Media Bias, 101

A lesson in media bias — the headline of the CNN International story give us one narrative:

“Kremlin critic barred from election”

… And the body of the piece reports quite another:

“Russia’s Central Election Commission disqualified one of Kremlin’s critics from the country’s presidential election Sunday, claiming that the signatures collected for his nominating petitions were forged, the state news agency said Sunday. …

“Kasyanov’s spokeswoman confirmed to CNN that he had been barred from running in the elections, scheduled for March 2. He will not appeal the decision, a representative told Interfax.”

The headline tells us that Russia’s much-touted “backsliding” into totalitarianism is accelerating rather rapidly, while the facts, baldly stated, tell us that, for some reason, Kasyanov isn’t appealing the decision of the authorities to disqualify him, which leads us to wonder if the charges of forgery might be substantially true. Of course, forging signature on election petitions is quite illegal in the US, and would undoubtedly result in criminal charges. Perhaps that’s why Kasyanov isn’t making much of a fuss about the matter.


30 thoughts on “Media Bias, 101”

  1. To Weston,

    Why not say: "Kremlin critic barred from election for alleged fraud"?

    That seems pretty short and snappy to me. Except with the difference of being more accurate and more balanced. There is no question the US media is behind much of the portrayal of Russia as "backsliding." Just take a brief look at any Murdoch-related publication. This, I believe, is a clear example of CNN shading its coverage.

    Thanks Justin.

  2. This is precisely the same kind of discernment that leads news organizations boldly to announce on the day of a primary election just how far ahead one candidate or another is over their opponents in advance of the actual count. The brainlessness of such reporting is absolutely stupifying. I’m also struck by the plastic good looks of the young men and women showcased by the CNNs, the Foxes and the schmoxes that report such drivel. One would think that the broadcasting schools training them would teach them something more in the way of developing natural, individual styles rather than the contrived mannerisms and patterns of speech they force us to endure day after day. It’s like having one’s news dished out by a mechanism of some kind, something assembled at a factory somewhere – perhaps offshore – that has no more grasp of the uniquely personal than say, Mitt Romney. No wonder they are so easily manipulated by their managements into presenting mischaracterations of this kind as factual. For anyone now under fifty years of age, my most sincere condolences.

  3. I appreciate lessons in media bias, but this one leaves something to be desired. First, Russia is backsliding, and the fact that it’s barring opposition candidates is worthy of scrutiny even if the Election Commission’s assertions of forgery are correct.

    Second, criticizing headlines for failing to include pertinent information is like criticizing a trailer for not being the movie. Perhaps we should prefer “Kremlin critic barred from election for fraud, declines to appeal.” The trade-off between punchy and prolix is a significant one for news organizations, and errors on one side or the other are not necessarily the result of bias.

    Finally, as the post points out, the CNN article managed to get the story right after all. Of course you’re going to get a skewed picture if you’re only reading the headlines. I applaud Raimondo’s critical eye, but let’s not cry wolf at every little thing.

    1. “Second, criticizing headlines for failing to include pertinent information is like criticizing a trailer for not being the movie.”

      One assumes that you must live comfortably on the proceeds of a trust to treat so uncritically what, at least, ought be considered a lack of professionalism and, at best, a kind of abuse, Weston. People – not yours truly – actually pay for cable subscriptions to such new “services”, you know. While acceptance might be an sensible way of entering upon a life facing the last stages of terminal cancer, one wonders what possible benefit might accrew from an inurement to commercial – and political – exploitation.

      1. See, that’s just the thing. The inference from a poorly written headline to bias–let alone “exploitation”–is a leap. Sure, CNN could have done a better job. But not every example of less-than-perfect journalism is an exercise in manipulation. My point is only that complaints about shoddy headlines have diminishing returns.

        On a side note, John, I don’t understand why “one” would assume that I’m living off a trust fund, but one would be wrong to make and voice that assumption–not only because it’s ad hominem, but also because it’s false.

        1. Try to concatenate these myriad examples of “less than perfect” journalism. When they uniformly echo the Republicrat party line, it should be obvious that there’s more at work here than mere incompetence.

    2. First, Russia is backsliding, and the fact that it’s barring opposition candidates is worthy of scrutiny even if the Election Commission’s assertions of forgery are correct.

      On what grounds do you make this accusation, Weston? May we see examples that wouldn’t comprise quotidian occurrences in the United States?

      1. Thanks for asking, Kenneth. What’s going on in Russia’s pretty complicated. We can disagree about whether Russia ever was a democracy, but I’m taking the term “backsliding” as shorthand for “things are getting worse.” For the simple story, look here, here, and here. For articles that come a bit closer to the complicated truth, look here, here, and here.

        If the US government is faltering for similar reasons, as you seem to believe, then I’m happy to say that America is backsliding, too. But I don’t recall making any comparative claims; while I’m happy to assert that we still enjoy greater political freedom than Russian citizens, I’m not about to try to mount a defense in a comments thread! We’ll have to agree to disagree on that score.

        1. Based on the examples you have supplied, it looks as if Russia already “backslid” during the Constitutional Crisis of ’93. America isn’t backsliding either, because it has nothing to regress from. Indeed, true democracy has never existed apart from a handful of transient local bodies that were summarily crushed- not in America, not in Russia, nor in Europe or Asia or anywhere else. The organs of popular power have at best a very narrow purview in the world’s putative democracies, and are largely composed of individuals drawn from the uppermost socioeconomic strata and ultimately unsustainable without recourse to propaganda, deceit, manipulation, media self-censorship, and, ineluctably, intimidation and violence. It’s true that, by historical standards, a great deal of freedom exists in the west, though this means little when the instruments of public discourse belong to a handful of commercial magnates.

        2. Well, okay then. I doubt every single one of those sentences, except the last one, where I only disagree with the second clause. Our disagreement goes deeper than can be settled in this forum, so I’m just thank you for taking the time to read and respond, and for your civil tone.

  4. To Weston:

    “On a side note, John, I don’t understand why “one” would assume that I’m living off a trust fund, but one would be wrong to make and voice that assumption–not only because it’s ad hominem, but also because it’s false.”

    Well, the logic proceeded along these lines, Weston, and there was nothing particularly personal about it, actually: How is one to explain paying the outsized cable fees necessary to acquire a service such as CNN’s and then not require of it a certain minimal excellence, eh? Might it be that one is well off enough simply not to care about such things? That clearly would be one explanation.

    Tripe journalism of the type Raimondo reports here is endemic in both print and broadcast media and, given the more-or-less constant experience of a kind of reporting quite obviously scented by neo-con perfume, one has little difficulty sniffing through to the pathology from such captions. In my view, Raimondo simply tests the blood and makes the necessary diagnosis. Nothing overdone in this instance, nothing at all.

    1. Logic? Ho-hum. First, you’re supposing that the only reason people have to care about the accuracy of their news is that they have to pay for it; even if I were living on a trust fund, I’d still rather have accurate headlines than inaccurate ones. Second, the link was to a free online article, not CNN’s cable network, so it’s a little hard to see how your guesswork even got started. Third, an ad hominem is a fallacy of relevance whether it’s intended personally or not: my socio-economic status simply has no bearing on the strength of my arguments. Fourth, the maneuver you’re looking for is called an “inference to the best explanation,” not an “inference to the first explanation I can think of.”

      In any case, you’re defending a line of reasoning that put you squarely in the wrong. The correct response is to own the mistake and to avoid it in the future.

      1. I know its exciting to communicate with me, Weston, but you don’t have to act out to get my attention. A simple, “good morning, sir,” will be enough. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know. :-)

  5. Thank you for pointing out this bias on the part of CNN. I don’t want the US finding an excuse to fight Russia.

  6. Weston is correct here.

    “Kremlin critic barred from election” is factually correct, albiet simplified, but hey, it is a headline afteral.

    As far as headlines go, I’ve seen far more blatently bias in my time.

  7. To Weston,

    Most of the sources that you provided links for have an interest(or they simply toe the government line) in portraying Russia as “backsliding”. Allow me to ask you a simple Q: When you compare Jelcin’s Russia to Putin’s Russia, what do you think which one is better? Me thinks you missed Justin’s point because there are many reasons why we are being fed bad news about Russia lately. It would take too much time and space to name them all. Expect more “backsliding” news to come.

    Cheers, Lazar

  8. Lazar, every source has an interest. The question is how far that interest dictates content. As I have indicated, I believe media bias exists, but unlike many people in this forum, I do not think this bias univocally favors any one particular view. Which is (approximately) just as it should be: given the inevitability of bias, a diverse body of independent presses is crucial to a free society. That is one of the main reasons to worry about Russia: non-state media outlets are marginalized, if not actively stifled.

    I think that Putin has brought some much-needed stability and economic growth to Russia, but at the very high price of increased authoritarianism. Your question misleadingly suggests that whether Russia is better off overall is a simple matter of comparing one regime to another. Economic growth is good in the short term, but sacrificing civil liberties for it has some very serious long-term consequences. Average Russians are probably better off now than they were during the chaotic 90’s. But if the present trend continues–and there is not much reason to think it won’t–then a lot of Russians in subsequent generations are going to suffer for it.

    1. I have spent 12 years of my life in the US – from 1992 to 2004. Then I moved to Russia, since I certainly felt that “high price of increased authoritarianism” in the US is not justified by anything.

      After Iraq (and Europe/Yogoslavia) aggressions my choice for a place of living was simple – one can be safe only in the US or Russia, with the exception of terrorism, although the willingness of the US govt. to arrange events like 9/11 – and most amazing willingness of american public to accept measures taking their freedoms away… the choice was easy.

      Speaking of my personal freedoms, and my ability to express personal opinions I have not seen any “backsliding”. Government addresses the concerns of the population to a much bigger degree then in the US. The only “backsliding” I see is adoption of some freedom-limiting practices borrowed from the US – like the notorious prohibition to carry liquids on the airplane flight. That is a shame of course.

  9. Hmmm, well, when this ‘backsliding’ starts effecting Russians other than those with connections to the so called “oligarchs” (thieves on a massive scale) and their Israeli backers and Harvard School advisors, I’ll start to worry about it.

    Weston, if you think that the press doesn’t favour one particular view i.e. that of Wall St style capitalism and militarism, you’re not thinking outside the narrative/s they have you in.

    Much of the propaganda war is disinformation by omission.

    1. Justaguy, here’s the general schema: if you believe in x, then you’re not thinking outside the box that x has put you in.

      Your argument presupposes what I deny, namely, that there is a single narrative for me to fall victim to. That’s called begging the question.

      I want evidence, not accusations. A poorly written headline, if it counts at all, counts to a vanishingly small extent.

      1. OK, how many articles regarding the politics of Russia even mention the form of these so called Kremlin critics?

        In the mainstream press it would be exactly none. Thus the narrative/s are all biased toward denigrating Putin, whereas the biggest antidemocratic criminals are those toward which the Kremlin and proPutin forces are engaged against.

        We are still being fed the line that Yeltsin was a democrat who fought the evil authoritarian cabal. The truth is close the the direct opposite and Yeltsin’s cronies stole the whole shop.

        How often do you read of the Israeli zionist connections of these grand criminals in your ‘diverse’ press?

        The omissions define the narrative/s in this case.

  10. The problem with this headline – each and every registered candidate for presidency, except for Putin’s (and THUS people’s that trust Putin, which constitute the majority of people that have the right to vote) – so, each and every of the registered candidates can be described as “Kremlin critic”.

    So, of 4 registered candidates – ONE can not be labeled as “Kremlin critic”. Did CNN mention that?

  11. Whoa Weston, slow down, here, I have more Q’s for you: Who is to decide what “media bias” is? You? Could you name one Free Major Media Outlet in the U.S.? You’ve avoided to answer my question by attempting to criticize it. Creating little traps, making false assumptions and conclusions is passe. Thank you though for proving me right: You are the latest source to bring more “backsliding” news from Russia.

  12. Lazar (Hrebeljanovic), I criticized your question for oversimplifying the matter, but I didn’t avoid answering it. I think if you’ll reread my post, you’ll find that I’m saying the answer to your question is mixed: Russia is doing better economically, but not in terms of political freedom. If you want a simpler answer than that, you’re not going to get it from me.

  13. To those who would like to see a difference between Yeltsin’s Russia and Putin’s. The big difference is that the price of oil has increased. The same old oligarchs are still in charge. Check out the Aluminium King, the second richest man in Russia, multi-billionare Oleg Deripaska. Married to Yeltsin’s ex-chief-of-staff’s daughter, and his (Oleg’s) father-in-law is married to Yeltsin’s daughter. (I think you need a schematic to figure this out.)

    The more things change in Russia, the more they stay the same, a misplaced headline nothwithstanding.

  14. When Yeltsin was wiping out his opponents with Tanks I remember the media was attacking THEM!

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