Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Very Definition of Media Bias

Here's a quote from an Associated Press story on recent 5-4 Supreme Court decisions:

The rulings demonstrate the extent to which ideology — not fidelity to precedent or a particular interpretation of the Constitution — is the driving force on the court.

It's writing like that that reeks of media bias. I'm quite sure that if this author agreed with the decisions, he'd say these decisions were the result of "fidelity to...a particular interpretation of the Constitution". By the way, what's the difference between "ideology" and "a particular interpretation of the Constitution"?

Here's another example:

A one-two punch of bad news suddenly has Democrats facing an election year with campaign finance rules that favor Republicans and a Senate that can block Democratic initiatives.

How, exactly, does a ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend more on elections favor Republicans? As I recall, corporations spent much more money on Democrats (through PACs and 527's and the like) than on Republicans in the 2008 election--was Goldman Sachs not Obama's single largest contributor? And tell me that unions (which are now populated over 50% by government workers) aren't salivating at this new ruling?

But it gets better; later in that same article the well-known sexual reference used to describe TEA Partiers is used--stay classy, AP.

The Associated Press shouldn't be pointing fingers at anyone regarding politics, as they're nothing more than a bunch of partisan hacks. Any editor worth his salt should have picked up on the overt bias in the quotes I picked above, but clearly didn't--they don't even see the bias because they are too partisan. And those are the first two AP stories I read this morning!


David said...

Seems like the issues that benefit will be those one which business corporations and unions (which are also usually corporations)can make common cause.

Protectionism, for example.

mazenko said...

Valid points on the slant - here are my thoughts on the ruling.

I have never given a dime to a candidate running for political office. And I never will.

The reality is that money corrupts nearly everything, but it holds a special place in its heart for politics. And we can be clear on one thing: from a Constitutional point of view, there is absolutely no way the Framers of the Constitution ever intended money to be protected as "speech." Jefferson and Washington would have vehemently - if not violently - opposed such nonsense.

From a purely practical point of view, here's a good question: if I can give a candidate $10K and you can give him $10K, and then we can form a "corporation" and give him a million, then how is that not double-dipping and circumventing restrictions in the first place? How can the "corporation" fully represent the views of its employees and its stockholders when there is certain to be disagreements? If you can't give a politician $90K in cash to vote on a bill, but you can give him an equal amount "for his re-election campaign," how have we not completely abandoned rational thought.

Judicial activism or not, money has become "free speech" - irony of ironies - and nothing is going to change that or control that. Thus, it simply becomes more of an imperative for voters to be well informed in the area of policy, as well as argumentative strategies used to manipulate them.

Darren said...

I understand the arguments against this. They have some populist pull and a certain logic, that's for sure. But as I've said many times, money is not the problem in politics. The problem is the power our government has. Rein in that power, and there's no reason for gobs of money to chase it.

That's the libertarian in me talking :-)

EK said...

mazenko wrote: “…from a Constitutional point of view, there is absolutely no way the Framers of the Constitution ever intended money to be protected as "speech." Jefferson and Washington would have vehemently - if not violently - opposed such nonsense.”

Well, maybe. In many respects, the Framers lived in a radically different political world than we do today. For example, there were no political parties in America when the Constitution was written. The development of party politics itself was not something that the Framers of the Constitution ever anticipated, in fact. Instead, it was generally believed at the time that partisan politics, by its very nature, led inevitably to the corruption of representative government. It took decades for permanently-organized political parties to win broad acceptance in early 19th century America.

It’s interesting to consider, too, the freedom with which men like Jefferson and Hamilton acted in the 1790s to use their own private money to secretly finance political propaganda in the contemporary press. They routinely paid writers under the table to publish the most outrageous and scandalous charges against their political enemies. That being the case, I don’t think anyone can really claim that these men would have been entirely unaware of the relationship between money and political speech.

I think that our various experiments with campaign finance regulation over the last 30 or 40 years have shown up the folly of the whole enterprise. Money is fungible. If you try to block any given point of entry for money into politics, it will simply find an alternative route. And I would at least like to think that the Framers would be utterly horrified at the restrictions on political speech that have been enacted in recent years the name of fighting “corruption.”

In any case, I completely agree with Darren that money isn’t the real problem—the concentrated power wielded by the government is the fundamental problem.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Now you've become a strict constructionist? Where was your strict constructionism when you were making a case for socialized medicine? You think maybe Thomas Jefferson forgot to include those rights that impose an obligation on all? Just what is the constitutional case for a federal socialized medicine system?

As for money corrupting everything, you might want to drop a dime on George Clooney. He seems to think $57,000,000 isn't going to corrupt the set-upon people of Haiti. While you've got the phone in your hand you might want to give Jon Corzine a call. He was under the impression that he could buy the New Jersey governorship and outspent his rival by three-to-one. Didn't work out for him though so your premise that money's determinative has at least one gaping and recently-acquired hole in it.

But while flogging the imminent danger posed to democracy by very wealthy people we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that campaign finance reform has an effect at the other end of the spending spectrum. Care to speculate on the effect on the democratic process of a bureaucratic organization, with the predictable bureaucratic proclivities, that stands between someone wishing to represent their fellow citizens and those citizens who wish to support that potential representative?

You'll appreciate the irony, I hope, of asking that last question on an education blog?

mazenko said...

Rather than a strict constructionist, or long and loose with interpretation, I am a moderate pragmatist who lives in the real world, and I vote that way. As EK has correctly noted, the Framers lived in radically different world, and the document they created is exactly what I said, a "framework."

As a rational person, I can "make the case" for socialized medicine, though that has never been my choice. My position has long been a consistent preference for a private, fair, and ordered health care system. Thus, something like the Wyden-Bennett Plan or the FEHBP has always been my position if "reform" is going to happen. However, I have lived under a "national insurance system," and received quality care in a socialized system, I simply challenged the irrational hypothesizing of people speaking in generalities about that which they don't fully understand.

I have no problem with Clooney raising money and seeking to help others with it. And those who say money can't help in this situation have fallen off the apple cart. However, I support David Brooks' analysis, which warns that throwing money at the problem won't solve it. That doesn't preclude spending a lot of money to provide food, water, medical care, search and rescue. Your pessimism about altruistic efforts baffles me.

Ultimately, your Haiti and Corzine examples do not negate the possibility that money is a determinative factor. As I clearly stated in the end, the system has evolved to equate money with speech. Thus, it simply means that individuals must be more committed to an awareness of the manner in which money - and campaign commercials - can manipulate public opinion. In that way, my highly effective AP class on argumentation and rhetoric is as important as ever.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Seems rather more like a "convenientist" whose respect for the Constitution varies from outrage at transgressions thereof to puzzlement that anyone takes the document seriously depending on, well, convenience. If you want to call that "moderate pragmatist" the Constitution enumerates your right to do so.

But both you, EK and all the rest of the fans of the "living document" view of the Constitution are dead wrong about the Framers.

They lived in exactly the same world we live in today because the Constitution takes no notice of technology, only of human proclivities among which is an inate desire of a percentage of the population to impose their will on their unenthusiastic neighbors. That proclivity you'll note is no more or less a force in human affairs today then it was 200+ years ago. That's what the Constitution was engineered to withstand and that's why "moderate pragmatist" want to pump some life into the old girl.

As for your preferences in the area of socialized medicine my position remains unchanged. When I'm downwind and close enough to catch the odor the particular name you apply is immaterial. The smell's the same and so are the results.

mazenko said...

You are generally knowledgeable enough about history to know I am no more of a "convenientist" than Jefferson or Adams or Madison. Thus, two hundred years of history clearly validates my moderate pragmatism. As George Will has long noted, you are living in Hamiltonian America, and you know not what it would be like to live otherwise. Ignoring the failure of the Articles of Confederation doesn't validate your view of the "the old girl," as most moderate pragmatic conservatives understand.

Beyond that, your comments on the "odor downwind" of others' positions are quaint, but not very credible. When discussions of health care or foreign policy or taxation are going on, it takes specificity to establish credibility. And my reference to Feldstein's tax credit voucher approach is not really in threat from criticism that simply says, "uhm, no, that stinks."

However, I respect aspects of you libertarianism and even vote that way on occasion. And I certainly appreciate the dimension it brings to purely hypothetical discussions. It's the veering into generalities of ideology that weakens the discussion.

maxutils said...

The ridiculous thing about this ruling is that four justices ruled against. It doesn't matter what the merits of the case are anymore . . .the justices vote their ideology, and make up a line of reasoning to support it afterwards. In this case, since a corporation is legally a person, it seems logical to me that they be treated as such. And yes, that includes unions. So, all the mortified liberals should stop whining about the ruling, and set about trying to either a) limit the legal status of corporations, which was largely meant to ease bookkeeping, lawsuits, and limit liability, or b) enact a constitutional amendment to substantially limit how campaigns are funded, or how much can be spent.

Darren said...

OR they could try to limit the power of government so the money won't have anything to chase, but I tease myself.

EK said...

Allen (in Michigan) seems to be under the mistaken impression that I am an advocate of the “living constitution.” That’s not at all true—quite the opposite, in fact.

Just to clarify, the relevant point I had wanted to make in my prior post was that it can be a potentially hazardous business making unqualified pronouncements about how the Founders would have felt about this or that contemporary political controversy. Mazenko had indicated that the Framers, in his estimation, would never have intended that “money be protected as ‘speech.’” I am inclined to doubt that assessment.

allen (in Michigan) said...

My apologies EK if I inadvertently put you in the "living document" camp. The phrase and the sentiment that from which it springs causes me to see a little red since it's nothing but artful camoflage for viewing the law of the land with the same degree of gravity that a teenage girl accords properly accessorizing for the day's social hurly-burly.

In fact, I haven't any urge to delve into the secret thoughts and deepest feelings of the founding fathers since they're irrelevant. I've got the product of their labors which is both more relevant to discussions about governance and less subjective. "Original intent", at least as far as I'm concerned, isn't so much an attempt at historical mind-reading as it is to try to discern the goals, the means by which it was hoped those goals would be achieved and the impediments to the achievement of those goals as originally set forth.

The Constitution's an engineering document for the building of a nation with the structure explicitly laid out and the properties of the construction materials clearly implied. The goal is to engineer a nation in which the ineradicable urge to the establishment of authoritarian rule is severely impeded. This goal, as I perceive it, guides my view of policy - does the particular policy move us towards authoritarianism or does it move us away?

The Supreme Court decision under discussion moves us one small step away from authoritarianism since it increases the power of the individual at the expense of government. Vouchers and charters, while hardly policy a strict constructionist could easily embrace, move us in the same direction. Socialized medicine, however it's tarted up, moves us a step in the direction of authoritarianism by reducing the individuals scope of action.

Mike, you're not a moderate pragmatist. You're using the modern, and convenient, reformulation of the phrase. The founding fathers were the pragmatists since they founded a nation built on the assumption of citizen sovereignty at a time when human beings were traded as chattels.

MikeAT said...


I respectfully disagree. The biggest outrage from this ruling is the opinion of the government as expressed by the Solicitor General

“JUSTICE ALITO: Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth? What's your answer to Mr. Olson's point that there isn't any constitutional difference between the distribution of this movie on video demand and providing access on the Internet, providing DVDs, either through a commercial service or maybe in a public library, providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all of those as well?

MR. STEWART: I think the -- the Constitution would have permitted Congress to apply the electioneering communication restrictions to the extent that they were otherwise constitutional under Wisconsin Right to Life. Those could have been applied to additional media as well. And it's worth remembering that the pre-existing Federal Election Campaign Act restrictions on corporate electioneering which have been limited by this Court's decisions to express advocacy -

JUSTICE ALITO: That's pretty incredible. You think that if -- if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?

MR. STEWART: I'm not saying it could be banned. I'm saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its PAC.

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, most publishers are corporations. And a -- a publisher that is a corporation could be prohibited from selling a book?

MR. STEWART: Well, of course, the statute contains its own media exemption or media -

JUSTICE ALITO: I'm not asking what the statute says. The government's position is that the First Amendment allows the banning of a book if it's published by a corporation?

MR. STEWART: Because the First Amendment refers both to freedom of speech and of the press, there would be a potential argument that media corporations, the institutional press, would have a greater First Amendment right. That question is obviously not presented here. The -- the other two things -

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book. Your position is that under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60/90-day period -- the 60/30-day period?

MR. STEWART: If the book contained the functional equivalent of express advocacy. That is, if it was subject to no reasonable interpretation -

JUSTICE KENNEDY: And I suppose it could even -- is it the Kindle where you can read a book? I take it that's from a satellite. So the existing statute would probably prohibit that under your view?

MR. STEWART: Well, the statute applies to cable, satellite, and broadcast communications. And the Court in McConnell has addressed the –

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Just to make it clear, it's the government's position that under the statute, if this Kindle device where you can read a book which is campaign advocacy, within the 60/30-day period, if it comes from a satellite, it's under -- it can be prohibited under the Constitution and perhaps under this statute?

MR. STEWART: It -- it can't be prohibited, but a corporation could be barred from using its general treasury funds to publish the book and could be required to use -- to raise funds to publish the book using its PAC. “

Translation, the administration of B Hussein Obama believes the US government can regulate publication of a book in the two months prior to an election. I am courous that the American Criminal Lovers Union, et all hasn’t been screaming about this from their hind legs. Right!

I really want to hear the justification for regulating book publication from the left in this country. ‘

allen (in Michigan) said...

Like I've mentioned before, the ACLU has a very selective view of civil liberties. Some they adore, others they ignore and a few they construe out of thin air.

As for the Solicitor General's views, he can have any he wants as long as the system moves us away from authoritarianism. This decision, ever so slightly, reduced the power of government over the citizenry. Like I wrote, I'm not happy it had to come via the Supreme Court but I'll take it.

MikeAT said...

allen (in Michigan) said...
“Like I've mentioned before, the ACLU has a very selective view of civil liberties. Some they adore, others they ignore and a few they construe out of thin air.”

Fair way to put it.

"As for the Solicitor General's views, he can have any he wants as long as the system moves us away from authoritarianism. This decision, ever so slightly, reduced the power of government over the citizenry. Like I wrote, I'm not happy it had to come via the Supreme Court but I'll take it."

Allen, the Solicitor General’s did not express his personal views but the views of the Justice Department, aka Eric Holder and his boss, B Hussein Obama. The duty of the SGOTUS is to represent the government’s view in Supreme Court cases. Yes, idiots at DoJ and POTUS who want to give terrorist at Gitmo civilian trials believe they can regulate book publication prior to an election. That should put a chill in the souls of free men.