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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

What Does Robert George Want, Exactly?

I reprint, with comment, this post from Robert George:

So now, it seems, we have rather a good test for the elite media. We know how reporters and commentators would be reacting to this story if the people arrested were (or were thought to be) tea party activists, do we not?

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/bombmaking_in_the_village_LoRDqNzP02SDZyfC1pLVXN

So how will they react now?

I predict that the story will be covered by Fox News and some conservative journalists (the link I provided is to the report in the conservative-leaning New York Post) and largely ignored by most of the mainstream media--print, broadcast, and on-line.  I hope I'm wrong about that.  In any event, the folks at the New York Times, NBC, CNN, etc. will certainly not use the story to blacken Occupy Wall Street or the political left.  They will not do what they almost certainly would be doing if the persons arrested had been tea party people.  Of course, we've all more or less gotten used to this double standard; at this point even most conservatives have resigned themselves to it.  But that doesn't mean it's not a problem. The common good of a democratic polity does not require a pristinely unbiased media, but it requires far more evenhandedness than ours gives us. Especially in circumstances of pluralism such as ours, groupthink in the media is not a good thing.  It is even worse than groupthink in academia, though that too is bad--for everyone.

The story is new to me, although one can find an "elite media" report on it here, and another story with a statement from Occupy Wall Street here

A couple of comments.

First, I'm not clear on whether George includes Fox News or the New York Post under the rubric of "elite media" or not. Obviously, one or both belong there (and, also obviously, both are terrible news organizations), but his post is a little ambiguous on this point.

Second, it would surely be helpful if George were a little more upfront about what he wants. Is it equality, or quality? Does he think stories of either kind should be played up for all they're worth, or that stories of both kinds should be covered to the extent and with the care they deserve? I assume he thinks the Times would be wrong not to cover such a story (but it did cover it), but I can't tell whether he thinks the Post played it fairly or not. I gather, although I'm not sure, that he thinks that the "elite media" have used other stories to blacken the "political right" unfairly; so does he think the Post's story unfairly blackens the political left, or that it gets it just right (and thus, presumably, that some of those other stories blackening the political right also got it right), or what? 

Finally, I do think George has a point, of course. But he also demonstrates the capacity of stereotyped, lazy thinking and reading to weaken an otherwise presumably able mind. The plural of anecdote is not data, of course. I have read stories along the way about the Tea Party in elite media sources (I don't pay attention to television news of any sort, as a rule) that have, in my view, unfairly tarred it by association with its most extreme members. Those stories were most common, unsurprisingly, when the Tea Party was in its earlier, less organized or co-opted stages and the story was new; that's generally when the media makes the most mistakes. Those stories hardly constitute the common run of stories about the Tea Party in the elite media, many of which may be critical of the "group" but also take it entirely seriously as a large political movement--more seriously, certainly, than they do Occupy Wall Street (and with good reason).

I do find it necessary, in reading the "elite media," to separate the wheat from the chaff; it's also fairly clear to me that its work consists more of wheat than chaff. I'm not sure that is true of the work of the Post or Fox News. I'm sorry that George has resigned himself to any double standards in the elite news media at all; he shouldn't. But it's also clear to me that if these stereotypes are all he is getting from his reading of those media (if he reads them), then he is operating under a heavy dose of groupthink himself. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 1, 2013 at 12:19 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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Comments

If Prof. George had consulted some truly elite media, which specialize in stories like this, namely,

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2256072/Morgan-Gliedman-arrested-keeping-explosives-apartment-robbed-man-February.html

he would have learned that this is a story about "well-to-do junkies not terrorists" to quote a police officer.

What Prof. George really wants is to perpetuate the myth that there is some kind of equivalence between the right and the left, as though the Tea Party, with actual allies in Congress, is somehow the mirror image of the Occupy movement, which can claim no such access to the corridors of power.

Posted by: Brian | Jan 2, 2013 12:20:33 PM

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