I get asked a lot about media bias, and for the most part my answer is probably unsatisfying to those who think it’s a pervasive feature of newsrooms which are full of editors and reporters plotting to advance the liberal agenda. In short, I think bias is by and large a matter of blind spots, and it’s the reporter’s (and editor’s) job to recognize those blind spots and account for them in the stories they pursue, the people they interview, the questions they ask, and the way they present the information they’ve found. If you are able and willing to recognize your blind spots and account for them, you can produce a reasonably objective piece of journalism. This was my own personal approach when I was a news reporter for the AP.
That said, there are a few perennial stories that are indicative of, at minimum, journalists refusing to acknowledge their blind spots. And one of them — Republican gets asked about some science-y topic! LOLs ensue! — is in the headlines right now.
I refer of course to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recent refusal, during a think tank Q&A while on a state trade mission to London, to take the bait on that staple of GOP interviews: Do you believe in evolution? He declined to answer, and suddenly this is a story, even though the questioner basically admitted it’s a GOP set-up; he said it’s “almost a tradition now to ask (it of) visiting, particularly Republican, senior Republicans who come to London.”
It’s a ridiculous question to ask, for many reasons. It’s ridiculous because the United States president — the office Walker is widely expected to seek next year — does practically nothing that has to do with anything regarding evolution. In fact, that’s more or less what Walker said: “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other,” he said, “so I’m going to leave that up to you.” Liberals who usually slam politicians for mixing religion and politics are instead slamming Walker for essentially refusing to mix religion and politics. Walker’s staff later clarified that the governor thinks “faith and science are compatible,” an answer that he should have had at the ready in London, but which is unlikely to satisfy many of his critics.
It’s also a ridiculous question because Democrats never get asked any science-related questions that put them in a similarly uncomfortable position. As David Harsanyi points out at The Federalist, if politicians are going to be asked about evolution, why not ask them whether a 20-week-old unborn child is a human being? Other questions he suggested:
- Do you believe there are too many people on Earth?
- Is nuclear power the safest energy in the world?
- Do you believe GMOs are safe?
- Do your chromosomes have anything to do with determining sex? What role do they play in a person’s gender, if any?
And so on. Some of these questions would put Democratic candidates in the uncomfortable position of choosing between “science” and/or acceptable mainstream opinion on one hand, and key elements of their base on the other. Which would be analogous to the evolution question Republicans get, except that these questions actually relate to legitimate public-policy questions.
There’s also one other key difference: Mainstream opinion actually aligns with key elements of the GOP base on evolution, and against the premise of the question Walker and other Republicans get.
You see, the evolution question is most of all ridiculous because it’s intended to create ridicule, even though this ridicule is laughably misplaced. In June 2012, Gallup reported that 46 percent of Americans subscribe to the creationist belief: that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” That figure includes a plurality of Democrats and independents, a plurality of college graduates, and even a quarter of those who “attend church seldom or never.”
Another 32 percent, including the second-largest number of Democrats and independents as well as college graduates, believe “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.”
A mere 15 percent of Americans subscribe to the view that almost certainly represents the premise for the Republicans-on-evolution question: that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.”
So, taken together, 78 percent of Americans believe something that would most likely earn them ridicule from the people asking Republicans questions about evolution. Just 15 percent presumably would earn the questioner’s approval. And this tells somehow tells us something is wrong with … Scott Walker?
That, and the ridicule which greeted Walker’s punt — but which did not greet Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to answer the 20-week-old fetus question, or Barack Obama’s dodge of a question about whether unborn children have rights — are quintessential examples of what many people regard as media bias. And in this case, if not many others, they unfortunately appear to be right.