Usually, the Cheerleader of the Week is a media hack cheering for his favorite Democrat or liberal cause. This week’s cheerleader is cheering for the media, which is itself both a liberal cause and a cheerleader of other liberal causes, which makes John Kirch a sort of meta-cheerleader.
Kirch writes what is supposed to be a takedown of Bernie Goldberg’s recent media criticism on Fox News, in which the longtime critic of partisan media hackery considers why former media darling John McCain is now on the outs with the ink-stained wretches. The reasons will be familiar to anybody who reads NRO, and they are: 1. he’s running against a Democrat instead of badmouthing right-wingers; 2. he might win. It’s No. 2 that really seems to get the media’s collective goat.
Nowhere in this tirade did Goldberg provide any evidence to support his contention that reporters are consciously supporting progressives over conservatives. Goldberg cited no interviews with reporters, surveys that uncovered liberal tendencies among national political journalists, or any other kind of rigorous scientific study of media bias. He simply stated his opinion as fact, and we are suppose to buy it.
Moreover, there is no evidence to support Goldberg’s premise that McCain’s coverage is negative and Obama’s is positive. Until an objective content analysis of media coverage is conducted, there is simply no way to know whether any one candidate’s coverage is positive, negative or neutral. For one thing, how do you define positive or negative?
This critique is lame and daffy, which is exactly what one expects from a college journalism teacher. Goldberg gets up in the morning, reads his New York Times and his Washington Post, and goes to talk about it on Fox News, and sometime between morning and afternoon he’s expected to conduct or commission a “rigorous scientific study of media bias”? The news moves quickly; rigorous scientific study does not. It’s rigorous. And scientific. And slow. People ask Goldberg to talk about the media because 1. he’s worked in the media since the Late Paleolithic and in that time has compiled some useful observations; 2. he put those observations into a useful and illuminating book, and a solid body of work that has earned him the reputation of somebody who has interesting things to say about the media. It’s not that he “simply stated his opinion as fact, and we are suppose to buy it” — it’s that he stated his opinion and argued for it. Maybe he’s persuasive, maybe not. But the idea that people with real-world experience need to wait around for guys in lab coats and social-science types with elbow patches on their corduroy blazers to conduct a scientific survey before they give their read on a fast-moving situation is risible.
On the other hand, there is a pretty vast body of scholarship, reportage, and commentary on the subject of media bias. If Kirch thinks that some of this fine objective scholarship contradicts Goldberg’s analysis, why doesn’t he cite it? Come on, professor — thrall us with your acumen.
There are some fair questions to be asked about what constitutes evidence in journalism. We have pretty good guidelines for what constitutes evidence in science, and even in the social sciences, but journalism is, for better and for worse, mostly about judgment. Is this source crazy or not? Is this source well-informed or not? Is this source authoritative or not? There’s a lot of ad-hominem reasoning in journalism, and it’s legitimate in that context.
But what Kirch is engaged in here is basically an eighth-grade debater’s trick, something that feels sophisticated and slick when you’re about 14 years old, arguing that you can only draw conclusions from premises that can be proven with scientific precision or to courtroom evidentiary standards. But journalism isn’t math, and television commentary isn’t scientific discourse. If that’s going to be Kirch’s standard, then we should close up the newspapers tomorrow and wait for the historians and social scientists to tell us what really happened in the 2008 election — in 40 or 50 years. It’s a way from having to argue with the likes of Bernie Goldberg, who would naturally eviscerate Kirch in a debate.
For having the weakest and less persuasive defense of the media against allegations of bias, James Kirch of the Washington Examiner wins the coveted golden pom-pons and the title of Cheerleader of the Week. Keep him in mind if your kids want to major in journalism.