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June 22, 2004

Ace of Spades HQ: Your One-Man On-Line Non-Partisan Think Tank o' Evil

Michelle Malkin's annoyed that our "non-partisan watchdog organizations" turn out to be, surprise surprise, not quite so non-partisan as advertised.

This has provoked me into writing something that I've been wanting to write for some time, but I haven't, because it's so obvious as to be tedious. But it needs to be written anyway.

There are usually two ways to describe an advocacy organization or think tank.

First, you could term them "non-partisan." And this is indeed true, at least in a nominal, technical sense. Most of these organizations are officially non-partisan, meaning they are not necessarily committed to one party or the other.

These organizations usually maintain the right to support anyone from either party in any particular election. The NRA might support a pro-gun-rights Democrat over a pro-gun-control Republican. (The NRA, I think, endorsed Virginai Govenor Mark Warner, for example, or at least they gave him high marks.)

For these organizations, it's the philosophical cause that is the determinative factor, not a candidate's party affiliation.

Nevertheless, these organizations are usually on one side or the other. Obviously, the NRA will usually support the GOP candidate, because usually it's the GOP candidate who supports the NRA's basic ideological cause. Obviously NARAL and NOW will usually support the Democrat.

So it's also quite truthful to describe NOW as "an organization generally supporting Democratic candidates and liberal positions on gender issues."

Now, here's the fun part:

The media almost always describes liberal-leaning but nominally-nonpartisan groups as "non-partisan." They could honestly describe them as liberal-leaning and Democrat-aligned, but they choose not to. They think "non-partisan" says it better.

The media, however, almost always describes right-leaning but nominally-nonpartisan groups as "conservative" or "gun-rights supporting" or the like. Rather than describe them as "non-partisan," the media decides that the public really ought to know the group's core philosophical stance so that the public may discount their opinions for bias.

When's the last time you heard the Heritage think tank described as "non-partisan"? How about the American Enterprise Institute?

The media isn't lying, exactly, when it describes Citizens for Tax Justice as "non- partisan." They are, however, deliberately and purposefully withholding key information from the public -- to wit, that organization's ideological agenda and political bias. And it seems strange to me that when it's a conservative organization being reported upon, the media seems to grasp that this basic descriptive information is in fact important for the public to know.

Why the divergence?

The media is forever claiming that its various double-standards are justified by complicated judgments full of "nuance" and "context" which are so inpenetrable as to make the charge of bias unproveable.

But we have here an extremely simple situation. A simple rule would eliminate all bias in this regard. CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, the WP, the NYT: All can craft a very simple and short rule that says either:

1) nominally non-partisan organizations will be called "non-partisan"

or

2) nominally non-partisan organizations will be described according to their generally-accepted ideological leanings

or

3) they'll be described both ways, as being both non-partisan and generally supportive of one political philosophy

...no matter which side of the aisle they support.

The current rule is that there is no simple, black-letter rule. And the fact that there is no simple rule thereby allows reporters to make "complex" judgments of "nuance" and "context," which allows them, time and time again, to describe Heritage as "right-wing" and Emily's List as "non-partisan."

That is unacceptable. We are talking about a simple bright-line rule which everyone can easily understand and follow. The media won't enact this rule, because they want to continue labling conservative organizations as "conservative," while withholding similar important information from the public regarding liberal organizations and in fact affirmatively misleading the public by calling them "non-partisan."

The vaguer the rule is, the easier it is to engage in biased reporting. After all-- you're not constrained by any simple bright-line rule.

And just watch, watch, watch as you're repeatedly informed that Emily's List is "non-partisan" (you can trust them; they're independent and unbiased) but Heritage is "conservative" (take their claims with a grain of salt, or better yet, disbelieve them entirely, because they're a bunch of political hacks).

And one last point:

Since the media obviously understand the importance of reporting a source's possible political bias (at least in terms of conservative sources) so that the public can make informed judgments about the source's credibility...

...any chance the media will begin divulging its own political bias, so that we can make an informed judgment about the main provider of news and information?


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posted by Ace at 04:57 PM

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