Media Criticism

The Media's Narrow Minds

Journalism full of assumptions that shouldn't be.


"Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views," William F. Buckley once observed, "but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views." He might have been writing about some of the nation's newsrooms.

Many media establishments obsess over diversity of pigment, while remaining ideologically monochromatic. This produces big blind spots and glaring examples of unconscious bias.

Here is one such example. A recent Wall Street Journal article on bicycle helmet laws began this way: "Helmets help prevent head injuries, so laws requiring cyclists to wear them would seem obvious."

Really? Why?

Helmet laws seem "obvious" only if you take several things as already given: (1) that government should force people to do what is in their own best interest; (2) that government actually can know what is in other people's best interest; and (3) that laws designed to promote people's best interests actually will do so.

The point of the article, however, was to note that cycling advocates take what it calls a "surprising" position: Mandatory helmet laws "make cycling less convenient and seem less safe, thus hindering the larger public-health gains of more people riding bikes. All-ages helmet laws might actually make cycling more dangerous, some cyclists say, by decreasing ridership. Research shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the fewer crashes there are." It goes on to cite research showing that the reduction in head injuries is offset by increased obesity caused by people not riding, which thus produces "a net negative health impact."

In short, given No. 3 might be wrong: A government program passed with good intentions might have unintended consequences.

Imagine that.

The article doesn't even mention the other two assumptions embedded in the opening sentence, let alone challenge them. But it is not a given that government should force people to do what is in their best interest. Millions of Americans recoil at the very idea. And even if government should, "best interest" means different things to different people. Some individuals want a long, healthy life free of pain and suffering. Others prefer to risk serious injury and even death so they can live a life full of intense thrills from activities such as riding a motorcycle, playing football, skydiving and so on. (Fun fact: The most dangerous high-school sport is actually boys' gymnastics.) On what basis does society conclude one vision of the good life is superior, and not only superior, but so inarguably superior that it should be imposed by force?

Another example: This past Wednesday a Washington Post story opened as follows: "It sounds kind of crazy to say that foreign aid often hurts, rather than helps, poor people in poor countries. Yet that is what Angus Deaton, the newest winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, has argued."

Why does that sound kind of crazy, exactly? The case against foreign aid is clear and straightforward: It props up corrupt governments and impairs economic growth by sabotaging local business, thereby perpetuating a cycle of dependency. And that point has been raised again and again: "Development Aid Harms Development" (American Enterprise Institute, 2004); "Interview with African Economics Expert: 'For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!'" (Der Speigel, 2005); "Is Aid to Africa Doing More Harm Than Good?" (NPR, 2007); "Lessons From Haiti; How Food Aid Can Harm" (The Atlantic, 2010); "A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid" (New York Times, 2013); etc.

You don't have to find the arguments against helmet laws and foreign aid convincing to acknowledge they exist, and are at least plausible—perhaps even plausible enough to require some kind of rebuttal. Yet to reporters and editors at two of the nation's largest newspapers, the arguments were not merely implausible—they were invisible.

These are glaring examples, but not isolated ones. During court challenges to the Affordable Care Act, countless media outlets treated the constitutional arguments against Obamacare as cockamamie nonsense that nobody could take seriously—until those arguments prevailed (as with Hobby Lobby), or nearly prevailed (as with the challenge to the individual mandate), at the Supreme Court.

The nation's media also are in general agreement about the evil inherent in "dark money." That is money given not to political action committees, which must disclose their donors, but to "outside groups" such as the NRA and Planned Parenthood, which do not. Those groups then use that money to express their views about politics, but they do so independently—that is, without consulting the candidates or the parties.

Yet many in the media seem oblivious to certain types of dark-money political involvement. One of the biggest dark-money groups—a powerful corporation long controlled by one of America's richest families—recently blasted the Republican presidential candidates for engaging in "crazy talk" that was "frightening"—filled not just with "lies and exaggerations" but with "assertions so untrue, so bizarre," that they were "surreal." In another blatantly partisan electioneering communication, this powerful corporation warned that America faces a "college affordability crisis. But candidates from only one party are taking it seriously."

"Democrats Offer Ways to Make College Affordable" was the headline on that New York Times editorial. The headline on the first was, of course, "Crazy Talk." If the campaign-finance laws advocated by critics of dark money were applied consistently, the government would forbid newspapers to print such editorials. Funny how so few in the media are concerned about that.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: Why Not Let E-Cigarette Companies Tell the Truth?

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  1. Liberals…. nothing worse…

    1. Liberals are a mere subset of statists in general.

    2. Progressivism, more so than Liberalism, but yes, the Venn diagram is nearly a single circle at times.

    3. They are nothing but elitist assholes in the media. They only care about their own political agenda and getting liberal Democrooks elected!

  2. A tribute for the media.
    *Fits better here, Ryhwun.

  3. One of my Econ Professor’s loved to mock Journalism students. He mocked them constantly, “Congratulations you have a degree in Journalism. So just what are you qualified to write about?” I think of that comment whenever I read a story like this because it so illustrates his point. Those in the media have so little knowledge about anything they write about, they don’t even know what questions they should be asking. Its more about promoting the narrative for their opinions, that it it about asking questions. The only time they seem to try is when they’re questioning a Republican and still they often still demonstrate how little they actually know about the subject.

    1. My son is a journalism major. Based on the nonsense coming out of the econ department (very progressive), he may actually have a better understand the discipline on a practical level.

  4. On what basis does society conclude one vision of the good life is superior, and not only superior, but so inarguably superior that it should be imposed by force?

    This is an easy one! Whatever 50% of the population + 1 wants, is the best thing, and everyone should be forced to have it!

    1. Oh Go Pound Sand. That would mean guns are ok.

      What you really mean is, Whatever 50% +1 of the elite want means that the other 50% – 1 are kulaks and wreckers and should be sent to the extermination camps.

  5. He forgot (4) And the cost of enforcement (to both the government budget–and its effects on the larger economy–AND to the citizen against whom force will be threatened) is acceptable and appropriate.

  6. I’ve been squawking about helmet laws for years. I ride a motorcycle because I enjoy it. I wear a helmet because it’s safer. I have made that choice for myself, but I vehemently disagree with those who believe that the choice that I made should be a requirement for everyone. I had a friend who rode for a long time, but chose not to wear a helmet. He died when he got launched over the handlebars one night riding home. He knew the risk that he was taking and accepted it. He would be absolutely disgusted to hear that his death (aggregated) is used every day as “proof” for mandatory helmet laws…

    1. But he might have been saved by not having his skull laid open! Of course his neck still would have been broken and he’d have been blowing through a tube for the rest of his life.

      I think of the short story by Ellison “I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream” when I encounter these Nanny Laws. Granted taken to an extreme, fictional degree, but the it’s the root of the same concept. It may not have been Ellison’s intention, but I make the connection.

    2. My buddy walked into where a group of us were sitting. He said ‘hey, you know I have two helmets, one a full face, one not?’. Yup. ‘Never again will I ride without a full face.’ Then he showed us a pic of his full face helmet, ground down at the face portion paper thin. He had gone off his bike and slid on his face for about 40 feet. He said his face would not look as it did if he had been wearing his small helmet.

      I ride and have done so for over 48 years. I still think it is dumb some days.

      But, I love it.

  7. Do helmets help in some instances? Probably. But how many cases are there where the person is saved due to protecting the head, but are damaged in other ways? What is the net shift from people who would have been dead (and perhaps an expenditure for a life insurance company) into a disabled category (and a liability to another insurance company)? The assumption is the shift from being dead or learning how to use a spoon again to whistling past the graveyard, perfectly fine. There is a population of invalids who are now alive due to seat belts who would have been dead. Would they have preferred to be dead? Certainly there are people who were saved from further harm by seat belts, but does the net shift from one category to another create “net happiness”? Who knows?

    Such interference is simply people who think they can keep everyone dry trying to push raindrops back up one at a time.

    And let’s be clear, there’s no doubt that helmet manufacturing companies LOVE mandates for their products.

    In short, does it make sense to wear a helmet? More often than not, probably yes. But I have no idea to know for certain it is the right decision for everyone, especially when taking into account ALL entries on the ledger. Certainly not to a point where I manufacturing an interest where the is absolutely none.

  8. Journalism and politics (it’s ugly cousin) are infested with narcissists. Narcissists (in my opinion) are people who are so driven by low self-esteem to establish a facade of goodness that this drive dominates the human drive to be good at some task (beside the performance art that is their lives).
    If my mechanic was obsessed with dressing smartly and being attractive to society at large but couldn’t figure out how to fix my car, I’d walk. But the media managers know that the performance art is more profitable than competence and so, as in politics where the performance is WAY more profitable than leadership, good work product doesn’t prevail.

  9. Progressives believe corporations have no civil rights. But corporations who are members the established press have freedom of the press because…what was the question again?

    1. The issue is groups of people rather than individuals. So of course they also oppose the idea of unions having 1A rights… oh, wait…

    2. Freedom of the press. But only the real press, not bloggers or faux news of course.

  10. Question for the journalism final: what do we call a credentialed scientist who expresses mild skepticism for the claim that human activity has warmed the earth 1 degree C since 2000?

    All of the above

  11. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  12. “But it is not a given that government should force people to do what is in their best interest. . . . And even if government should, “best interest” means different things to different people. Some individuals . . . prefer to risk serious injury and even death so they can live a life full of intense thrills from activities such as riding a motorcycle . . . ”


    Good article Mr. Hinkle.

  13. I remember back when the movie “Broadcast News” came out. For weeks after its release, news programs all had stories about how true it was – constantly showing the scene in which Joan Cusak sprinted through the studio getting the news on the air… it led me to believe that there was all too much self-praise in network journalism. That was when I stopped watching the news stations.

    1. Yeah, the media are some narcissistic shits aren’t they? Reason staff excepted, of course 😉

  14. Mr. Hinkle, I think, ignores one other objection to articles like these: are written by people whose only certain skill or knowledge base is that they know how to type.

  15. They’re pro-choice, they decide what’s best for you, a mere citizen.

  16. Something my daughter and I noticed: when you are wearing a helmet, cars cut much closer as they go around you. I’d much rather not be hit at all because the car cut it too close because I appeared “safe” due to a silly helmet. The biggest danger to cyclists on the road is cars and anything that encourages car drivers to be less careful is a definite increase in risk.

  17. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

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