Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Here’s some analysis from the Census Bureau, via an article in USA Today. The Bureau says that people have been migrating out of New York and California over the past several years in significant numbers. This "discovery" is hardly surprising. What is noteworthy is the way the article’s author subtly frames the context of the analysis. The piece names several probable causes for the exodus, citing urban congestion, local economic stagnation, and rising real estate prices. These are all contributory factors to be sure, but not once does the article raise the issue of NY’s and California’s punishing tax regimes as a plausible explanation for the outflow. Given that the analysis shows a large number of those leaving the high tax states are settling in low tax jurisdictions (the California to Nevada example is explicitly highlighted in the article), one would assume that relative tax differentials between states are an obvious factor in the relocaton decision process. Unless, of course, the author is of the fervent belief that lower taxes should not be promoted in any context, even in a supposedly objective news article. It leads me to wonder where the author's political sensitivities lie. Hmm…

Normally, the charge of bias in such a benign case of blatant omission would be overkill, but something else in the article gave me pause, and confirmed my suspicions that such bias did indeed play a part in the final draft. Here’s a key sentence discussing the political implications of the migration pattern:


Many of the people leaving California, for example, are conservative white voters who have helped transform politics in the Rocky Mountain West from a competitive two-party environment to one that is heavily Republican.


Do you see the subtle jab there? Maybe not, because the subtlety lies in a telling omission; a balanced article would have also mentioned that California, as a result of the migration pattern, has also been transformed from a competitive two-party environment to one that is heavily Democratic. To accept this paragraph at face value, one would naturally assume that Republicans are encroaching like locusts across the Rockies and the prairie states, squeezing the helpless doe-eyed Democrats into extinction. Ok, maybe I’m taking poetic license here, but the implication of the omission is still the same: Republicans are shifting the balance of power and corrupting the sanctity of competitive democracy. If anyone truly believes that, I urge them to spend a few months living in San Fran. Maybe the fact that all of California’s highest elected officers, US Senators, and a plurality of mayors, state legislators and congressmen are Democrats would change the impression that the Democratic Party is dying a slow death.

Liberal media bias comes in many forms. Some of it is over-the-top and quite ridiculous even to a casual viewer. Most of the time, though, bias is applied lightly, with opinions and omissions gently massaged into the news reporting process, like this USA Today article. This form of bias is far more insidious, and otherwise respectable news organizations need to be called on it. Bernie Goldberg and the good folks at the Media Research Center can only do so much. Active and conscientious consumers of the mainstream news outlets should demand better.

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