (the more people who tend to vote in an election, the closer it gets), but Iran's own elections commission called the results illegitimate. Furthermore, the early returns suggested a win for Mousavi, and the Interior Ministry even called to congratulate him on his victory, and then abruptly changed course and announced wildly different results. The Mousavi camp is not rioting in the streets because they're mad their candidate lost; they're mad because some conspirators have fixed the election and their candidate, in all likelihood, won over 50% of the vote. But the impression you get from the article is that one side is simply whining while the other side rejoices. In the interest of "balance," the NYT has given the Ahmadinejad position the appearance of legitimacy, when it's clearly the case that he did not actually win the election. Readers would come away from the article with a skewed perception of the rioters' reasons for rioting. Example #2 is the continued cowardice of the media on the issue of torture in US prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Waterboarding is torture under the Geneva Convention, which we have signed. The United States has prosecuted several other governments and individuals for waterboarding, in statements which clearly label it "torture." A waterboard is now prominently displayed in a museum in Cambodia on the Khmer Rouge's use of torture to elicit false confessions during the Vietnam War. Christopher Hitchens and Mancow Muller, who agreed to be waterboarded and each lasted less than ten seconds, agree that it is torture, as does Jesse Ventura (and do take time to watch those videos, as they are gut wrenching and prove the point more effectively than words). We have tortured detainees in other ways, including depriving them of sleep (by chaining their ankles to the wall) for days at a time, forcing them into cramped boxes, forcing them into public nudity, beating them, and so on. Nearly 100 inmates have died in US custody, some as a result of torture. But the media continues to act as if the issue is in doubt, only because Republicans believe the issue to be in doubt, labeling all torture as "enhanced interrogation techniques," which suggests something a tough guy might do to you if you get in trouble with the casinos or the Mafia. This is despite the fact that when other people do the things the USA has done in its prisons, the media calls it torture. This is done in the interest of "balance," because Democrats call it torture but Republicans don't. Imagine that some senator woke up tomorrow and declared that they believed that the circumference of a circle was three times the diameter, not 3.14159 etc, because the Bible says so. If this is news, "balance" requires the reporter to say that "The senator presented evidence that the circumference is three, while Harry Reid declared this preposterous and that the true value is 3.14" or some such thing. Nowhere in the article does the statement's actual truth get evaluated. Meanwhile you have a whole group of readers who leave the article believing that there is real doubt surrounding the ratio of a circumference to the diameter, and that we just don't know what the value is. The MSM can't just call the Senator's position bullshit, because of "balance." Hopefully that will change soon.

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