The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Grammar and Rhetoric of Media Bias

Posted on | February 4, 2023 | 3 Comments

Yesterday I recounted my experience of watching a couple hours of MSNBC — I watch, so you don’t have to — and perhaps I should remind readers that I’m old enough to remember what journalism was about before cable news and the Internet had permanently altered the media landscape. It took me more than a decade of toiling at local newspapers in Georgia before I got hired by The Washington Times in 1997, and then spent an eventful decade in the newsroom there before striking out on my own as a freelancer/blogger. Part of my experience at The Washington Times was dealing with the stylebook as dictated by our legendary editor Wes Pruden who, for example, banned the word “controversial” from the pages of the newspaper. You see, “controversial” is one of those words by which journalists introduce bias in reporting. It’s a lazy word, a label applied to stigmatize someone a reported doesn’t like, and whom he wants the reader to dislike, e.g., “controversial talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh.” And the stylebook as dictated by Pruden had a number of other rules like that, intended to prevent The Washington Times from being like practically every other newspaper in the country, written with little tricks of tendentiousness intended to prejudice the reader.

While every conservative thinks of himself as an expert on media bias, very few of them have the kind of experience I had, spending a decade on the national desk in a newsroom under Mr. Pruden’s authority. The simplest sort of work in such an environment — turning a wire-service report into a four-paragraph item in the “National Briefs” column — might require a rewrite to eliminate the elements of liberal bias. And, good Lord, the hassle of dealing with copy from our Capitol Hill bureau, where some of the young reporters didn’t seem to understand the importance of being independent from the journalistic herd, and would parrot the same Democrat talking-points that everybody else in the D.C. press corps was parroting. How many times is it necessary to explain that tax cuts do not need to be “paid for”? This is not a trivial point, as the rhetoric of “paying for” tax cuts involves an evasion of the fundamental question of whose money it is that Congress is spending.

Furthermore (and excuse me for belaboring this point, which involves one of my pet peeves), the idea of “paying for” for tax cuts ignores a fact of economics that can be easily demonstrated, namely that reductions in the rate of taxation generally yields a higher level of revenue. This is the famous “Laffer Curve,” and was the not-so-secret reason why Ronald Reagan’s presidency yielded one of the greatest economic booms in world history. And as the private-sector economy boomed, the amount of tax revenue received in Washington actually increased, thus proving the basic falsehood of Democratic Party rhetoric about “paying for” tax cuts.

My point, however, is not to teach an economics seminar, but rather to illustrate how the business of eliminating liberal bias from news coverage requires a close scrutiny of how sentences are structured. And that was my day-to-day job for a decade, so that I can claim an expertise in this matter which most of my peers do not possess. If you never worked for Wes Pruden, don’t imagine you can teach me anything about how media bias operates. With that in mind, read this report from CBS News:

The GOP-led House Judiciary Committee is seeking information from the FBI about Charles McGonigal, the former top counterintelligence official in the bureau’s New York field office who was charged last week with violating U.S. sanctions on Russia and other related offenses.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, wrote a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday seeking material and information about McGonigal as part of an investigation into allegations of political bias at the bureau.
The Republicans are also requesting a briefing to discuss the FBI’s investigation into McGonigal, including whether the bureau is undertaking any review to determine how Russia and its oligarchs were able to influence senior FBI officials. Jordan and Gaetz set a deadline of Feb. 16 for Wray to respond. The bureau said it received the letter, but had no additional comment.
McGonigal, 54, was most recently the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in New York and retired from the bureau in 2018 after a 22-year career.
A five-count indictment unsealed in federal court in New York last week accused McGonigal of working for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018, and federal prosecutors allege McGonigal and Sergey Shestakov, a former Russian diplomat who became a U.S. citizen, worked for Deripaska to investigate an unnamed rival Russian oligarch in 2021.
McGonigal is also facing federal charges in Washington, D.C., related to at least $225,000 in cash he allegedly received from a person with business interests in Europe and who worked for a foreign intelligence service.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges in both New York and Washington.
“This misconduct further erodes public confidence in the FBI’s conduct and law-enforcement actions,” Jordan and Gaetz wrote to Wray.
Citing reports from conservative news outlets that McGonigal played a role in the FBI’s decision to launch its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between former President Donal Trump’s campaign and Russia, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Republicans said McGonigal’s indictment “raises new questions about the FBI’s counterintelligence efforts during his employment” with the bureau.
Jordan and Gaetz have requested Wray turn over to the committee all personnel records regarding McGonigal; documents and communications “referring or relating to the FBI’s process for assessing and responding to the investigation” concerning McGonigal; and material related to the FBI’s efforts to mitigate national security risks posed by McGonigal’s alleged actions.
Republicans have accused the FBI of improperly targeting Trump with its investigation into possible connections between his 2016 campaign and Russia. The GOP-controlled House has created a select subcommittee, led by Jordan, on the “weaponization of the federal government” that will examine recent actions by the Justice Department and FBI.
The Justice Department’s inspector general conducted a review of the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation and concluded in a December 2019 report that agents made many procedural errors, including “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in warrant applications, but did not find “any documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations.”
John Durham, the special counsel who was tasked in 2019 with investigating the Justice Department’s investigations surrounding the 2016 campaign, responded to the Horowitz findings at the time, and said he did not agree with parts of the inspector general’s report.
“Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.,” Durham said in a statement. “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

Now, the lead byline on this article is Catherine Herridge, a national security reporter who used to work for Fox News, so I do not think she is responsible for the obvious elements of bias here. In fact, I suppose Herridge had to fight tooth-and-nail with her bosses just to get the basic facts into this story, as her editors seem intent on portraying this investigation as a Republican snipe hunt. Her bosses as CBS News do not want to admit the obvious fact that the whole “Russian collusion” narrative was bogus, manufactured by Fusion GPS under contract to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and that the FBI was part of the corrupt enterprise that turned a partisan smear into a two-year investigation based on a hoax. Certainly it is not far-fetched to suppose that McGonigal’s role in this might be crucial to understanding the extent of corruption at the FBI. So why the emphasis-by-repetition on the fact that this is a “GOP-led” investigation? During all the years that the “Russian collusion” narrative was treated as legitimate by journalists, did CBS News ever emphasize the partisan aspect of the story this way?

Over and over, in a thousand different ways on a daily basis, we encounter the same basic problem: Media bias enlists journalists to become “Democratic Party operatives with bylines,” so that anyone who disagrees with the Democratic Party’s agenda — even including Democrats who dissent about some particular item on that agenda — finds himself doing battle against dishonest reporting. But perhaps saying this makes me “controversial” . . .




3 Responses to “The Grammar and Rhetoric of Media Bias”

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