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  • Seems Obvious To Me

    Posted by James R. Rummel on April 8th, 2010 (All posts by )

    As anyone who has been interested in the debate over armed self defense knows, the vast majority of professional journalists have a deep seated bias against the very concept. Private citizens owning guns so they can protect their family and themselves? That path leads to chaos and death! Or so they seem to believe.

    How are self defense advocates able to discern this? After all, most journalists insist that they are as unbiased as a person is able to be when discussing any subject under the Sun. And yet they repeatedly and consistently make the same mistakes when writing about the subject.

    The laws concerning the ownership and use of weapons are usually ignored or misrepresented, the capabilities of firearms are almost always distorted, and the statistics indicating that private citizens who legally carry concealed firearms for their defense are the most peaceful and law abiding members of our society are rarely mentioned. And, most striking, these errors seem to go in only one direction. Data checking and being thorough about the facts seems to be important only if it advances the gun control agenda.

    I have encountered very few people that work in the media over my life. The few that have crossed paths with me in social settings were uniformly intelligent, curious, and polite. But the one defining characteristic that I noticed with all of them was that they were sure they had the inside track on everything!

    No matter what the subject, there was a rock-solid conviction that they were an expert in the field. Even though they were, very obviously, experts in nothing more than whatever their job happened to have in the media. Even so, they considered themselves to be vast fonts of wisdom, wisdom from which all would be well advised to partake.

    What caused this bizarre attitude?

    The only thing that seems to make sense to me is the nature of the job. Journalists spend their time talking to actual experts, people who really understand what is going on in their field. Since the one basic skill of the interview is to tease out the relevant information and put it into terms the general public understands, reporters have the sense that they have gained some sort of expertise through the process.

    I’m discussing this subject due to this piece by Lane Wallace in The Atlantic. The author states that she had always defended her fellow journalists from charges of bias, but a recent event “gave me a new perspective on the issue.”

    It seems that it became obvious during a press conference being held to announce the launch of a new product that her fellow journalists had already decided on the stories they were going to write. They did this even with an imperfect understanding of the facts. What is worse is that they had no interest in determining if they were correct in their assumptions, They just wanted a few tidbits to flesh out what they had already decided they were going to write, and that was it.

    Like I said, blindingly obvious to about everyone else. But I suppose someone who has decided on a media career can’t see the forest for the trees, or the obvious due to bias.

    (Hat tip to Glenn.)

     

    36 Responses to “Seems Obvious To Me”

    1. david foster Says:

      Lane Wallace has been writing for aviation publications for a while now, and I think she is a very good writer. She also has a website here.

    2. James R. Rummel Says:

      “Lane Wallace has been writing for aviation publications for a while now, and I think she is a very good writer.”

      Sure, but she is a pilot. The vast majority of journalists who write about the gun control debate can barely tell you which end the bullet comes out. So far, every single reporter has turned down my offer of free instruction.

    3. Simon Kenton Says:

      Actually, it seems to me to go beyond mere inaccuracy. Most journalists seem to pride themselves in not knowing anything about guns and gun issues. It’s not something you correct, but something you feel virtuous about getting it wrong. For a very amusing plot twist on this, read Hunter’s “I, Sniper.”

      The president of our local club always tells them he knows how their stories are going to come out, and he won’t allow them an interview with him unless they agree to spend several hours at the club talking to others too. Sometimes this exposure shames them into a somewhat non-biassed stance, ie, gives them a new narrative hook for the story. Instead of the usual, “Blood-slavering Neanderthals prepare for mass slaughter at local gun range; wannabe-murderers in the midst,” they can go for “Blood-slavering gun-crazy Neanderthals inhabit the bodies of doctors, lawyers, engineers in real life,” or the occasional “Babe-in-the-woods reporter feels much shallow trepidation, finally actually shoots real gun, kills no one, but doesn’t buy one because of The Children.”

    4. david foster Says:

      An interesting example of media telling the story they want to tell, regardless of the realities, here.

    5. UNRR Says:

      This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 4/9/2010, at The Unreligious Right

    6. pst314 Says:

      “The only thing that seems to make sense to me is the nature of the job….talking to actual experts…have the sense that they have gained some sort of expertise”

      How about: “Most people go into journalism because they want to influence politics, and the educational process steeps all journalism students in the idea that they are an intellectual and moral elite with the right and duty to educate the lower classes.”

    7. James R. Rummel Says:

      There does seem to be more than their fair share of arrogance going on, pst314.

    8. Andrew_M_Garland Says:

      The Solution Is Simple – Dunning-Kruger Effect

      Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill, and do not recognize their true inadequacy. Thay fail to recognize genuine skill in others.

      The unskilled overrate their own ability as above average. The highly-skilled underrate their abilities, often below the self-rating of the unskilled.

      Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, because competent individuals wrongly assume that others are also competent. The incompetent misjudge themselves, whereas the highly competent misjudge others.
      – –
      Many intellectuals beleive that there is no job (oil company CEO, football coach, running the local post office) that they cannot do as well or better than the person currently in the role, should they ever exert the effort to do so.
      – –
      Bertrand Russell:
      The stupid are cocksure, and the intelligent are full of doubt. Most people would rather die than think. In fact, they do so.

    9. Michael Kennedy Says:

      For a mathematician, Bertrand was pretty cocksure about nuclear policy. Like Linus Pauling’s obsession with vitamin C, it was kind of a sad end for a great mind.

      A friend of mine, in fact my co-blogger, is a science reporter who does a very good job. When I met him, he was a AGW enthusiast. Over the past two years, he has changed his mind and read every one of the CRU e-mails to see the evidence. That is what reporters used to do.

    10. Ed Driscoll Says:

      “For a mathematician, Bertrand was pretty cocksure about nuclear policy. Like Linus Pauling’s obsession with vitamin C, it was kind of a sad end for a great mind.”

      As Tom Wolfe likes to say, “an intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others.”

      See also: Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky (whom Wolfe specially name-checked as an example in the above link), etc., etc.

    11. JorgXMcKie Says:

      “That is what reporters used to do.” Which is why they quit calling it ‘reporting’ decades ago and started calling it ‘journalism’.

      Having known way too many journalism undergraduates, my take is that J departments take people of rather mild intelligence who have some facility for stringing words together and convince them that asking questions and the mis-writing the answers makes the candidates for Mensa. Almost to a one they appear unable to understand even the simplest of concepts outside of constructing a sentence.

      ‘Reporters’ were interested in the facts. ‘Journalists’ are interested in ‘the story’ or ‘the narrative’. They already know everything worth knowing, so it’s merely a matter of cherry-picking out pieces of a ‘conversation’ with a ‘source’ that advance the narrative.

      It’s so simple a caveman could do it.

    12. stan Says:

      The first step on the path to wisdom is the recognition of our own ignorance. Obviously, our president and the journalists who cheerlead so enthusiastically for him have yet to take that first baby step.

    13. R Hernandez Says:

      It has been my experience, when arguing with liberals about gun control, that they are:

      1) extremely confident in their beliefs
      2) woefully uninformed
      3) completely unable to defend any of their beliefs (which they think are “facts”)
      4) unable or unwilling to change their beliefs when confronted with logic and facts that destroy their anti-gun stance

      I don’t argue with liberals any more. As a good friend of mine used to say “You may as well go argue with a tree.”

    14. Mwalimu Daudi Says:

      Journalists spend their time talking to actual experts, people who really understand what is going on in their field. Since the one basic skill of the interview is to tease out the relevant information and put it into terms the general public understands, reporters have the sense that they have gained some sort of expertise through the process.

      I am not sure that is always the case. All too often journalists consider someone who agrees with their views an “expert”, and someone who disagrees (if they are mentioned at all) as a “hardliner” or “extremist”.

      This is especially true in the area of science. Example: in the 1970s and 1980s journalists did a pretty effective hatchet job on nuclear energy. Every hysteric, kook and crazy who claimed that we would all die of radiation poisoning from nuclear reactors dominated both TV and the print media as “experts”. Real experts, on the other hand, were sidelined as tools of the nuclear industry – or worse.

      The attitude was summed up by one journalist of the time who said, “It may be easier to leave science to the scientists, but it isn’t very wise.” Contrast that with the “settled science” cultism of global warming, in which questioning the underlying science is akin to heresy. In both cases the Narrative of environmental absolutism rules.

      As an undergraduate in engineering in the early 1980s (I have degrees in both electrical and civil engineering) I was able to see through much of the journalist-induced fog. But many in the public were not, which is why we are stuck today with dependency on imported oil from the Middle East. If the journalists of the time had actually reported rather than flaked for the environmentalists, we probably would be closer to energy independence today.

    15. veryretired Says:

      There have been numerous studies done on the effects of peer pressure on individuals, yet no one here seems to mention this utterly basic factor in the molding of modern journalists.

      The atmosphere in academia in general, and in several of the soft liberal arts in particular, is permeated with the progressive litany, similar to the ecological litany articulated by Lomborg in the “Skeptical Environmentalist”, and derived from the same basic world view.

      It would require an enormous amount of intellectual integrity and courage to defy this set of assumptions about how the world works, and I see very little of those qualities in the strutting, pompous fools who populate the various television channels and dead tree media.

      In the final analysis, it is not their bias which is destroying their credibility and influence, but the consistent cowardice and superficiality with which they approach every issue they decide has bacome grist for the next 24 or 48 hour news extraveganza.

      I can spot biases a mile away, and the idea that there ever existed such a thing as “objective reporting” is ludacris on its face anyway.

      It’s the craven cowardice, and endless, vindicitve malevolence of so many of these little, little people that makes me so tired and disgusted.

    16. Thomass Says:

      “What caused this bizarre attitude?”

      Cocaine use? :)

      Whenever I see someone at a party on it, they seem to ‘know everything’.

    17. David B. Schlosser Says:

      One of the funniest Saturday Night Live sketches in recent memory was the one in which reporters from the NYT were briefed in preparation for their dispatch to Alaska to cover Sarah Palin. I can’t find the clip anywhere online (and there may be a reason for that).

      Basically, the conceit of the sketch was that the NYT reporters couldn’t imagine leaving NYC. The briefing was conducted by the single person who had been to Alaska – a reporter who’d interned at the Anchorage paper. One reporter was concerned about being eaten by a polar bear. When the briefer showed a picture of a shotgun and asked what it was, one of the reporters said (with supercilious affect) something to the effect of, “That’s a semi-automatic assault rifle, sometimes better known as a “Saturday night special’.” It went on in this vein for nearly 9 minutes. I was rolling on the floor laughing.

      No one in the audience laughed at anything except the reporter who worried about finding a psychotherapist in Alaska so he could continue his therapy.

    18. D. Cohen Says:

      It is very, very difficult to write something on a topic that a lot of other people have written about, and whose writings you’ve read, without producing something that sounds more or less like everything else that has already been written. It can be done, but you have to sit down and detach your thoughts from all the easy-to-write phrases and authorial attitudes in those previous articles, and then you have to decide what you yourself really think. This cannot be done on a short deadline, so for most journalists this is — and always will be — above their pay grade, and for that matter above the pay grade of the “experts” they consult. The only time most journalists (and their experts) do anything like this is when they absolutely have to — that is, when a supposedly “impossible” event takes place. Some occurrences, like the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, or the recent stock-market crash, so completely devalue conventional wisdom that journalists are forced to take a fresh look at things, discarding all their easy-to-write phrases and attitudes because, obviously, those phrases and attitudes have become comically inappropriate. In these two cases there was confusion for a week or so and then, almost overnight, new attitudes and phrases sprang up to describe a new conventional wisdom. Both for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the stock-market, one part of the new journalistic attitude was the implicit suggestion that they had known all along that something like this had to happen sooner of later. This assumption of a previous understanding would be funny if it wasn’t so obviously a sort of whistling in the dark, a way to avoid realizing how oblivious they had been to what was really going on …

    19. Jay Manifold Says:

      With apologies for having plugged this before, Andy Cline’s list of structural biases of journalism is well worth a read.

    20. Hobbitt von Trip Says:

      The attitude attributed to reporters in the article seems to be an attitude that most of us humans are guilty of. Reporters are merely worse. Gun advocates do it also. The society in western civilization that seems to have the least violent crime has the strictest gun control law. I refer to the Swiss. Most of us gun freaks follow this and agree. How many take it to the next level and ask the Swiss why they have so little violence. The Swiss think public ownership of guns is helpful but most often credit a society where most people live in the same general area as their biggest deterrent.

      On a different note, our school system is failing us. Our unionized teachers are failing in vital areas. I do think that. But poor teachers are not the first cause of our school failures, poor parenting does at least twice as much damage to our children.

    21. frank Says:

      I worked about thirty years in journalism as an editor and reporter. I dealt with hundreds of other journalists, and they ran the whole gamut in terms of their biases and professionalism. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the political leanings of some of them. A small percentage leaned to the right. A large percentage leaned to the left.

      All would tell you they never let their personal political views affect their writing, but most would be kidding you and themselves in saying that. However, there were some I worked with who were scrupulous about being fair and balanced, and rarely did you hear readers object to their work.

      To the other extreme were some reporters who didn’t make many bones about wanting to “get” a politician they didn’t like or to push an agenda. These reporters were always a headache for the editors and, fortunately, they always washed out after some period of time, though sometimes it took longer than most people wanted.

      The most common type of journalists are those who try to some degree to be fair, but still let their biases intrude on the story by subtle means. These are the reporters who pursue stories in which they ask why the tea party members are so violent, but they had no interest in doing similar stories about the violence committed by anti-Bush protesters. They will aggressively question a GOP legislator about one bill or another, but soften up when quizzing a Democrat in a similar situation. I’ve seen reporters fact check Republicans, but fail to do the same for Democrats in similar situations too. Another thing: In the newsroom, PC reigns supreme. And if there’s any one group of people that is the object of scorn, it is conservative Christians. As noted above, gun owners aren’t too highly regarded either.

    22. Daniel Says:

      The claim that Switzerland has strong gun control is absurd. All Swiss men are required by law to have guns in their home and be trained to use them.
      Yes it is among the safest places.
      Israel also has a large number of armed civilians and also is a very safe place.
      Where did you get the impression that there is strict arms control in Switzerland?
      this is from wickipedia”Gun politics in Switzerland are unique in Europe. The personal weapon of militia is kept at home as part of the military obligations. Switzerland has one of the highest militia gun ownership rates in the world.[1] In recent times political opposition has expressed a desire for tighter gun regulations.[2]

    23. daddy Says:

      Hardly anything has been of more delight to me recently than watching episodes of Celebrity Jeopardy which included Wolf Blitzer and Soledad O’Brian as contestants The ignorance and cluelessness observed when the camera is turned in the opposite direction and the questions aren’t known is a wonderful thing to behold. If I was dictator I’d make every talking head in America appear on Jeopardy and mandate the shows be rerun in perpetuity.

    24. Hobbitt von Tripp Says:

      Yes the Swiss have strong gun control laws. The gun control law is that (almost) all males are in the militia. (at any one time 2 to 4 % are on treatment, or jailed, or on severe probation) I thought you would see the tounge in cheek. The Swiss gun control law is that men are armed. Nevertheless the Swiss feel that most people residing in the same general area thoughout their lives is even more important to the prevention of crime that all men being armed. Did you not catch the “us gun freaks”?

      The point is that often we are so ready to argue that often we do not listen or analyze.

    25. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The Swiss are not only required to keep their militia weapons at home but they are often full automatic weapons.

    26. friend from Budapest Says:

      Another 2 cents’ worth-

      During a short but happy career as a journalist and editor, I realised something else about the mentality of journalists:

      In general, they are very intelligent and well informed. However, they deeply resent their generally low pay.

      They resent the disconnect between their wonderful and prestigious educations (and perceived intellect) and the lack of respect society pays in financial terms.

      I think it shows.

    27. Felix Says:

      I deal frequently with journalists on a business, rather than a social basis, and my impression is not that journalists think that they know more than they actually do, but that they are basically lazy. Once they figure they have enough to write or cover a story that’s it. They’re done. They are if anything, afraid to look deeper into a story or conduct that extra interview for fear that the facts that they may discover will get in the way of a good story and cause them to have to work harder.

    28. Marty Says:

      Ever notice how the media are always knowledgeable EXCEPT they know nothing about anything that you actually know about?

      hmmmmmmmmmm…

    29. Marty Says:

      And J-schools are so worthless they give Gender Studies Programs a good name by comparison.

    30. Nate Whilk Says:

      Marty 11:12 pm, exactly. And that’s true for EVERYBODY.

      hmmmmmmmmmm…

    31. Beruang Says:

      I notice a lot of the same “I’m an expert at one thing; therefore I’m an expert at everything” attitude in the museum field.

    32. Jonathan Says:

      These comments seem to capture some of what’s going on:

      In general, they are very intelligent and well informed. However, they deeply resent their generally low pay.

      …my impression is not that journalists think that they know more than they actually do, but that they are basically lazy.

      Ever notice how the media are always knowledgeable EXCEPT they know nothing about anything that you actually know about?

      Journalists’ envy and resentment toward people in better-paying occupations are palpable in much coverage of financial issues.

      Also, journalists tend to personalize everything. It’s all about interviews and secret sources. God forbid they learn statistics or even merely look at data. English majors who don’t know math interview outstanding people in quantitative fields. Why would anyone expect such journalists to get things right?

      The better journalists tend to find profitable niches. This tends to leave general news reporting in the hands of hacks and neophytes. Perhaps there is no systematic remedy other than for journalists and news consumers to become better educated.

    33. SMSgt Mac Says:

      I’m reading a lot of Thomas Sowell’s work these days. I believe his writings on the disconnect between the worldviews of the ‘Anointed’ and ‘Benighted’ (the current Intellectuals and Society appears to be the capstone of the series) would be most helpful in explaining to anyone as to why the media and others of the intellectual (as defined by Sowell) bent insist on preserving their pet memes even in the face of facts that emerge from the real world.
      The media is also rather poorly served in understanding new things by their training as well. 2-3 years ago I was curious enough as to why the media consistently fails to see their failure to understand complex issues that I took some time to review the curriculum and available syllabi of Columbia’s J-School. I found the study of ‘logical fallacies’ in only one class description, for a class on ‘technical writing’. One would think the understanding of the fallacies would be far more prominent, but it was as if logical fallacies were not significant enough to other forms of ‘journalism’ to bother emphasizing.

    34. Jonathan Says:

      Logical fallacies? What are you, some kind of racist?

      :)

    35. Ruth H Says:

      I do not recall any journalist being interviewed as to why they chose journalism as their life’s work who did not reply without the phrase “to make a difference” somewhere in that reply. They start out with an agenda and in the main they try to follow through on it.

    36. DirtyHarry Says:

      # Marty Says:
      April 11th, 2010 at 11:12 pm

      Ever notice how the media are always knowledgeable EXCEPT they know nothing about anything that you actually know about?

      I noticed this about the age of 12 (1977 or so), and decided then and there to not trust the news. Nothing since then has happened to change my view on the subject. I mean, it was (and is) preposterous to think that if the “mainstream media” had gotten a story on something I was knowledgeable about SO FREAKING WRONG it was useless or even worse than useless from an informative standpoint that the rest of the stories I had little knowledge of were any more accurate or useful – particularly when it comes to “informed decision making”. GIGO applies; if I’m getting crappy info from the “information services”, I can hardly be expected to make anything other than a crappy decision now, can’t I? Hence the state of politics today, by the by.

      The best source of “news” (which is a lot easier to gather today with teh intarnets and such then it was way back then, when acting on this observation would mean “buy a ton of magazines”) are “subject-specific” media, where the articles are written BY those knowledgeable in the subject FOR those knowledgeable (or wanting to be more knowledgeable) in the subject.

      All else (i.e. NYT, etc. et al.) is just pointless and meaningless fluff and nonsense.