How many times have you read a news story which says something like this?asks Patterico:
Although the [Bush] administration defends its proposed cuts as humane, some say that the cuts are unconscionable.You have probably read sentences like this so many times that they don’t sound strange any more. But think about it: what is the relevance of the fact that “some say” anything? After all, “some say” that Elvis is still alive. “Many say” that astrology is infallible. And some “critics” will tell you that the world is flat.
So why are you reading about what “some say” in the paper? Obviously, the reporter and/or the editors think it’s important for you to hear this particular opinion. Often, words like “some” or “many” can be replaced with the phrase “Times editors” with no appreciable change in meaning. When you see such locutions, you should ask yourself: who exactly is saying this? Is the contrary view being portrayed fairly? Does the article have an obvious spin? Is that spin consistent with what “some say”?
The use of phraseologies like “many say” lends the opinions a certain weight, suggesting that they are held by a number of potentially unbiased folks out there. The opinions expressed by “some” or by “critics” tend to be reported uncritically and sympathetically.
Meanwhile, when interviewees say things that support a conservative position, they tend to be labeled as representatives of a particular cause, politician, or branch of government, so their bias is always clear.
Once you become aware of the phenomenon, and you start to look for it, you will be amazed at how often the opinions expressed by “some” or “many” or “critics” are left-leaning opinions. For example, here are some things that “some” or “critics” have said in the last two or three days in the pages of the Times:
In [this] story about Justice Scalia’s speech to an advocacy group, “some” are critical of Justice Scalia:
The Philadelphia dinner was the third instance in which Scalia’s outside activities have created what some say is an appearance of partiality on issues before the court.
In this story, “critics” accuse the Bush administration of playing politics with terrorism. The subhead reads:
Critics say an accused terrorist’s role in Iraq attacks is exaggerated, noting weak evidence.And the body of the story has this quote:
The focus on Zarqawi is part of a political strategy to portray the terrorism threat as essentially foreign and rooted in the Al Qaeda network, thereby downplaying the significance of Iraqi insurgents, critics say.
In this story and this story, “critics” don’t like Bush campaign ads with 9/11 footage. One story said:
Critics called these ads “unconscionable,” “inappropriate” and “in poor taste.”Another said:
The critics called the spots insensitive and offensive.… You get the idea. The moral is: you should be cautious whenever you see a phrase like “many believe” or “critics say.” Phrases like this should function like a flashing red neon sign saying: “Caution: leftist viewpoint likely. Opinion may be shared by newspaper. Scrutinize carefully.”
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That is always good advice, when reading the L.A. Times or any other newspaper.
(Cross-posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.)
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