Argentina, Hard

Daily Bias in Politics

Saturday, April 12, 2008  

First I must state my personal disclaimer. I believe that there is no such thing as “bias-free journalism.” If a journalist or newspaper is doing their job, they must interpret what they see and also decide what or what not to put on paper. All writing demands decisions like this. A journalist’s personal perspective decides what is relevant and what is not, and chooses the words; and each journalist and each newspaper has its own perspective or bias. That’s not something sinister, it’s good reporting.

This morning I happened to read a story about a Barack Obama quote that both John McCain and Hillary Clinton have turned against him. It concerned him characterizing working class Pennsylvanians as “bitter.” Clinton and McCain said that Obama’s remarks were “out of touch” and “condescending.” As a consistent reader of the New York Times, I know that they had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the New York primary. To see another perspective on the controversy, I turned to the Washington Post web site. In both newspapers I found the same quote from Obama, but edited slightly differently. (It may be a bit confusing with Obama quoting McCain and Clinton.)

The New York Times:

“Here’s what’s rich,” Mr. Obama said. “Senator Clinton said, ‘Well I don’t think people are bitter in Pennsylvania. I think Barack is being condescending.’ John McCain said, ‘How could he say that? How could he say that people are bitter? He obviously is out of touch with people.’ Out of touch? Out of touch? John McCain — it took him three times to finally figure out that home foreclosure was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he’s saying I’m out of touch?”

The Washington Post:

“Here’s what’s rich: Senator Clinton says, ‘I don’t think people are bitter in Pennsylvania. I think Barack’s being condescending.’ John McCain says, ‘He’s obviously out of touch with people.’ Out of touch? John McCain, it took him three tries to figure out the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he’s saying I’m out of touch? Senator Clinton voted for a credit-card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt — after taking money from the financial services companies — and she says I’m out of touch?”

The New York Times, the newspaper that endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primaries, left out the final sentence that was critical of her. I could not find out who the Washington Post endorsed, or if they endorsed anyone, but Obama won the primary there by a huge margin. I am not calling either newspaper unethical, but pointing out that their editing of that one quote was probably influenced by who the editors wished to win the primary.

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