Here’s another example of a reporter carefully sanitizing a left-leaning group as non-partisan. The link goes to an innuendo-filled article in the Christian Science Monitor about the Wisconsin Supreme Court election by CSM reporter Mark Guarino. Conservative David Prosser surged ahead in the vote count after 14,000 ballots were added to the state totals.
The article begins with the darkly passive “questions are being raised” formulation. Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus is a Republican who used to work for Prosser, leading to suspicions the vote was manipulated. Of course, the sources Guarino cites are nearly all identified as Democrats.
Then Guarino brings in a supposedly nonpartisan group called One Wisconsin Now to cast further doubt on the revised election results.
Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a non-partisan and non-profit advocacy group, said in a statement that his state “deserves elections that are fair, clean and transparent” and that “there is a history of secrecy and partisanship surrounding [Nickolaus] and there remain unanswered questions.”
I added the link to Scot Ross, so you’d get an idea of what a “non-partisan” looks like.
Guarino wants you to know that One Wisconsin Now is a “non-partisan and non-profit advocacy group.” But Guarino doesn’t want you to know is that it’s a left-leaning group. All he had to do was add the word “progressive” at the start of his description, and his readers would have more information about the “non-partisan” group’s political agenda — which attacks Republicans such as Prosser and supports Democrats.
A reporter committed to accuracy would let his readers know these facts. Instead, Gurarino deceives readers with a misleading half-truth.
What Guarino also doesn’t say — another example of bias by omission — is that Waukesha County’s election results were overseen by a Democratic party official who vouched for the updated results’ accuracy.
And left-leaning election analyst Nate Silver says the updated totals make sense, and the vote-counting error was caused by “incompetence,” not “conspiracy”.
Guarino pulled the same trick in an article about Obama’s plan for high-speed Internet access. The article quoted the hard-left advocacy group Free Press, describing it merely as “a nonprofit media advocacy group.” The group supports lefty causes such as funding public media, the alleged threat of media consolidation (when media is more diverse than ever — you’re reading an example right now), censorship of “hate speech” on talk shows, and a variety of government interventions in the media to advance “social justice” goals.
I wrote earlier on SD Rostra about how reporters can smuggle in their agenda by disguising a source’s bias. Add this one to your list of tricks to watch out for. And try this in your spare time — Google any institute or think tank described only as “nonpartisan,” and find out whether it has a political agenda not described in the article. Do this several times, and tally up how often the allegedly nonpartisan group is actually left-leaning, right-leaning, Libertarian, or genuinely nonpartisan.
(DISCLAIMER — This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times.)
“the Darkly passive ‘questions are being raised’ formulation”.
In EIGHT words you have given us new insight into
how news stories can be slanted. We’ve all seen
articles that began in exactly this way – for decades
we’ve seen them ! – but now you’ve decoded their
full meaning for us at last.
Exactamundo. Because “Democrats and a left-wing group are raising questions” just doesn’t have the same effect.
“Nonpartisan” is a meaningless term. It is used to intention convey the false impression that a group is objective and unbiased in their pronouncements.
Almost NO nonprofits are “directly affiliated with nor work(ing) for a political party.” One Wisconsin Now represents the viewpoints of several political parties — all well left of center. Similarly, Heritage, Cato, Hoover and other limited government think tanks represent the conservative and/or the libertarian view.
The media ALWAYS points out the bias of such “right wing” think tanks (as well they should!), but too often does not do its job when discussing those outfits on the left. If I had my way, the word “nonpartisan” would be all but banned from the media. Editors should demand more accurate disclosure — but usually don’t.
From time to time I’ll hammer on this point when some local media outlet pulling this stunt — and I make sure every media contact I have gets their copy. I figure that the best we can do is to try to embarrass them in front of their peers. A letter to the editor with this point is always a good idea as well.
Locally the labor union-connected San Diego Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) is too often used as a source on a story without disclosure of their left wing affinity and funding. ALWAYS publicly expose this shortcoming when you see it.
Bradley, you are a bit of a media oddball. It’s not just that you have libertarian proclivities — it’s that you publicly go after liberal media bias. Most media employees don’t have that kind of courage.
Thank you. And kudos to the NC TIMES for allowing your heresy on the Internet without repercussions.
Thank you. I consider being a media “oddball” a compliment, considering the disastrous loss of public trust the solons of journalistic rectitude have wrought. And yes, the NC Times deserves praise for allowing me to write about my opinions and perspectives. I appreciate the privilege.
Excellent blog post. This is a huge pet peeve of mine – I ALWAYS check the background of an org mentioned in an article, especially when the journalist says they’re “left-” or “right-leaning”.
Mr. Rider: back in early 2009, I emailed Adrian Florido after he (in my opinion) mischaracterized CPI as “left-leaning”. Here’s his follow-up where he mentions my concern with his mischaracterization: http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/survival/article_9365f725-63be-5ea0-8026-d772de9b1145.html.
Kudos to VOSD for mentioning this in a follow-up but I see that they either are ignoring this or don’t care because they still use the same characterization of CPI as left-leaning.
Mr. Fikes: is it common in the journalism world to take an org’s word for what they are or is it up to the journalist to find a term to characterize them? Is there a quick characterization (liberal or progressive vs. left-leaning) you would recommend?
Journalists should do their own research to find a term to characterize organizations, but it’s distressingly common for them to parrot what the group describes itself as being. This always seems to happen with lefty groups; one doesn’t see the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation described as “non-partisan,” although they’re every bit as much non-partisan under the law as the left-wing Union of Concerned Scientists, which gets a pass from the uninformed or consciously biased MSM.
As for the CPI, I’ll have to defend Adrian Florido on his use of the term “left-leaning.” He got the group’s general political orientation across, which is the most important thing. If all reporters did as Florido did in this case, I’d have no complaints.