20 September 2004

Getting Attention

The Perfesser constantly attacks the LA Times as being a "liberal" rag (it's not; it's just a badly conceived and executed pro-Hollywood rag, which at times looks "liberal" when one looks at the trees instead of the forest). He should be glad he's Down There instead of where I grew up, then. The Seattle Times is (for a major paper) rather more "liberal" than is the LA Times.

I've always found that the true editorial biases of a paper are most evident in the Letters to the Editor section. Editorial and other material is often selected on a "what will appeal to our readership?" basis; little else can explain why G30rg3 Wi11's syndicated column continues its wide distribution! Leaving the accuracy of such assessments aside, that means that the editors' passions are aroused only at the extreme, by the dint of changing columnists. The Letters section, however, is not. Certainly most editorial boards try to represent a broad spectrum of readers' letters in such sections. In general, though, one will find that the weight of what is printed represents the editorial biases of the paper much more than the selection of nationally distributed pablum that makes up the bulk of most of the major papers.

This brings us to today's Letters to the Editor in the Seattle Times. Ordinarily, one would expect—even up in fruits-and-nuts-and-treehuggers country, which is actually far less liberal than its reputation to outsiders—that there would be multiple reactions to general issues, particularly absent an obvious trigger. That's not what one sees in today's Times, though. Captions from 1960s protest music—actually, all from one song, and you'll know you lived through the era if you can name it without using any references—grace five letters on the Bush Administration's petulant attempts to suppress dissent. Although there's a later, incoherent letter taking the opposite position ("With a few exceptions, such as Fox Cable, the mainstream press is already the adoring lap puppy of the Democratic Party"), that "liberal bias" shows in the first five letters.

It's not just the "weight of opinion"—it's that those first five letters are not dominated with mangled clichés, inductive fallacies, and the intentional fallacy, while that opposing viewpoint is. What this says, more than anything else, is that the editorial staff couldn't, or wouldn't, find a better counterweight to the "liberal" material in its inbox. Considering that a paper the size of the Seattle Times probably receives hundreds of letters each day on hot-button issues, that says something rather interesting about editorial biases.