Selective skepticism

Inconsistent media display their bias

The Los Angeles Times website has a button to click if you want to “Contact Reporter.”

 

But anymore, you needn’t contact a reporter to find out what he or she thinks. It’s fairly evident in their writing – in the words they use, and in the overall tone the words set.

One reporter writing about former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s nomination as secretary of energy made it fairly clear, albeit subtly, he takes a skeptical view of the nomination.

“President-elect Donald Trump appears to be on the verge of picking the former Texas governor,” the reporter writes. “Appears to be on the verge of” sounds as if Mr. Trump were standing on a cliff and were about to make a fatal mistake.

He follows that up by noting that Perry once wanted to eliminate the department – and, pointedly, now stands “to run the department that builds and maintains nuclear weapons, regulates fracking and offshore drilling and monitors the Iran nuclear deal, among its many responsibilities.”

Factual, certainly. But rather than just reporting on the story, the reporter seems to be building a case for the energy department’s being indispensable – which it obviously isn’t, since the country operated fine without it until 1977.

“In Perry, Trump would have another oil industry ally and climate-change skeptic in his Cabinet,” the reporter goes on – seemingly trying to warn readers rather than inform them. Why didn’t he go all out and write “yet another …”

Even in the objective facts you choose to highlight, you can show bias. This reporter writes that “Perry’s background and worldview contrast starkly with the Energy secretaries under President Obama, both of whom are physicists – one a winner of the Nobel Prize, the other a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

In other words, these other guys were smart and probably right. Perry’s probably going to be wrong. Still, the job isn’t splitting the atom – it’s carrying out the president-elect’s policies.

Again, the reporter seems to want to build a case rather than report a story: “Obama’s secretaries’ extensive background in science helped them chart a course for an agency that takes the lead in managing America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons as well as global nonproliferation efforts. The current Energy secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, was deeply involved in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, which Perry has said should be scrapped.”

Oops. That last item happens to be one we agree with. We also don’t agree with the “physicists’” decision to mothball nuclear waste depository Yucca Mountain.

Then again, news stories shouldn’t be something you agree or disagree with. They ought to just tell the facts in a fair-minded way.

Did you notice this amount of skepticism about Mr. Obama’s Cabinet selections? We didn’t.

Then again, when it comes to Democratic administrations, the media seem to have lost their ability to question things. Skepticism, the keystone to an inquiring mind, used to be a hallmark of American journalism. We remember the “Question Authority” stickers that used to be passed around in the days of Vietnam and Watergate. Today, the media are more likely to question those who are questioning government.

Where is the skepticism of the Iran nuclear deal? The media seem to trust the mullahs in Tehran more than they trust a former governor of Texas.

Where is the skepticism toward the Russian hacking-of-the-election claim? Where is the evidence? Where is the skepticism of global warming? Where are the deep inquiries into voter fraud? (Did you see that a large portion of Detroit precincts had more votes than voters Nov. 8? How is that possible?) Where is the skepticism toward government spending; when are the media going to actually wonder if Washington needs all the money it’s taking in, or focus on how it’s being spent?

Consistent skepticism is the lifeblood of journalism. Selective skepticism is just bias.

 

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