How the media botched the explanation of how they botched their reporting
Writing in the liberal New Republic , T. A. Grant, acting on some smidgen of unease and faint stirrings of conscience about the non reporting of last week's Tucson horror by his/her fellow liberals, decides to explain How The Media Botched the Arizona Shooting. Good. However this explanation is an example of how the media botched the real story of the Arizona shooting.
The problem begins immediately after Grant agonizes over the glaring (false) rush to judgment committed by fellow journalists causing him/her such embarrassment that s/he finally asks
How did many fine, otherwise fair-minded journalists allow their judgment to become so clouded?
Whoops! The problem shows up immediately: basic premise wrong so mostly everything flowing from it will be wrong. Maybe theses journalists were fine to Grant but they were not "otherwise fair-minded" and seemed to have very little judgment. Diversity be damned, the default, normal position for journalists at most of the dominant media is liberal; anything else is considered a deviation. Babble about neutrality and objectivity and even fair-mindedness but study after study confirms this the lack of objectivity, lack of neutrality, inherent biases in all angles of reporting and the liberal/left tilt.
Therefore with their natural outlook and limited imagination, journalists knee jerked Arizona, shootings, Democratic Congresswoman to right wing, tea party shooter automatically. Restraint, fact checking or entertaining the possibility of other explanations for the horrible incident just didn't enter their collective decidedly non objective, non neutral minds.
Grant apologetically fancies up the reasons for this glaring lack of professionalism.
Organizational theorists such as Karl E. Weick, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan Business School, have researched how we react to unexpected events. In his 1995 book Sensemaking in Organizations, Weick notes that we humans automatically categorize what we encounter, ushering messy new complexities into tidier established categories ("myths, metaphors, platitudes, fables, epics and paradigms," to be precise). When something bad and inexplicable takes us by surprise, our brains reach for the handiest existing narratives, and accuracy falls by the wayside in favor of simple plausibility. "The stories are templates," writes Weick. "They are products of previous efforts at sensemaking. They explain. And they energize."
Contributing to such tendencies are the habits of newsrooms. In their 1989 book How Do Journalists Think?, S. Holly Stocking and Paget H. Gross note that a typical reporter launches into a story with an investigative hypothesis, one that is often bolstered during the reporting process by "confirmation bias."
"Confirmation bias." Condensing this--let's repeat, these journalists were not fair-minded because they couldn't/wouldn't acknowledge their biases -- only with great reluctance did they finally admit that the alleged killer is not a tea party right wing racist but rather mentally unstable, which incidentally is one issue that resonates with liberals who feel it doesn't with conservatives.
Still unable to let go of the fair-minded journalist, Grant continues the explanation revealing his/her own bias.
If the shootings in Arizona can serve as a springboard for discussing a significant, if not necessarily related, societal menace, why not let them do so? After all, much of the right truly has become unhinged."[M]uch of the right truly has become unhinged." How's that for fair-minded, fair and balanced? It isn't.
Well, yes, (italics added) but let's remember that the deaths caused by Jared Loughner were preventable. There were concrete things that could have been done and that we now should do. Some people think we should place more restrictions on gun ownership. Some think we should provide more security services to members of Congress. Some think we should have improved mental-health resources. Such solutions may be wise or foolish, but the point is that they are directly relevant to the tragedy of last weekend.
These same fair-minded journalists, proven wrong but not willing to admit it will now slosh over their glaring mistakes seguing into learning from Tucson by demanding hmmm, let's see, the usual liberal tropes--gun control, improved mental health access and of course, shrieking equivalency by demanding that everyone tone down the divisiveness, ignoring its one sidedness.
It's well past time for journalists to move on from what we don't know about the causes of last weekend's tragedy and grapple seriously with a great deal that we now do know-even if, God forbid, it means we'll have to abandon our hypotheses.
Starting with abandoning the journalists were fair-minded would be a great advance. We do know that.