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I read last week Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal especially closely while on a plane to San Francisco, and was struck by the explicitly liberal framing of some news events but just the opposite on the opinion and editorial pages. The contrast between the news and editorial sections of the WSJ is frequently noted, but it was so plain in this particular issue of the newspaper that it provides an opportunity to study and learn from these contrasting techniques.
Liberal Bias in WSJ News Reporting
The technique is simple: describe new regulations without questioning whether they are likely to achieve their stated objectives or are even truly designed to achieve those objectives; then quote industry sources acquiescing to the new regulations; never quote a real consumer or victim of the new regulations or a conservative or libertarian organization that speaks on their behalf; and end by quoting a liberal activist group saying the regulations “don’t go far enough.”
* “Oil Trains Slapped with Emergency Safety Rules,” by Russell Gold and Laura Stevens, reports the U.S. Department of Transportation (referred to casually as “the Transportation Department,” as if maybe it wasn’t part of the government at all but just some helpful entity out there managing transportation) is imposing new testing requirements on crude oil transported by rail, going into effect immediately with fines of up to $175,000 a day. Typical of how government responds to industrial accidents, the order applies to all oil transported by rail anywhere in the country, even though the safety problem appears to be only with crude moving from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota to refineries in the Gulf. Bakken Shale oil apparently is more volatile than other oils and, due to the rapid increase in the amount being produced and transported, it sometimes is not properly reported to the railroads to ensure it is transported in the proper containers.
The reporters say “refiners applaud the new requirements.” Not pointed out: refiners won’t have to pay for the new tankers and tests. A VP for a Bakken shale oil producer says they are still studying the order and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers says the order “leaves several questions unanswered,” which is probably as close as their PR department would allow them to saying they oppose the rules. The American Association of Railroads, which “last week … agreed to a number of voluntary safety measures,” immediately caved and said it supports the DOT’s orders. One supposes that since they were in negotiations with regulators already, they had no choice but to do so.
The reporters don’t quote anyone who opposes what is, on its face, an overly broad order likely to impose unnecessary expenses on consumers. But they do quote “Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York,” who “said he wishes the government had gone further. ‘Merely requiring testing but not having an action plan or a requirement to release the testing data publicly still places our communities at risk,’ he said.” Why did they quote a small (annual budget, $1 million) organization devoted exclusively to New York issues about a public safety issue emanating from North Dakota?
* Tougher Food Rules in Schools,” by Annie Gasparro and Mike Esterl, describes how the Obama administration has restricted the sale of certain “unhealthy” foods in K-12 schools and is now imposing new rules forbidding the presence of vending machines that still present advertisements and logos for the sugar-sweetened beverages they used to contain. “The USDA hasn’t yet defined ‘marketing’ for the purposes of the rule released Tuesday, so its reach is still somewhat unclear,” the reporters say. The puff piece features a big picture of Michelle Obama exercising with some minority kids.
The reporters describe some “voluntary” efforts by industry to remove unhealthy foods from schools but then say “Advocacy groups say that hasn’t been enough. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest [a notorious left-wing advocacy group, but the reporters don’t say anything about who they are], said the industry’s voluntary changes don’t apply to middle and high schools, and don’t address several forms of marketing in elementary schools, such as vending machine exteriors and official cafeteria menus.” The reporters were apparently unable to find anyone willing to criticize this almost certainly unconstitutional reach of the national government into K-12 schools and almost comical escalation of nanny-statism, transparently designed to divert attention from the administration’s far more consequential and controversial assault on the curriculum of K-12 schools through its Common Core State Standards initiative.
* “On the Farm, Data Harvesting Sows Seeds of Mistrust,” by Jacob Bunge, is a long and largely accurate story about the use of “prescriptive-planting technology” to increase agricultural yields in the U.S. The reporter warns, though, that big agri-businesses might use data collected on the fertility of farm fields to unfairly benefit some competitors, which then is used to negatively frame what would otherwise seem to be a very positive development for farmers and consumers. Cheryl Parker spotted the article and sent it to Science Director Jay Lehr, who commented:
Thanks for sending this article which I read in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the bulk of the article is great the headline and idea that farmers are worried, when mining crop data will likely increase yields by 30 percent, is ridiculous, they found two farmers that were worried and could not find any incidence of their data being misused and all companies using this data have stated they will never give it away without the farmers permission. This is disgusting journalism on the part of The Wall Street Journal, anything for a scary headline.
They are similarly distorting the down sides of the Ukraine political problem by focusing upon the Crimea area where there are mostly retired Russians with no energy or clout.
Great Reporting on the WSJ Editorial Page
The WSJ’s editorial and opinion pages are often (but not always) much better.
* “How the Internet Was Meant to Be,” by Holman Jenkins, is a perfect put-down of the network neutrality crowd, an issue Heartland has been addressing for many years. Instead of accepting at face value the claims of net neutrality’s advocates – that somehow it has to do with “free access” and “fairness,” Jenkins reports in the opening paragraphs how the deal between Netflix and ComCast requiring the former to pay extra for its customers’ heavy use of the latter’s pipes reveals the insincerity of Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, a prominent proponent of net neutrality. Hastings was happy to repeat the truisms of net neutrality when it let his company earn billions of dollars in profits by free-riding on ComCast’s investors and other customers, but when the gravy wagon came to an end, he agreed to start paying a higher fare while telling his customers and Wall Street it won’t affect their prices at all because “competition” will continue to keep prices low.
Will advocates of net neutrality change their toon? Not likely, says Jenkins, but not because they still “believe” in the mythology surrounding the socialist idea, but because “armies of lobbyists and fake ‘experts’ by now have made their reputations around net neutrality. It’s their Procrustean ticket to regulating the Internet and they aren’t letting go.” To which I would add, just like environmental advocates committed to the global warming myth, it’s their job to defend the theory, regardless of the facts.
* “The House That John Built,” an unsigned editorial, discusses the decision by John Dingell, the long-serving 87-year-old Hosue Democrat, to finally retire. The editorial writers quote Dingle lamenting “the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.” They then quite rightly refuse to take him seriously, pointing out how he, as much or maybe more than anyone else in the country, is responsible for that change in tone in public discourse. They say he is really leaving only because he sees little chance of Democrats returning to the majority in the House. That Dingell created “the Dingell bar,” a group of Washington lawyers (many of them former Dingell staffers) who were paid well to defend businesses that Dingell singled out for public attack and investigation. That Dingell fed a group of pet journalists to cover his show trials. And that “the CEOs [who Dingell was attacking] would be advised by the Dingell bar to be obsequious and remorseful whether guilty or not.”
This is excellent journalism because it refuses to accept at face value what a politician claims to be his motivation and goals. It is impolite and politically incorrect. It refuses to repeat the little lies the establishment tells about how Washington works, supposedly because the public can’t handle the truth but really because those lies perpetuate the careers of the people involved.
So… keep these tricks of liberal bias and techniques of good journalism in mind when you read newspapers and do your own writing. Even old dogs like me can learn new tricks, and you can, too.