Media double standard – ya think?

March 9th, 2009
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The monolithic political perspective of the media is taken for granted by conservatives, and we comment on it only at the risk of being called paranoid whiners. So the National Post editorial really stuck its neck out  Saturday by suggesting that there was a double standard in the way Prime Minister Harper was treated, compared to Premier McGuinty and President Obama.

The examples given are the media’s relatively benign coverage of the Ontario Liberals’ “advance warning” of their prospective deficit, compared to the criticism that was leveled at Mr. Harper. Similarly, there was noticeably meek reporting of President Obama’s “stock-buying-opportunities” comment, as compared to chorus of wailing banshees that faced the PM’s similar remarks last fall.

So what’s new about this? It’s simply the media dog biting the conservative man, as usual. In fact, even the Post’s reticence in reporting the slant of its colleagues is fairly typical. The Post has bent over backwards to give equal time to different viewpoints and often seems reluctant to call out other media outlets (with the possible exception of the CBC).

Meanwhile, networks like Fox News routinely highlights the inconsistencies and bias of its competitors. There are entire books written about media bias in the U.S., the most successful sell millions of copies. Sure, the “accused” will likely never acknowledge it (I don’t know an instance where they have), but that doesn’t stop conservative commentators from simply stating the truth as they see it.

By contrast, Canadian politeness is – as usual – taken a little too far. Suggestions of slanted coverage or a media double standard are generally softened, or qualified. Hard-working academics like Cooper and Miljan pay hungry undergrads to monitor thousands of news stories, only to have their conclusions of media bias largely ignored.

Not being a political scientist, I can only draw on 30 years of unscientific, random and intermittent observation of the Canadian media. Based on that I believe the media’s view of someone like the prime minister follows fairly simple deductive reasoning:

“All conservatives are X”

“Stephen Harper is a conservative”

Therefore, Stephen Harper is X”.

In case you were wondering, “X” is something bad. I think this simple a priori reasoning explains much of the coverage Mr. Harper gets. The superficial stuff – comments on his eyes, his hair, his (former) girth – is just the icing on the cake.

As I’ve written before, often mere adjectives are the culprit. Conservative policies are preceded by “so-called” (e.g. “the so-called Accountability Act”) or “controversial” (“the controversial criminal sentencing proposal”). A policy qualifies as controversial if one lefty group speaks against it. Conservatives (e.g. MP Rob Anders) are also termed controversial; whereas Liberals are by comparison deemed “feisty”, or more likely “well-liked” (e.g. Carolyn Bennett).

I think the lesson here is that conservative commentators should just speak frankly about media bias and stick to their guns when the inevitable denial and recrimination comes. The media will not acknowledge bias – as anyone who’s written the CBC ombudsman can attest. So just go out and make you case, again and again, relentlessly. It’s all you can do.

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By John Weissenberger