Friday, September 16, 2011

Ron Paul vs. The Lamestream Media

I've posted a number of articles here that reflect my lack of tolerance for accusations of media bias. Even setting aside the frequency with which the "Bias!" label is thrown at opinions, predictions, jokes, and other things clearly not intended to be objective, I tend to find the discussions surrounding media bias more redundant and distracting than constructive. Of course the media is biased—the liberal media has a liberal bias, and the conservative media has a conservative bias.[1] The liberal media is larger and more pervasive, while the conservative media is louder and more knowingly partisan, so it seems like it roughly cancels out, and regardless they're both pretty terrible at doing the important things we (naively?) expect the media to do.

Even worse, a lot of complaints of media bias are actually cases of the Sarah Palin Paradox (I just now made up the name, but it's something I wrote about back in April), which goes like this: If you're capable, via the printed word or some form of electronic transmission, of making it widely known that you feel your voice is being suppressed by the media, then your voice is no longer being suppressed, for you have in fact used the media to amplify it. And if you're capable of making it widely known that you feel your message is being distorted, then your message is no longer being distorted, for you have used the media to clarify it.

I say all this primarily to establish some credibility. Now, when I spend the rest of this article doing exactly what I can't stand—griping about media bias—it should be that much more meaningful. Or hypocritical.

Anyway, last week I wrote about a question Ron Paul was asked in whichever of the last half dozen Republican debates was moderated by Chris Wallace: "Are you suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise of liberty?" Paul's response—that things like that should be decided at the state level, and, by the way, maybe we should have more faith in our ability to not do things that are dangerous, regardless of legality—was reported on with all the nuance and subtlety of a Michael Bay-directed action sequence. For example, here's a quote from a Time article about Obama's re-election chances:
[F]ive of the Republican candidates for President gathered in South Carolina for their first official debate. It was a weird show, newsworthy only because Congressman Ron Paul came out in favor of legalizing heroin, cocaine and prostitution.
And an editorial by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, which discussed the debate via the condescending premise that none of the "adults" attended, leaving the "juveniles" on their own:
At Thursday night’s debate in South Carolina, Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul explained why heroin and prostitution should be legal and why the Department of Homeland Security should be eliminated.
And a Mother Jones piece listing "Ron Paul's 15 Most Extreme Positions":
7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.
8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.
As I pointed out last week, Paul didn't argue for legalization; he argued for leaving it up to the states, which is very different, but whatever. The knee-jerk reaction to the idea of legalizing heroin makes a little bit of sense to me, as far as knee-jerk reactions go (talk about setting the bar low), but the righteous indignation over prostitution couldn't be more absurd, because prostitution is legal at the federal level. Apparently it never occurred to these journalists to ask themselves (or, even better, a knowledgeable bystander) just what the hell is going on in Nevada.[2]

So there's your media bias. A Republican presidential candidate—who, it should be noted, is doing alright in the polls—is widely ridiculed for, really, nothing. Especially in terms of the prostitution issue, where he merely offered an unemphatic defense of the legal status quo. And he wasn't even the one who brought it up.

Fortunately, there's a watchdog group out there combating anti-conservative bias with so much zealotry, they've been known to confuse bias with the mere asking of a difficult question.[3] Here's what NewsBusters had to say about the media's treatment of Ron Paul after that debate:
That's right, nothing.[4] And nothing from Media Matters either. Or Politifact. Or just about anyone else. The most prominent media outlet I can find that consistently sticks up for Paul's more socially libertarian views is, which is one of my favorite sites, but it's not exactly a media juggernaut.

Remember the Sarah Palin Paradox from earlier? How her portrayal of herself as the victim of an antagonistic media is undermined by her success in cultivating that image? Ron Paul is the person she's pretending to be. He's the one who says things the "lamestream media" doesn't want you to hear. He's the one who has to take his message straight to the people, because the media can't be bothered to simply report the facts fairly and objectively. He's the one whose voice is being suppressed.[5] And does he spend even half as much time complaining about how he's treated?

Really, I'm asking. Does he? If he does, I never hear about it.

1. That people can't seem to agree on even that much is an endless source of frustration. As is the closely-related inability to recognize that whatever your favorite source of commentary happens to be, it's still almost definitely biased in some way or another. In fact, that's probably why you like it.
2. This is as good a place as any to rant about Harry Reid's bizarre decision earlier this year to call on the legislators in his home state to ban prostitution:
Describing a meeting he had with a firm that would have opened a data center in the state—"a move that would have created desperately needed jobs"—Reid said the executives balked because prostitution remains legal in Nevada.

"Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment—not as the last place where prostitution is still legal," he continued. "When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers—not about its oldest profession."
So…the way to create jobs is to shut down an industry that employs thousands of people and exists (legally) only in Nevada, thereby enticing a handful of (possibly fictional) investors who want to do business in a place that's just like the other 49 states, except more desert-y. Whatever Reid's ulterior motive was (and I'm sure he had one, because there's no other reason to lazily advocate something with no chance of happening), I hope it backfired.
3. For example, there was this NewsBusters' article from January, which I had started to write about, but then the Tucson shooting happened and made it seem even more pointless than usual:
NBC's Meredith Vieira seemed baffled by the concept of taking a principled stand against Obamacare, as she repeatedly pressed Michele Bachmann, on Thursday's Today show, why Republicans would bother to vote to repeal the health care bill in the House if it wasn't going to get passed in the Senate or signed by the President? Vieira's very first question to the Republican Minnesota Congresswoman set the aggressive tone for the entire interview as she demanded: "Given the fact that the Democratic-led Senate will never go for that and the President has veto power, why make that the first big thing on your plate?"
So…House efforts to repeal healthcare reform were virtually guaranteed to have no tangible effect, which raises the obvious question of why House Republicans felt this was a worthwhile use of their time. It's not bias that Vieira asked Bachmann to defend the repeal effort. It would've been unprofessional not to ask. (Bachmann's defense of the repeal, in part: "Because it's not symbolic. It's real." She keeps using that word, "real". I do not think it means what she thinks it means.)
4. Granted, NewsBusters is supportive of Paul from time to time, like after the most recent debate:
On Tuesday, Chris Matthews wrongly accused Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of saying during the previous evening's debate he would let a critically ill person die if the patient didn't have health insurance.

Exactly how does Matthews and others on his so-called "news" network continue to get away with such blatant misrepresentations?
So…it's not like they refuse to come to Paul's defense altogether. They just don't do it unless they agree with him. Have I mentioned before that the overall level of respectability of America's various media watchdog organizations is distressingly low? (Yes, I have.)
5. Wow, I tried to hold it together, but it's really hard to complain about the media without sounding like a crazy person. Let me try those last three sentences again: He's the one who says things that, while defensible, are out of the mainstream, and thus not conducive to the simplified reporting people have grown accostomed to. He's the one who has to rely less on traditional media and more on Internet-facilitated grassroots organizing, which, even in this increasingly digital age, probably puts him at something of a disadvantage. He's the one whose voice is being…well, not suppressed, really, but a little harder to find than it should be. Is that better?


  1. To be, well, fair, the lefties over at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) have always complained about Paul's marginalization by the press. The FAIR blog has had three or four items on it just in the last few weeks. They've repeatedly made your point about Paul being the person Palin pretends to be (though they've used Michelle Bachmann, who behaves the same way, as their Palin). Jon Stewart did a very funny piece about Paul's marginalization on the Daily Show after the Iowa straw poll.

    Paul holds to some genuinely nutty right-wing views, but that's not what gets him marginalized--nearly the entire Republican field, at present, have right-wing views that are just as (and even more) insane, and they're treated as serious candidates by the corporate press on a daily basis, their nuttiness ignored and glossed over. With Paul--as with nearly everyone who ends up in his position--it's his views that are more readily associated with radical lefties that get him marginalized. Paul made a federalist argument in the debate you're referencing, and while you're right to draw a distinction between that and the view he is said to have endorsed at that event, it's also the case that Paul has been on record, for decades, as favoring the legalization of drugs and prostitution. Again, lefty, not righty, ideas. Maybe that's unimportant in the larger scheme of things. I think it is a distinction worth mentioning, because it is a comment on how the corporate press actually works (Dennis Kucinich's presidential bids, to mention but one example, were given the same treatment as Paul's, and for the same reasons).

    You cite that Newsbusters article from January, where the NB gang is complaining about--and portraying as "bias"--reporters asking really obvious questions. NB does that sort of thing all the time. When the phony debt ceiling "crisis" was ongoing, any reporter who asked why Republicans were insisting on spending the time of the House debating an unpassable balanced budget amendment was flagged for "liberal bias" (I wrote about this at the time).

  2. Sad truth about Media Research Center
    Its about Bias Not Accuracy
    As this guy ^^^^^^ explains

  3. @classiclibera2,
    Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reminding me about FAIR—I knew there was a group I was forgetting. They definitely have some good stuff (like this, which is an example of the Paul/Bachmann comparison you referred to, and also includes a link to that excellent Daily Show segment). But still, how big is FAIR's readership compared to the "big two"? I don't know, but I'm guessing a lot smaller. The best metric I know of is the Memeorandum leaderboard, which currently has Media Matters at #60 and NewsBusters at #64, and no other media watch groups in the top 100.

    Of course, that's what Footnote 5 is about. It's easy to be hyperbolic, but it's really not true that nobody is reporting on Ron Paul fairly, it's just that you have to dig a little deeper to find it, and unfortunately (but understandably) most people don't put in the extra effort.

    And you're right that it's his left-wing views that really force him to fend for himself. Maybe this should be an article of its own, but I'm as disappointed with Media Matters as I am with NewsBusters, which is at least dedicated enough to conservatism to defend conservative ideas, even when the person being criticized is someone they don't especially like. Media Matters, on the other hand, just ignores Ron Paul. On their website, there are a total of seven posts tagged with his name, and the last time they had anything positive to say (specifically, praising Paul for opposing the Iraq War from the beginning) was in October 2007.

  4. FAIR is a much smaller outfit than Media Matters, but it's been around a lot longer. It was born in 1986. The Media Research Center, in fact, was launched the next year in response to it.

    Some of the problems you're having with these orgs emerge from their differing missions. We call them all "media watchdogs," but they watch different things.

    The FAIR gang has a much wider liberal agenda than MMFA (or any of the others). Their mission, as they put it, is to democratize the media; to open them up to a wider range of voices. They've loudly complained about press marginalization of political candidates going back to at least the early '90s.

    Media Matters' stated mission is the identification and correction of right-wing misinformation in the press (in practice, it has become, in effect, "right-wing misinformation on Fox News, and I'm pretty critical of this way of doing business). Ignoring Paul doesn't really fit into this agenda.

    The MRC's stated mission is the identification of liberal bias, with the goal of neutralizing it. The example you cited of their defending Ron Paul was on a matter of one of his conservative views being challenged (as they would have it, "misrepresented"). Perfectly in line with their mission. The general marginalization of Paul by the press doesn't really fit very neatly into their mission, though.

    Paul IS generally marginalized for his leftist, not rightist, views, and those views are absolutely abhorrent to the MRC gang. If anyone not immediately identifiable with conservatism were to offer the same views in some major press outlet, the MRC would run articles denouncing the fact that those views were allowed to be printed or aired in the press at all.

    It's worth nothing, however, that, mission or no, Newsbusters published at least two articles decrying the marginalization of Herman Cain, earlier this year during that brief pre-self-destruct moment when Cain was the conservatives' Great Black Hope, but was excluded from the list of candidates offered in a pair of polls. I was a part of Newsbusters at the time, and remember commenting on those pieces.

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