"If that offends them, so be it."
March 30, 2024 2:58 PM   Subscribe

"Our Trump reporting upsets some readers, but there aren’t two sides to facts" A letter from The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) editor Chris Quinn
posted by box (45 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Automatically doing better than every single big player in American media.
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on March 30 [43 favorites]

There's a great piece of analysis from The Economist measuring the use of partisan language in American journalism: American journalism sounds much more Democratic than Republican -- Whether this reflects bias or reality is in the eye of the beholder (Dec 2023) . It's worth reading the whole thing, they have charts (and Beyoncé references), but here's a summary:


> Most public estimates of news sources’ partisan leanings rely on subjective ratings. Political scientists seeking an objective approach have used the language in politicians’ speeches to set a baseline and compared stories with that.

> [...] In an effort to provide a measure of partisan slant that is comprehensive, impartial and up-to-date, we have applied this academic approach to the output in recent years of a wide range of news sources. We find that there is indeed an affinity between the media and the left, because journalists tend to prefer the language used by Democratic lawmakers. Moreover, this disparity has grown since the start of Donald Trump’s presidency. As a result, the number of media sources covering politics in balanced language has dwindled.


> [...] Are conservatives right to see the media as a whole, rather than just specific outlets, as hostile terrain? Our results suggest so. Of the 20 most-read news websites with available data, 17 use Democratic-linked terms more than Republican-linked ones. The same is true of America’s six leading news sources on tv, of which Fox is the only one where conservative language predominates.

> This Democratic slant has grown over time, driven mainly by changes in once-centrist outlets. In 2017 cnn used more Republican terms than Democratic ones, while msnbc and the evening news on abc, cbs and nbc had only modestly left-leaning scores of around 1.5 phrases per 10,000. By 2022, the broadcast channels and cnn had Democratic leanings of near 2.5, and msnbc had reached 5.5, putting it twice as far from the centre as Fox.

> In written journalism the shift has been smaller but in the same direction. In 2017 the New York Times, Washington Post and cnn’s website all had mild Democratic leanings: around 1.5. This put them a bit closer to conservative sources like Fox News’s website, whose average Republican slant in 2017-22 was two, than to left-wing sites like Vox, whose average Democratic leaning in those years was seven. By 2022 these sites’ left-of-centre slants had grown to four, three and three, leaving them much closer to lefty alternatives.


> [...] our scoring method cannot distinguish between media bias and asymmetric polarisation. Is journalism more left-wing, or have Republicans just sailed further from reality than Democrats? Either could raise the share of Democratic language in media—and in the case of stories describing Mr Trump’s false claims of electoral fraud as “the big lie”, for example, both have probably played a part. Yet journalists can still say that one party’s views are closer to the truth than the other’s without relying on partisan language.
posted by are-coral-made at 3:27 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

Artw: Automatically doing better than every single big player in American media.

They are owned by a very big player, so we'll see how long this independent editorial line lasts.
posted by clawsoon at 4:03 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

Judging by the example phrase given in that Economist article, I strongly suspect the "asymmetrical polarization" critique is correct. I'm pretty certain that "Democrat Party" is one of the conservative phrases in their dictionary, for ex, and that "Democratic Party" skews liberal. But that doesn't mean outlets using the latter are showing partisan bias, it means Republicans and their outlets have invented an inflammatory slur that responsible outlets stay away from.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:08 PM on March 30 [41 favorites]

Are conservatives right to see the media as a whole, rather than just specific outlets, as hostile terrain? Our results suggest so.

My reading of this piece suggests their fundamental basis of inference is whack. And I think they are especially assholes because some of them must know it.

But glad to see the Cleveland PD trying to do the right thing!
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:12 PM on March 30 [22 favorites]

Reality has a Democratic slant...
posted by Windopaene at 4:19 PM on March 30 [22 favorites]

Newspapers on the whole talk normal human English and not MAGA nut speak, yes, that is probably true.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on March 30 [45 favorites]

SaltySalticid: My reading of this piece suggests their fundamental basis of inference is whack.

I dunno. A free press has always been a fundamentally liberal project (whatever else you might like or dislike about liberalism). It's not surprising that conservatism, especially the reactionary sort of Louis-Napoleon-strongman/Franco-and-the-Church conservatism that we're seeing today, wouldn't be appreciated by a primary defender of the liberal part of liberal democracy.
posted by clawsoon at 4:28 PM on March 30 [12 favorites]

On the subject of that survey of journalistic language. I really do hate the way The Centre is referred to as if it is an unchanging thing, and an automatic neutral Good Thing. It depends what you are in the centre of, obviously. If politics moves to the right, and you stand still, you do not become more left wing by any meaningful measure, except by comparison to an illusory middle ground. It's why the right wing have been so invested in shifting the overton window to make perfectly reasonable politics appear extreme, while normalising their extremity. Using democratic language isn't a measure of party bias if one side is literally talking bullshit - because bullshit doesn't merit reporting as fact. Look at the right wing press during Weimar, for example.

But ffs. The middle ground between Mussolini and Hitler isn't a neutral zone. And even putting Stalin, say, on the other end of the scale doesn't make The Centre make sense or become desirable. And that's before we even get to politics not being a single, directional line; for example, autocracy of any sort is a common ground regardless of what its dictator is doing it in the name of.

I'm not saying Biden is Mussolini - he's older and inspires fewer people, for starters (this is a joke, obvs) - but unless you can talk about what the relative positions are in themselves, then what's the point? Sure, relative to each other in meaningful ways, but not a centre. Plotting these things against a mobile central point between two non-equal expressions of ideas is worse than meaningless - it seems meaningful at the same time as poisoning meaning.

I like the OP a lot. Just because there's two sides to a story doesn't mean one of them isn't measurably wrong. But focussing on the centre as if it was a transparent thing in itself - some kind of by definition reliable anchor for the scale - is what makes truth become relative. And that's how we end up with absolutists getting away in the press with bending reality as the norm. Because navigating by the centre isn't the same as reporting the truth
posted by onebuttonmonkey at 4:49 PM on March 30 [22 favorites]

But that doesn't mean outlets using the latter are showing partisan bias, it means Republicans and their outlets have invented an inflammatory slur that responsible outlets stay away from.

Agreed. Their examples demonstrate this: "undocumented immigrant" vs "illegal alien" is not a balanced comparison. "Illegal alien" is a phrase intended to tap into the fear and anger that the right has been stoking in their base for 50+ years now. They want to cast immigrants as "other" and they've baked their policy right into the phrase itself; "illegal aliens" don't belong here and they should be arrested, detained, expelled. The worst you can say about "undocumented immigrant" is that it might be euphemistic, depending on usage. But it's not prescriptive. It's not dehumanizing or condemnatory. They're just immigrants who aren't documented. Do they belong here? Should they be detained or removed? It's not clear from the phrase itself. Just like the situation in actual reality, that's something that we'd need more context to understand and to develop a reasonable policy toward. It's not neatly packaged with the opinion you're supposed to have about it.

The other example is a bit murkier, but "unborn baby" is still pretty clearly intended to support a pro-birth agenda. The problem with "reproductive health" is that it's vague and it's sometimes used purposefully so by liberals like Biden who don't want to say the word "abortion". We should be better than euphemism, when it comes to the health and personal autonomy of more than half of the population. But even as euphemism, it's not the policy-baked-into-the-phrase that the Right loves so much.

I mean, maybe it's just that I'm steeped in leftist language and I can't see the slant objectively, but it seems pretty clear on the face of it that the "Democratic" language here is maybe a degree or two left at worst, while the "Republican language" is unmistakably skewed right. Unless they publish their full list and there are a lot more egregious examples of leftist language there, this seems like a pretty useless survey that tells us what we already knew. Media that aims to minimize bias avoids language with baked-in bias. No kidding.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 4:50 PM on March 30 [19 favorites]

I had a long thing about how item-response models are a perfectly cromulent way of doing ideal point estimation but then I broke through their stupid paywall and they aren't even doing that so

My reading of this piece suggests their fundamental basis of inference is whack.

Yeah, it's totally shit for brained. Absolutely 100% "Democrats are biased because they say "Obama" instead of "Fartbongo.""
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:05 PM on March 30 [44 favorites]

The article linked in the FPP is really good.
posted by biogeo at 5:06 PM on March 30 [19 favorites]

Metafilter: saying "Obama" instead of "Fartbongo."
posted by onebuttonmonkey at 5:11 PM on March 30 [10 favorites]

for the media to slant Conservative according to those measures, they'd have to start printing hate speech, slang, and lies as if it were valid discourse
posted by kokaku at 5:17 PM on March 30 [24 favorites]

Fuck me, I'm tired of avoiding media because of the nutbugger right slant they all seem to have. Democratic slant, because they don't use maga-speak? I have to laugh. Most media outlets seem to bend over backwards to not suggest that Jan 6th was an insurrection and that Trump is a criminal who should have been marched in front of a firing squad.
This was a good read. Thank you Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Chris Quinn. A goddamned breath of fresh air.
posted by evilDoug at 6:45 PM on March 30 [23 favorites]

Indeed what a lot of media outlets do is take the nutty MAGA Jan 6th shit and dress it up in fancier language to pretend it’s plausible. It’s doing conservatives a favor by doing this, not displaying bias.
posted by Artw at 7:26 PM on March 30 [14 favorites]

It’s doing conservatives a favor by doing this, not displaying bias.

Well, it's both doing conservatives a favor, and showing bias, but bias toward a world view where demagoguery matters more than truth.
posted by Ickster at 8:03 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

It's a pretty fucked place we're in when something as basic as this reasonable piece engenders attention, not because of what it's saying but because it's actually exists.
I used to subscribe the the online NYT but gormless idiot sticks like David Brooks(what is it, exactly, that MAGA wants, repeated ad nauseam) and Ross 'Incels are just like you and me' Douthat ended my time with them.
There are endless examples of this at the paper of record but these 2 are what comes to mind.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:42 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

We are not even a week past one of the largest television networks in the country backtracking on its baffling decision to hire the recently-dethroned chairperson of the Republican Party as a news commentator, a decision that was only reversed after their journalistic staff threatened to revolt over the network going a bit too far.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:22 PM on March 30 [8 favorites]

FPP good. Economist article is idiotic bullshit that we don't need to discuss here, or anywhere.
posted by Anoplura at 9:28 PM on March 30 [14 favorites]

During the past 20-something years, the right has entirely removed itself from reality. Which means that intelligent conservative-leaning people have withdrawn from politics or become liberals. Which then again means that the right is steadily becoming insaner every day.
Even as a leftist, I think this is sad. I believe informed political discourse is a good thing. The left becomes stupider when it isn't challenged in a meaningful way.
posted by mumimor at 2:12 AM on March 31 [11 favorites]

It is healthy in a democracy for citizens to be exposed to evidence-backed arguments and viewpoints that challenge their pre-existing beliefs or narratives. Chris Quinn & co at cleveland.com are providing such a service to their right-leaning readers. Hopefully enough of those readers keep reading cleveland.com & thinking things through critically before the election, and do not switch to competing news vendors that offer them a more comforting and less challenging news product.

One thing that might happen, for better or worse, is a bunch of right-leaning readers who are upset with cleveland.com's coverage of their favored presidential candidate decide to switch to get their news from a more right-leaning source. I guess that's a consequence of (i) their being many news/news-ish entertainment vendors on offer with many flavors of bias to choose from, (ii) it being very cheap and easy to switch, (iii) the "we can make more money by telling our audience what they want to hear" type feedback loop (Fox's 2020 election coverage being the most egregious example), and also (iv) a common quirk of human behavior where, when presented with evidence that contradicts a previously-held belief, people double down on their belief and reject the evidence. There's maybe a splash of such behavior on display in this thread.

I reckon it'd be easy to start taking steps along the path of "Trump is a huge threat to democracy, therefore our goal is maximizing the chances our readers to do not vote for Trump" and then using that goal as the way of guiding editorial decisions of how news is framed and which stories make the cut to be included as news, and which are excluded. That path seems likely to slip into "end justifies the means" where at some point the facts also become negotiable in service of the goal.

It was interesting to see Quinn write "The north star here is truth". A principled position would be to strive to report on the truth without consideration of how people may react to it. I imagine focusing on the truth is hard work that in the long run does not win you many friends -- eventually you would piss off everyone on all sides of all debates by reporting on truths they would prefer not to read.
posted by are-coral-made at 4:32 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

They are owned by a very big player, so we'll see how long this independent editorial line lasts.

Advance are a bunch of union-busting assholes but they do seem to hold to basic journalism standards, where the editors & staff have free reign on decisions about what to cover and how - this is not the first time the PD has openly noted that Trump and Republicans in general are existing in a fact-free alternate reality. (Also, Advance has owned the PD since like 1967, so they've had decades to come up with more subtle ways to put their thumb on the scale, if that's what they're interested in.)

Criticism of the PD tends to center around 1) how willing they are to take a poke at local and state power structures - the answer being "maybe sometimes", which I suspect is a common issue with mid-level newspapers. And 2) their approach to official political endorsements tends towards the bizarre - for example, they endorsed the highly progressive Nina Turner in her run for US House in '22, but a year later refused to produce an official stance at all on Issue 1 which enshrined the right to abortion and women's health in the Ohio constitution. There was also the time - I can't remember exactly which race it was & can't find it now, something like one of John Kasich's (R) runs for governor, or one of Senator Sherrod Brown's (D) campaigns - where the local publisher/CEO wanted to endorse the Republican, and the editorial staff went, "Absolutely not", and they never resolved the disagreement so they never endorsed anyone, which itself became a bit of a news story.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:45 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]

I’ve started it a half dozen times since November but turned to other topics each time because this needle hard to thread.

I love the message but was startled to see a typo in an editor's piece. Can't have it all, I'll take it anyway.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:50 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]

Editors know you can’t edit your own work. Also, his job at the paper is as the content editor (not a copy editor). And would he be upset that a copy editor missed that typo? Nope. Newspapers don’t aim for perfection, they aim for like 1 mistake every 500 words.
posted by Headfullofair at 6:29 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]

Ok? Still hate seeing typos, and I do expect people to check their own work first, so that's two layers of people missing it. It always chips ever so slightly against "care was taken with this." As I said, I'll take the message!
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:08 AM on March 31

A free press has always been a fundamentally liberal project

And yet, as Caroline Elkins notes in Legacy of violence : a history of the British empire, a free press is also an essential part of making the horrors of imperialism palatable to the populace. As long as there are enough stories of booming home industries and “Our Boys Victorious at Driefontein” and relatively few of enforced famines in the colonies and pictures of Lizzie van Zyl (CW, do not search: can't-unseeable image of British-run concentration camp victim), then liberalism's gonna ism along.
posted by scruss at 7:13 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]

What you have to understand is, the PD is not a hard-hitting newspaper. J.K. Simmons does not work there. It's a milquetoast affair, for the most part, in 2024 -- published a few times a week, filled with articles from other sources, a shadow of its former self, and its former self was a milquetoast affair with a much larger staff. So for the PD to take this stand is saying a lot. On the one hand, they have very little to lose; but on the other hand, they have everything they have left to lose. It's brave, but I think it's also an indication of just how plain the truth of what Trump is...well...how plain it is. Can we get a copy editor in here, please?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:43 AM on March 31 [11 favorites]

Aye, scruss, that's why I added the liberalism disclaimer. :-) It was reading Coffeeland that really brought home for me the sort of horrors that liberal reformers caused, especially in places that didn't share the European liberal's view of the holy sanctity of private property.

(As somebody pointed out, when the free press is threatened from the right, liberalism allies itself with the left, but when private property is threatened from the left, liberalism allies itself with the right.)
posted by clawsoon at 7:44 AM on March 31

I almost didn't favorite this post, because it was currently at "45 users have marked this as a favorite" and that seemed kind of perfect.
posted by xedrik at 8:00 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Reality has a Democratic slant...

As a more specific case of reality having a liberal bias.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 AM on March 31

Reality might have a liberal bias, but politics has a conservative one. Once someone gets a bit of power, that power helps them get more power, and pretty soon you have a hierarchy that's telling everybody that they deserve to run everything because they descended from the sun god.
posted by clawsoon at 9:09 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]

love the message but was startled to see a typo in an editor's piece

You startle real easy.
posted by spitbull at 9:20 AM on March 31 [17 favorites]

Just as a note on usage, please stop using the word "Republican" to refer to the Trump Party. Instead of "journalism sounds much more Democratic than Republican," say "journalism sounds much more Democratic than Trump."

Or instead of, "recently-dethroned chairperson of the Republican Party," "recently-dethroned chairperson of the Trump Party."

Because that's what it is. It is not the Republican Party in any meaningful sense and hasn't been for a long time. It is the Trump Party and will remain so. It may call itself the Republican Party, but that doesn't make it so. Words have meaning. I may call myself the International Monetary Fund, but I am not.

So for clarity's sake, Trump Party from now on, please.
posted by Naberius at 9:28 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]

Let me take a wild guess before reading: The Economist didn't use any actual leftist politicians or news sources in their analysis, just centrist ones that they called "left" because the US political spectrum is... let's be polite and say "quirky". But "status quo preserved by status quo institutions and the people who support and are supported by them" doesn't sound so exciting or newsworthy. Does that about sum it up?
posted by eviemath at 9:34 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Fartbongo.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:35 AM on March 31 [10 favorites]

Just as a note on usage, please stop using the word "Republican" to refer to the Trump Party. Instead of "journalism sounds much more Democratic than Republican," say "journalism sounds much more Democratic than Trump."

In-groups must always be judged by the worst of the people they allow inside their walls. If "good" conservatives don't want to be all lumped in with the Klan, MAGA, QANON, Fox News, etc., then it is not up to the rest of us to differentiate. It is up to them to police (ha!) their own ranks.
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:30 AM on March 31 [9 favorites]

Is this where I can complain that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, our allegedly far-left state broadcaster, has been running Putin's propaganda lines? Every time I hand a hand-wringingly anxious CBC article about the war in Ukraine, that same media line is usually later discussed by the Institute for the Study of War as a Putin information operation. If a part-time news reader like myself can learn to identify propaganda, why can't a full-time journalist learn to do so?
posted by SnowRottie at 10:33 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

And would he be upset that a copy editor missed that typo?

Bold of you to assume this newspaper still employs a copy editor
posted by rhymedirective at 11:39 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]

When I was a teenager, I worked as a copy editor at a college newspaper in Ohio. On production days, which for copy editors always included lots of time spent waiting for something to do, the other copy editor and I made a game of looking for mistakes in professionally-produced newspapers.

(The college newspaper subscribed to the Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, etc., and there were usually a few alternative weeklies in the newsroom. Like I said, this was a long time ago.)

There are probably some errors in the Plain Dealer.
posted by box at 5:48 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Glad to see Chris Quinn write this. He generally writes about Beetle Bailey.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 12:00 PM on April 1

So for clarity's sake, Trump Party from now on, please.

Thanks but no. Trump Party vs Republican Party is a meaningless distinction at this point, and by making it we imply that there exists a true Republican Party out there somewhere, unstained by association with Trump, just waiting for this temporary madness to pass before resuming their rightful role in American democracy.

No. Republicanism is Trumpism, body and soul, but it's still the Republican Party. And once Trump is gone they'll seek another populist demagogue to serve as the face of their steady creep toward fascism, and they'll continue that process until the American experiment in democracy has ended. There is no Republican Party left to save. This is who they are.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:12 PM on April 1 [14 favorites]

The GOP's extremism problem predates Trump, by David Lurie, from Aaron Rupar's "Public Notice" SubStack
posted by soundguy99 at 5:33 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]

« Older Hallucination attack   |   You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.