What If We Had Proportional Representation In The Media?

News & Politics

How the media love ‘he said, she said’ reporting. They seem to believe it insulates them against charges of bias from all sides, despite the fact that all sides continue to attack their credibility with great gusto (myself included).

But what if they reported what ‘he said’ in proportion to what ‘she said?’ Wouldn’t that appear less biased still?

Consider two stories about the weekend’s global anti-war protests, one from the San Francisco Chronicle, the other from the British Independent.

In the second graph of the Chronicle story, we get crowd estimates:

Police estimated 20,000 people marched today. Organizers pegged the crowd at 50,000. Either way, it was one of the largest anti-war protests since the U.S. invaded Iraq two years ago.
Let’s give the paper the benefit of the doubt and use the smaller number: 20,000. And we know what they�‘he’�said.

Then, starting in paragraph 14, we get three and a half graphs on the other side--what ‘she said’:
At least a half dozen counter-protesters, including a group of college Republicans from San Francisco State University, turned out to [support] the military effort in Iraq.
One held a handmade sign that said "Hey, losers. Stop demoralizing the troops."
Another said he thinks the U.S. military will need to remain in Iraq for years to help the country establish a democracy. He said he thought most of the protesters were radicals who wanted to overthrow the U.S. government.
"There is a different way to peace," said Leigh Wolf, a 19-year-old broadcast major. "This work can come to an end with patriotism instead of a socialist revolution."
Let’s again use the most generous number we can: the story says there were ‘at least a half dozen counter-protesters.’ Let’s triple that and use 20. That’s about one thousandth of the more modest estimate of 20,000 anti-war protesters.

The article is 1238 words. So, proportionately, the counter-protesters should have gotten a bit more than one word (I would opt for ‘frat-boy’). But they got 105 words in which they had: one plug (College Repubs from SFSU); three smears (‘losers,’ ‘radicals who want to overthrow the government’ and participants in a ‘socialist revolution’ juxtaposed with ‘patriotism’), and two talking-points about why we should support the war (not ‘demoralizing our troops’ and the ‘need to remain in Iraq for years to help the country establish a democracy’).

Now, I wanted to draw attention to the Independent article for contrast. It, too, had the usual divergent crowd estimates:
Scotland Yard estimated that crowds had swollen to 10,000 people by the time the march reached Hyde Park in the early afternoon, although organisers put the numbers at up to 100,000.
Yet, no mention of counter-protesters. Now, do you for a moment imagine that somewhere along that London route there weren’t a couple of stodgy old wankers calling the protesters hippies and chiding them for not standing up for Britannia?

In Britain, where they like their media independent and feisty, apparently they don’t need to report in great detail the opinions of any six people who have something on their mind. Refreshing, no?

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