November 15, 2006
Sometimes Bias Shows Up Most Clearly In The Smaller Things
in the choice of editorial cartoons at the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI. Some time ago, I
began thinking that I never saw a pro-Bush, pro-Republican, or pro-conservative editorial* cartoon in
either paper. This morning I decided to find out whether that tentative conclusion was
correct and went to the Kirkland library, where they keep both newspapers, going
back about 4 weeks for the daily newspapers, and about 6 weeks for the Sunday newspapers.
All together I found 92 editorial cartoons in the stacks of the two newspapers. (Not including
the Doonesbury cartoon strip, which the Seattle Times runs on the op-ed page.) Just one cartoon
made a conservative point, a Canadian cartoon showing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il wondering how he
would know if UN sanctions were imposed. Just one cartoon, a Devericks cartoon in the Seattle Times,
attacked a national** Democrat without also attacking a Republican; it showed Senator Maria Cantwell being
reluctant to debate — as she was. A few of the other cartoons were not on political subjects,
and a few more attacked both parties, or both Senator Kerry and President Bush. Half of the cartoons
were attacks, almost always heavy-handed, on President Bush, the Republicans, or both. Two cartoons
on one side; 46 cartoons on the other side. I would not call 46-2 balanced.
Whoever chose the cartoons at the Times and the PI in that time period made no effort at all to tell
both sides of the story, no effort to let their readers see cartoons from both the left and the
right. I don't think that either newspaper did this as a matter of deliberate policy, but I do
think this imbalance shows a deep-seated bias at both newspapers.
Not only were the cartoons biased, on the whole; they were often misinformed, based on false
assumptions. Worst of all, the cartoons attacking Bush and the Republicans were rarely
funny — and I generally love political cartoons, even those I disagree with. (There
were a couple of amusing Oliphant cartoons, but they were the cartoons that did not make a partisan
point. And he also did two of the very worst cartoons.)
Some might wonder whether the pattern of bias that I found was the result of choices by the
editors at the two Seattle papers. You might get this same pattern if nearly all editorial
cartoonists were partisan Democrats, and the editors just picked cartoons randomly. In fact,
many editorial cartoonists are conservative. The best editorial cartoonist
in the United States (and perhaps in the world) is Michael Ramirez, who now works for the Investor's
Business Daily, and is very definitely conservative. (For a sample, see his November 9th cartoon,
which you can find
And there are other good conservative cartoonists; today's
featured cartoon at
Townhall, by Mike Shelton,
is nasty — and very funny. And it is easy to find many more examples. So the editors
at the two Seattle papers could run conservative cartoons — if they wanted to.
And for purely commercial reasons, they should want to. They could sell more newspapers if they
showed, by their choice of editorial cartoons, that they understood that they still have readers on
the right and in the center. And they could definitely sell more newspapers if they ran funnier
cartoons, and these days most of the funny cartoons are drawn by conservatives.
Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.
(*Both the Times and the PI run comic strips with generally conservative points of view,
respectively, Prickly City and Mallard. But neither strip appears on the editorial
**The Times and the PI each ran a cartoon attacking the Democratic mayor of Seattle, but since Seattle
is a one-party town, neither made a partisan point.
I found two odd patterns in the cartoons. Both newspapers ran a bunch of cartoons attacking
negative ads, which is both amusing and ignorant. It's amusing because the best cartoons are
mostly negative, and often unfair, just like those ads. It's ignorant because negative ads
are generally more useful to the voters than positive ads, something I discussed
And then there was this oddity. From time to time, Eric Devericks of the Seattle Times would do
a balanced cartoon, or one with no partisan message. When he did, the Times almost always put a
hyperpartisan cartoon on the op-ed page. That may be just a coincidence.
Posted by Jim Miller at November 15, 2006
03:05 PM | Email This
1. Let's eliminate the state sales tax exemption for newspapers.
2. In my informal (no records kept) the Daily World in Aberdeen was of the same proportion. Of course the Editor swears he is an "independent" but his editorial board is pure left.
That's why I have switched to the Internet for my news. One point in the Internet is this blog. Thanks Jim for doing the research!
3. Day by Day by Chris Muir is very good, and Cox and Forkum should be in every paper no matter what political philosophy one adheres to. But that would require editorial page editors to put something into print which would 'offend' liberal readers. And we just can't have that.
There's no doubt about it. The MSM is going full tilt to preserve as much Democrat power as possible. But as more and more people become aware of alternatives and / or the MSM sources go out of business, there will be change. I think a large factor is that almost everyone in mainstream journalism leans left. And this is because they are often in the business of commentary. Imagine how few conservative jobs there are in that field and how short lived one's career in MSM journalism would be if one dare speak a conservative thought given the ideologies of the top brass. And there's an overt culture of exclusion to right ideas in many of the elite institutions in this country which lean left.
Part of the issue is based on the demographics of who is at the top levels of most organizations now. As more of the baby boomer/ hippie generation retries and dies off, there will be change as well.
But Jim, please also include Cox and Forkum in your analysis. While not syndicated in the same way as MSM editorial cartoons, I think you will find that indeed they are right at the top of the list of the best cartoonists in the US.
I could accept the bias of the MSM for what it is...except that they deny it actually exists in the first place.
Yet, they always equate the Conservatives/ Republicans with Goebbels et al.
6. Hah! Just look at the editorials/columnists. You will find a similar ratio to your cartoon one. The normal ratio at the PI is around 36-3 on a weekly basis. Talk radio exists to fill the void that the newspapers long ago created. And now we have the internet. Be Gone Dead Tree Media!
Jim - I think you're issue with this is a bit misguided.
There has never been any intention of the editorial or opinion page of a newspaper to be balanced. That's not the point, obviously. They have editorials and they choose sides.
News sections, however, are obviously supposed to be fair and accurate. Journalists try to be objective.
It seems to me that the average reader quite often mixes these things up. Sometimes they can't understand that what an opinion writer states in the opinion section has nothing to do with the way a news journalist is reporting the story.
Reflexively, they seem to think that an opinion page needs to be balanced. But that's not the point of an opinion page. The point is to have opinions. Those who run the opinion page are a direct reflection of a specific view point that they hold.
8. When it comes to funny conservative editorial cartoonists, my favorite is Glenn McCoy, who works for the Belleville News-Democrat. It think it's in Kentucky. He also does the comic strip "the Duplex" which is carried in the local paper, but it doesn't get into politics at all.
I like Devericks the Seattle Times cartoonist. I have not seen much of his real recent work...but I find him funny.
Now the P-I is junk from front to back.
Where your statement breaks down is that it confuses "having an opinion" which editorial have to "having bias" which is an entirely different matter.
The fact is that both sides of our poltical spectrum can and do cough up bad ideas and bad politicians on a regular basis. They also often have to make stands on issues that can be right, but may not be popular.
The problem is that the editorial pages of our local papers only seek to put a spotlights on the bad ideas and unpopular opinions of one side of the political debate. That makes the one side seem wrong all the time. (i.e. It's bias.)
For instance, Rush Limbaugh is biased. If you only listened to him, you'd only see half the argument and I think that we can pretty much all agree that's unhealthy to a strong civic debate. So why is it better if a media outlet that claims to be "unbiased" has a similar unhealthy presentation of the facts in one of their most read sections?
(I happen to agree with Rush on a lot of things by the way, and I am equally opposed and even offended by others.)
I think the only difference between Rush and the writers at the P-I is that Limbaugh is honest when he says he's a conservative and that his opinions are conservative. When he criticises or praises, you know where he's coming from and can filter and file the information appropriately.
The P-I claims to be a non-biased media and it isn't. Therefore they are mis-representing themselves and not being honest with their readers. Readers believe they are getting all the facts, but they are only getting one side.
This country was founded on healthy debate, checks and balances, and division of power. Whenever something as basic as the local newspaper loses that sense of balance, its not healthy.
So when you say "who cares" that these pages in the paper (which are well read) are almost always in clear support of one side of a debate and often ridicules the other, i don't think that washes.
11. There has never been any intention of the editorial or opinion page of a newspaper to be balanced. That's not the point, obviously. They have editorials and they choose sides.
News sections, however, are obviously supposed to be fair and accurate. Journalists try to be objective.
There's no discernable line between news reporting and the editorial page of the P-I.
The problem of bias is frequently seen in the selection of wire service reports. Most newspapers, even larger ones like the Times, either can't afford or don't choose to spend the money to do any national or international reporter.
As a result, they are forced to rely largely on the NYT or LAT/WP news services, or worst of all, Reuters. There's plenty of good reporting going on in Iraq, for example. You just don't get to read any of it unless you go online.
13. I don't care how biased Horsey is, as long as he continues to draw tittilating caricatures of scantily clad women with humongous features. The poor guy has missed his calling--he should be employed by a gentleman's magazine.
14. The point about a newspaper wanting to be even handed for commercial purposes (to sell papers to both D's and R's) is a great one. Now we know why the two Seattle papers are doing so badly. Conservatives aren't buying and liberals can't read them!
15. At least y'all don't get a steady diet of Mike Luckovich, day in, day out.
16. The reason you see so many cartoons criticizing conservatives is because until recently, conservatives have held all the power. If you really want to go back you'll find plenty of cartoons in both newspapers criticizing Clinton.
Ramirez is a great artist but his commentary leaves a lot to be desired. The problem isn't that he's a conservative. The problem is that he is a total partisan and only draws cartoons attacking democrats and spreading the disinformation and lies of the Bush administration. The best cartoons question authority. Ramirez props up authority and defends it.
17. Bob - We'll see if your theory is correct with the current batch at the paper. I'm not going to hold my breath, but it would be refreshing.