Sunday, March 13, 2005[posted by jaed at 12:05 PM]
Pravda on the Hudson
I get the NYT's daily emailing of top stories. Today, it said:
Orlando Mayor Is Indicted in Absentee Ballot Caseand I knew at once, even though I've never heard of Buddy Dyer, that he's a Democrat. Because otherwise, the NYT would have said "Republican Mayor Buddy Dyer faces a felony charge of paying someone to collect absentee ballots before his election in a tight race last year."
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
Mayor Buddy Dyer faces a felony charge of paying someone to
collect absentee ballots before his election in a tight
race last year.
(To be fair, I decided to test my theory. And yes, there it is: "Mr. Dyer, a 47-year-old Democrat, vowed to fight the charges..." In paragraph ten. Two political affiliations are mentioned before Dyer's: the prosecutor and the mayor pro tem, we learn, are Republicans.)
This is how bias works in a respectable news organization: not so much what is said as what is not said. The NYT will never actually say, at least not on its news pages, that Republicans are more corrupt than Democrats. It simply creates, in subtle ways, an impression among its readers. Republicans who get into trouble will be identified as such, front and center. Democrats will be protected. Over time, those who skim the headline and the first couple of paragraphs of stories such as this will develop a vague feeling that Republicans are always being arrested, and that they haven't seen nearly as many stories about Democratic scandals.
All without telling a lie. Even without omitting the facts. Careful placement and emphasis are far more effective
It comes up in other contexts where the NYT takes a political position, of course. I recall a story a couple of years ago headlined "Israelis Shoot Palestinian Teen". Intrigued by the mental picture of a sad-eyed thirteen-year-old, perhaps killed by carelessness on the part of the IDF, I read further - about the grief of the victim's family, the usual "No comment" from the army, a boilerplate paragraph about settlements and the cycle of violence. I think it was in paragraph eight that the writer finally got around to telling us that the "Palestinian teen" was 19 years old and was carrying a rifle when someone saw him jumping the fence into a Jewish town. But a man attacking someone's home with a rifle was not the story that most people saw. The headline and the first couple of paragraphs, that's what people read, and this tiny story-within-a-story told us about the fictional sad-eyed child, shot by the uncaring Israelis for no reason at all. "Palestinian Gunman Attacks Town" would have been more accurate... but that was not the story the NYT wanted to tell, any more than it wanted to say "Democratic Mayor of Orlando Arrested".