Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sour Grapes

One thing about the post-election discussion that really irks me, anybody who mentions potential media bias against the Liberals, or points to the role of negative attacks, is rejected as simply a case of "sour grapes". It's as though Liberals are the only one's who need a period of reflection, don't dare address other avenues that clearly FAILED during the process. Even more stunning, the fact many conservatives still cling to the empirical fallacy of a "left wing media".

I've argued before that the Conservatives attack ads on Dion were effective in two ways. Obviously, the ads themselves created an impression with Canadians, no reasonable person disputes the success. However, where these ads really pay dividends, is the way in which they influence the media frame. The ads plant the seed, and then the journalists run with the characterization, further cementing the impression, to the point of conventional truth. In other words, the ads themselves gain traction because the media effectively carries the water, they reinforce the terms with the public. The Conservatives have mastered the art of succinct terminology, which is then validated by a media which is passive, merely a conduit for propaganda.

Today's must read comes from The Tyee, which details much of what I believe, in terms of the media puppeting the chosen Conservative spin, bereft of any journalistic filter:
If the commercials seemed true to the electorate, it was because the media were repeating the same message in their news stories and commentaries.

It was the combination of paid (ads) and free (news stories and commentary) messaging that did Dion in. But the role of the media in that endeavour has been pretty well expunged from history.

It's a good read, which details how the use of the "flip flop" characterization was primarily effective because it became part of the media assumption. The article points to the usual media suspects, but the terminology extended to all media outlets, even those Conservatives place in the "left wing media" camp. A great example of this general theme, the Afghanistan debate. If you actually go back a year prior to the actual "compromise", you will find the Liberal rhetoric hadn't really changed in a substantive way, particularly when compared with the light years "flip" of the Conservative position. Despite that, Harper was seen as pragmatic during the exercise, the Liberals were the "flip floppers". The superficial analysis was simply breathtaking, but yet there it was, primarily it worked, because it fit nicely into an already established frame, lazy journalism found another example.

The media must share some blame for the Liberal woes. That fact doesn't shelter the Liberals from their own self-reflections, which is clearly required, it isn't an "excuse", merely a recognition. It is empirical fact that the Conservatives have received more favorable coverage than the Liberals the last THREE elections (two of which have already been statistically verified, the 3rd will be, I have NO DOUBT). You don't just GLOSS over a reality, which has nothing do with partisanship, it's part of the equation. The media failed badly this election, they failed to use a critical eye during the election, the failed to present a honest discussion of the issues. That should bother everyone, regardless of preference, because what we receive now is becoming more and more slanted, it is part of a manipulation. Anyone who posits a left wing media should be laughed at hysterically, so detached from reality a sad statement on naked ignorance. Anyone who doesn't factor in the role of the media this election, when drawing conclusions, omits a central theme, unless of course information dissemination is a minor affair, how people receive messaging trivial.

Liberals need to do some soul searching, but part of this introspection should bring a realization that we are "up against it", when it comes to slick propaganda that has perfected the art of using the public medium to validate their frames. The Liberals can either play this game too, or develop a strategy that finds ways around entities which don't have the public interest at heart, which are so institutionally arrogant that they see no need for their own reflections, their own need for "reform". Liberals need to understand the climate, and know it's predisposed to be harsh, relative to their chief opponent. That ain't sour grapes, that's fine wine.

32 comments:

Sharkey Goes West said...

The media absolutely sways public opinion.
Look at the last Liberal Leadership race: the media wanted to create a neck and neck duo, so they promoted Rae and Iggy, as if they were a toss up. Yet, Rae was really in a tie for second with Kennedy and Dion. The media also played up Dion and did an overkill on Kennedy's French. This benefited Dion as a second choice for many delegates.
The media also gave the Cons a pretty easy ride on running a deficit in this past election.

Gayle said...

To be fair, I do not think you can discount the fact that many liberals were pushing the "not a leader" thing. You cannot just blame the ads when "senior liberals" are telling anyone who will listen that Dion was a disaster. Of course the media are going to run with that.

As for the rest of your post, I am hesistant to suggest all media is biased, though some clearly are, but in my opinion the tide starting swinging away from Dion after the NP and the Globe and Mail endorsed Harper. I was not surprised by the NP, but confess I was by the Globe. I cannot for the life of me understand how they could ignore the fact that Dion's economic plan had support of dozens of economists, and Harper's had the support of none.

Some of the media owners have gone on record that they plan on using their media outlets to move the country to the right (I cannot remember who that was but there was an article on it in the Globe a while ago). I think for the most part people see through that. The surprise from the Globe was that their reporting was mostly balanced, and in light of what I read there it was a shock they would endorse the CPC. I actually thought they were going to say they could not endorse anyone this time around.

Steve V said...

gayle

Fair point on the anonymous Liberals angles, although I don't recall too many appearances by Joe Clark and such criticizing the new Conservatives either. I suspect if the media looked as hard, they could find a few disgruntled Tories to fan any narrative they choose as well.

As far as media bias, the Globe didn't surprise me, because after all, they have ads pumping Duffy on their election site, it's part of the same animal. Also, even a supposed friendly paper like the TS, has two decidedly anti-Dion columnists leading the charge. Cons love to characterize Travers as a Liberal stooge, but I DEFY any of them to present a pro-Liberal column done by him in the last year. Ditto for Hebert. Then of course the CBC, the flagship of the left wing media. Yes, yes, their signature political roundtable, which includes a Dion hater, a conservative and a former Tory pollster, clearly quite friendly for our side, WEEK after WEEK. I'll bet anything, that when somebody conducts a post campaign analysis, you will find all outlets gave the Cons better coverage, including the supposed members of the left wing media.

Anonymous said...

A $300 million election to tell Canadians, "I'm a leader, he's not a leader". What a farce. This was an issue-free campaign thanks to the media. There was no serious coverage of the Harper record. The media made sure they paid for the daily tracking polls so as to have "news" to report.

Dr. Tux said...

It seems to me that party reform should include learning how to better manipulate the media in terms of solidifying narratives and frames.

I don't expect the intelligence or thoroughness of the media to increase significantly anytime soon. So our ability to use this as an opportunity should play high in our party.

olaf said...

Steve,

I don't have anything intelligent to say (I know, shocking), so I'll just respond by saying that if you're really broken up about this, you should call a waaaambulance.

I do find it strange, after what I considered to be a pretty strong stance against all those claims of media bias in general, you draw this conclusion. I don't think the media has to "share" any of their blame. Their behaviour has been pretty consistent over the past 10 years: if it makes a good story, run it. It's not the media's fault that Dion couldn't tell a good story.

Leaving editorial boards aside, the media is, in my opinion and for the most part, an unbiased vehicle for getting out a message. It was available to the Liberals as well (pooping puffin, Sparrows gaffe, Ritz's joke, etc.), and they didn't use it as effectively. The media is part of the playing field, that can be used to the benefit of either party, and shouldn't be held culpable regardless of the winner.

Gayle said...

By the way, today the Edmonton Journal published an editorial praising the CPC for flip-flopping on their crime agenda.

On the letters page there was a letter from Rob Nicholson claiming they are going to pursue their crime agenda, and falsely claiming, again, that the LPC have been holding the bills up in committee.

Steve V said...

olaf

I wouldn't say the media of today is the same as it was 10 years, as a matter of fact, it's changed a great deal. Far more sensational, far more superficial, incredibly fickle in terms of focus, more reactionary and clearly more opinionated. It's kind of silly to say the medium has remained static, it's evolved and nobody disputes the newscycle is much different now. The media seeks immediate gratification, doesn't seem to display any capacity to carefully examine, it's just breaking news and punditry.

It's not fair, and that is empirically proven, THREE elections in a row that the Cons have received a free pass, relative to the Libs. That's not my opinion, that's reality.

gayle

Did you read the link, when Harper flip flops its shrewd pragmatism, a testament to his ability to evolve. Hilarious.

olaf said...

Steve,

I can't disagree with your general criticism of the media (I should have said their motivations haven't changed), however that's all it is: a general criticism. The knife cuts both ways, is my point.

It's not fair, and that is empirically proven, THREE elections in a row that the Cons have received a free pass, relative to the Libs. That's not my opinion, that's reality.

This doesn't meet the requirements of "fact". First of all, I'd be more happy if you'd have linked to your "empirical fact" proving the Cons got more favourable coverage in the last two election. However, even if this is proven, you'd also have to prove that the Conservatives didn't deserve that favourable treatment.

I mean, I don't think that you'd argue that if the Liberals got more favourable treatment than the Bloc, or the NDP, or the Marxist-Leninists, in the English media, that this was evidence of bias, or unfairness, would you? No, you'd say it's because the other parties didn't deserve more favourable treatment, for being separatists, economic illiterates, and bonkers, respectively. In order to prove bias or unfairness, you'd have to make a subjective judgment that the Liberals deserved better treatment than they received, which I don't think would qualify as a FACT, so much as OPINION.

Steve V said...

olaf

I've posted the McGill University study before, for the 2004 and 2006 elections, and I trust my own judgement to say 2008 will be viewed the same, if not worse. Even a paper like the TS, gave more favorable coverage to Harper, more negative coverage for the Libs. That, the supposed Liberal rag? Harper would have to be convicted of a heinous crime for the NP or Sunmedia to be decidedly negative. So, what you have is some entities that are pro-Con, no matter, while the supposed pro-Lib medium has demonstrated their coverage isn't entirely philosophical. That congeals into an overall bias, and not the one these brainiacs ape from America.

ottlib said...

Grassroots Liberals and some in the blogsphere should also take a very close and candid look at themselves in this regard.

Many were buying what the Conservatives and the media were selling. Many were saying that the Party should have reacted more forcefully and then took it as a sign that the Conservatives and media were right when the labeled Mr. Dion weak. It would have been much more constructive if the Liberal blogsphere would have taken the lead in this case. Who knows if it would have been effective in counteracting the narrative but I do know that buying into that narrative was counterproductive to say the least.

Then Outrement happened and that seemed to cement it in the minds of many Liberals. It is not difficult to figure out Canadians will buy the "not a leader" narrative when Liberals buy into it.

Contrast that to the Conservatives who lost all but one by-election during the last government. Some of those losses were despite huge efforts by Party Central to win then. It did them no damage because the media did not care and one of the reasons why they did not care was Conservatives, party bigwigs and the grassroots, just shrugged the losses off.

For me the biggest goal the Liberals have to pursue is to stop the constant wingeing and crying everytime the Party suffers a setback, whether self-inflicted or by means beyond their control.

Suck it up and stay focused on the Conservatives, and the NDP to a lesser extent.

Gayle said...

"suspiciously withdrew support for the ATA"

This is a good example of what Steve is talking about.

There was nothing suspicious at all about the withdrawal of support. The LPC agreed to the continuation on the basis of certain amendments. To their surprise, when Harper presented the motion to the House those amendments were missing.

While that was reported in some places, the emphasis was on Harper's claim Dion flip-flopped. Objective reporting would have included the fact that Harper is the one who flip-flopped by excluding the amendments he originally agreed to.

Olaf - I see your point, but my biggest problem with the media is when they do things like CTV's exclusive interview with Harper. Where was the interview with Dion, Layton, Duceppe and May? CBC gave each leader the opportunity to participate in an interview and a QandA, and then allowed Harper to be interviewed without the QandA (which I do not think they needed to do).

When the LPC released their platform, which was based on the economic statement from the government, Robert Fife and Lloyd Robertson joked about how the changing economy would allow the LPC to "break their promises with impunity". No mention the same applied to the CPC, even though it was THEIR economic statement. (and by the way, in case you are going to suggest the CPC did not make any big money announcements, allow me to point out their crime agenda will cost billions of dollars, despite the fact Stockwell Day thinks it will only cost around 20 million. There were plenty of reports that it would be expensive)

I have no issue with reporters exposing problems with the LPC campaign - and there were a lot of them - but it is this editorializing that I find offensive.

Steve V said...

ottlib

I'm not really interested in simply reciting whatever propaganda best paints a pretty picture. If you think you gain more credibility by ignoring what is staring you in the face, or being critical where necessary, then you seem to advocate a borg mentality which is frankly intellectually boring, not to mention entirely DISINGENIOUS. Wave the pom poms, what's the point. Maybe the blogosphere should just link to liberal.ca everyday, that seems to be your argument, in essence.

olaf said...

Steve,

You quite wisely avoided my main point: in order to prove bias, you can't just show that coverage is slanted, but that it objectively should not be so slanted. This is required in order to claim that favourable coverage is proof of an "overall bias". You can't do that, and your analysis is flawed as a result.

Even a paper like the TS, gave more favorable coverage to Harper, more negative coverage for the Libs. That, the supposed Liberal rag?

If even the TS is giving the Conservatives favourable coverage, perhaps that indicates that they deserved that coverage, not that the TS is some sort of shill for the Conservatives, an idea that I think any reasonably informed individual would reject. Unless of course you're adding the Star to the list of Conservative water carriers, which would strain your credibility a great deal, methinks.

Steve V said...

olaf

Nope. You cleverly ask the impossible for proof, I provide the coverage in simple terms, and that's the bottomline.

I used the TS to show that this paper has the capacity to lean both ways, despite the nonsense you hear from Conservatives. Can you say the same for NP or Sunmedia, NOT A CHANCE.

olaf said...

Gayle,

I see your point, but my biggest problem with the media is when they do things like CTV's exclusive interview with Harper. Where was the interview with Dion, Layton, Duceppe and May?

Or the Marxist Leninist leader, for that matter? Look, I'm not gonna defend each news organizations coverage (for example, I thought that showing the whole interview of Dion where the interviewers said he could start again, was definitely off side), but there are pretty obvious reasons why a media outlet would be more interested in allocating time to a Prime Minister who was (at times) expected to win a majority, as opposed to lesser known entities. Ask yourself which would gain better ratings: "Stephen Harper exclusive interview at 6", or "Elizabeth May exclusive interview at 6", and you'll get my point.

I have no issue with reporters exposing problems with the LPC campaign - and there were a lot of them - but it is this editorializing that I find offensive.

When masqueraded as news, sure, I get that point, and am sympathetic to it. If you want to claim that certain "reporters" (as opposed to the media as a whole) were biased one way or another, that's fine. I can give you a number of examples of individual Liberal bias as well (eg. O'Malley and Wherry at Macleans), but that doesn't prove some sort of "overall media bias", as some suggest.

olaf said...

Steve,

Nope. You cleverly ask the impossible for proof, I provide the coverage in simple terms, and that's the bottomline.

Mine is the only reasonable standard. Again, do you think that the Bloc should get as much positive English media coverage as the Liberals? If not, why not? Don't skirt the issue, surely you see my point here, you're too smart not to.

I used the TS to show that this paper has the capacity to lean both ways, despite the nonsense you hear from Conservatives. Can you say the same for NP or Sunmedia, NOT A CHANCE.

The NP and Sunmedia chains often print anti-CPC columnists (admittedly, usually saying they're not conservative enough, but still). I think you may be confusing issues here: whether the news coverage (eg. positive references in supposedly balanced "news" stories) was biased (which I assume your McGill study attempts to prove), or whether the editorial boards/columnists were biased (which, I would argue, they all were, since they were expressing an opinion). Perhaps you could clarify, instead of painting with such broad strokes.

Steve V said...

"overall media bias"

That's simply a generalization, when you take the all the entities and their reporting in totality, you can then draw an overall sense. That conclusion also factors in the degree of bias within each individual publication.

Steve V said...

olaf

Why are you introducing the Bloc, I'm talking about the two principles, you are offering a distraction to make a point?

Steve V said...

"Perhaps you could clarify, instead of painting with such broad strokes."

Ah, but that is exactly what I'm doing. You are saying that the NP does have anti-Con opinion pieces, which is true, Martin a prime example. What I'm saying, don't use individual examples to mask totality. You can argue 25% of columns support your view, I would simply counter, what about the other 75%, and does that fact not support a general bias. Then, look at the engine, the editorial board, and the picture is crisp and consise, minor distractions aside.

olaf said...

Steve,

Why are you introducing the Bloc, I'm talking about the two principles, you are offering a distraction to make a point?

Well, the Bloc, and the NDP for that matter, are both far closer in seat numbers to the Liberals than the Liberals are the Conservatives, so arguably there was one principle, and a number of secondary players. :)

In any case, I think that my point is perfectly clear to anyone willing to consider it (Gayle seemed to pick it up fine, and provide reasonable objections). However, you clearly don't want to address it, which is your prerogative.

olaf said...

Steve,

You can argue 25% of columns support your view, I would simply counter, what about the other 75%, and does that fact not support a general bias.

Again, you're ignoring the point, blatantly (or as you would say, BLATANTLY). It's not that there's slanted coverage, or slanted editorial opinion, its that such a slant is unwarranted. It's a major distinction. At this point I'm convinced you're being deliberately (and transparently) evasive, and so I'll leave you to it. I'm sure we'll lock horns again.

Gayle said...

"If you want to claim that certain "reporters" (as opposed to the media as a whole) were biased one way or another, that's fine."

Actually, I am talking about the editors. I think the reporters are just out there trying to do their jobs. It is the owners/editors who give stories their slants.

As for the interview of Harper, sorry, but I am not buying that. Fair and balanced coverage means fair and balanced coverage - not giving one guy coverage and ignoring the rest.

olaf said...

Gayle,

Actually, I am talking about the editors. I think the reporters are just out there trying to do their jobs. It is the owners/editors who give stories their slants.

Its a thin line, in some respects. Some "reporters" have opinion blogs as well. Some are encouraged to put a bit of their own analysis into the piece. Some are hardly to be considered "reporters" at all (eg. Duffy). But I doubt that editors spend too much time editing straightforward news articles in order to include the requisite slant.

Fair and balanced coverage means fair and balanced coverage - not giving one guy coverage and ignoring the rest.

At first, I asked my question facetiously, but should the Marxist Leninist candidate get equal coverage? Should May, who wasn't seriously expected to win a seat, be given equal coverage as Harper, who might have gotten a majority? Should Layton have been subjected to equal media scrutiny as those considered to be the "principles" by our gracious host here? I think your call for "fair and balanced" coverage, in so far as it implies equal airtime, is a bit unrealistic, and would border on ridiculous, if implemented as a matter of policy for a given outlet.

ps. Sure, you could say that unlike the Marxist Leninist party, May has a certain non-negligible percentage of the popular vote. But maybe that's only because she got so much more media coverage than the Marxist Leninists, who in my opinion, have been ignored by our media establishment for far too long! Rise up, comrades!!! :)

ottlib said...

Steve:

The results speak for themselves.

ottlib said...

Steve:

To expand on my last point.

To buy into the narrative of your chief political opponent and a media which had no love for Mr. Dion from the time of his election is not being intellectually honest. It is being plain stupid.

It is the kind of stupidity the Liberals should stop or they can expect to see a Harper government for many more years into the future.

Gayle said...

"...but should the Marxist Leninist candidate get equal coverage? Should May, who wasn't seriously expected to win a seat, be given equal coverage as Harper, who might have gotten a majority? Should Layton have been subjected to equal media scrutiny as those considered to be the "principles" by our gracious host here?"

You trivialize my argument when you suggest I demand equal time (this is not America). That is not what I said.

If you cannot see that a one on one interview with Harper, shown on their national newscast and posted on their election website, is giving Harper coverage they simply are not willing to give the other parties, then I am not sure there is any point in this discussion. This is not about equal time, this is about a level playing field. Even our local paper in Edmonton ensures they give each candidate an opportunity to answer questions (and they print one answer from each candidate) when they profile each riding - including Naomi Rankin, our local communist party candidate.

When you have your lead anchor interview one leader only, you are suggesting that leader is the only one worth his time. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether people anticipated Harper would win a majority, which is rather silly standard by which this should be judged. I guess the media could then go so far as to determine who they think will win the election and then only cover that party.

I highly doubt you are going to find anyone teaching that kind of conduct in journalism school. It does not come down to the reporters, it comes down to the owners and the editors. If you seriously do not believe they edit articles to present their own slant, then you have not spoken to enough reporters who have had their articles so edited.

olaf said...

Gayle,

I see your point, and you're right that I was intentionally trivializing your argument to prove a point. You made it sound so unequivocal, so simple, when you demand that "fair and balanced coverage means fair and balanced coverage". I'm just asking you to draw the line between what you think is fair and balanced, and what is reasonably giving more attention to those who have earned it by being widely popular (relatively speaking, of course, as I don't think you could accuse any of our party leaders of being widely popular).

When you have your lead anchor interview one leader only, you are suggesting that leader is the only one worth his time.

Ok, so which party leaders are worth the time, and according to what standard? This is my question, I suppose.

Steve V said...

"At this point I'm convinced you're being deliberately (and transparently) evasive, and so I'll leave you to it."

I actually think I'm sitting right in the core, while your playing contrarian and working the margins. The Libs are closer to the Bloc, so that translates to the slant? You used the after the fact result to justify what happened prior, if that makes any sense to you, then yep I'm being evasive.

Gayle said...

Olaf - four party leaders ran a national campaign. The fifth won the majority of seats in Quebec. I think that is an easy enough way to measure.

Dr. Tux said...

We need to learn how to better manipulate the media, to solidify narratives, and to be more effective political communicators.

This has to be part of party renewal if we want a chance to win.

olaf said...

Steve,

I'd say you have much crow to eat today, my friend.