Self-Centered Bias

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

In an otherwise good article at Politico on How President Obama plays media like a fiddle authors John Harris and Jim Vandehei attempt to refute the notion that “the vast majority of reporters at mainstream news organization are liberals.” After creating a straw man of the conservative belief, they go on to claim that instead being liberal, “the majority of political writers might more accurately be accused of centrist bias.” To their great credit, Harris and Vandehei go on to define what they mean by centrist saying that,

the majority of political writers… believe broadly in government activism, but are instinctually skeptical of anything that smacks of ideological zealotry and are quick to see the public interest as being distorted by excessive partisanship.  Governance, in the Washington media’s ideal, should be a tidier and more rational process than it is.

I have no doubt that this is what they really believe; yet it is a very revealing definition.  Let’s start with the last part, that governance should be tidier and more rational.  While no doubt true, how relevant is it?  Is there anyone who believes that it should be messier and less rational?  Yet the authors include this in their definition as if it somehow distinguishes them from those on the left and the right; as if only centrists want tidier and more rational government.

This is a great example of self-centered bias; a bias that views and judges everything through the self. They believe that they look at things objectively, rationally, and therefore, since others disagree, those others must not be looking at things as objectively or as rationally.

Much the same can be said about their middle claim of being skeptical of “ideological zealotry” and how this hurts the public interest.  Again there is a self-centered bias here.  What they want is in the public interest, so those who disagree must be pushing ideology.  As a conservative, I have no doubt that Harris and Vandehei would classify much of what I write as ideological zealotry.  But what makes what I believe, or for that matter, what a counterpart on the left believes, ideological zealotry, yet what political writers believe in the public interest and somehow not ideological zealotry?

Granted that excessive partisanship, i.e., putting the interest of one’s party ahead of the public interest can be a problem, but I believe it is vastly overrated.  Conservatives oppose Obama, not because he is a Democratic, but because they disagree with his policies.  Even when party concern is apparent, they are often backed up by more long term concerns.  Thus while some on the far left are unhappy with some of Obama’s policies, they still support him, not because he is a Democrat, but because they believe the policies pushed by a Republican president would be worse.  Again it is not ideological zealotry or partisanship, for most people it is simply who, given the limited choices, will come closest to what they want.  This is the same, left, right and center.  Yet Harris and Vandehei see the views of political writers as being somehow different and better.

This brings us to their first and most revealing statement; that political writers, “believe broadly in government activism.” One of the key distinguishing differences between liberals and conservatives is over the role of government.  Conservatives for a number of reasons push for limited government, and seek solution in a market place governed by choice and competition.  Liberals, for a number of reasons, push to control the market place and seek solutions in government.  As such, Harris’ and Vandehei’s claim that “the majority of political writers… believe broadly in government activism” would place them solidly on the liberal side of the spectrum.

So how can they label this centrist?  Because a self-centered bias would naturally place one in the center, being neither left nor right, but looking objectively at the evidence; as if those on the left and the right somehow do not seek to look objectively at the evidence.  This self-centered bias is reinforced by the size of the political spectrum and the number of people in the United States.  Except possibly for the most extreme of the extremes, those on the left can find plenty of people who are further left than they are, and those on the right can find those further right.  So to some extent virtually everyone has some claim to being “in the center.”

When we look at the current political make up, the Democratic Party is generally on the left and the party of Government activism, while the Republican Party is generally on the right and is the party of limited government.  So if Harris and Vandehei are correct, and “the majority of political writers… believe broadly in government activism” is it really any surprise that conservatives see the major Media as tilted toward the Democratic Party; especially given that they label this as centrist?  Yet Harris and Vandehei wrote this to refute claims of a liberal bias.

So Obama may be playing them like a fiddle, but the simple fact is that they are more than ready to be played, and will remain so at least until they open their eyes to their own bias.

Feb 7th, 2011

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