News or Opinion, Consider the Source

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute

This is not a Left Wing Media bashing column. Been there, done that, took the usual shots from the usual suspects. And frankly it’s getting boring. Most people believe what they believe and rarely leave their comfort zones anyway.

So it’s beside the point whether you think Fox News represents the troglodyte wing of the Republican Party or the New York Times is a communist rag. Either assumption places the messenger before the message and assumes that most people are too lazy or uninformed to consider the source. Unfortunately, though, they all too often are; and that’s the point. With the proliferation of news outlets, it’s increasingly difficult for people to consider the source while consuming the content.

Everybody has opinions. We’d be pretty boring without them. Every organization, including mine, that looks at public policy choices has agendas. We’d be pretty useless otherwise. And every media outlet that reports on policy choices is going to reflect to some degree the worldview of its publishers, editors and reporters. It’s simply naïve to think otherwise, and there’s a solid body of research to back it up if you disagree and need to be jerked out of the land of lollipops and cotton candy clouds.

The measures of responsible journalism outlets are the degree to which they allow their own biases to dictate the stories they cover, and to what degree they separate and balance opinions and facts within those stories. For example, some media outlets will decide not to cover stories skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, or to ignore such skepticism in climate change stories because they consider the science to be settled on that issue. Fair enough. But that’s a predisposition readers should consider and weigh appropriately when forming their own opinions.

Ditto for the spate of news stories recently on issues like proposed cuts to the state budget and states’ rights legislation. To read much of the news coming out of Helena – and specifically a couple of AP stories on Tea Party influence and proposed Health and Human Services (HHS) cuts – you’d think our legislators are wearing knickers and tri-cornered hats, that Montana is on the verge of secession, and that cutting spending back to even the levels of a couple years ago would result in mass calamity and utter chaos. I’ve seen more balance in a vertigo lab.

The Tea Party story used many quotes from the governor and others ridiculing limited government activists and their representatives, while providing just two very short quotes from legislators defending their actions. What do people who are actually in any of the many Montana Tea Party groups think? Not important, apparently; at least not if it’s “settled science” that they’re all nuts anyway.

The HHS story, meanwhile, provided extensive quotes from at least five proponents of greater government spending with just one short rebuttal from a GOP state representative. To be fair, in this case it was easy to see that many of those supporting more spending would benefit directly from it through their state jobs and/or contracts and grants. But where would we have learned that one group prominent in the story, the Montana Budget and Policy Center, was parachuted into Helena a year or so ago from the D.C. mother ship and immediately signed on a board of directors that looks like a who’s who of organizations at the government trough? We need that kind of information if we’re going to consider the source and make informed decisions.

So again, this isn’t a Left Wing media bashing story. That’s old news and you can find examples of bias from the Right as well, though I’d bet not as many. The point here is to be discerning consumers of news and opinion. When you read George Will or Paul Krugman (or me for that matter) you know to temper your response with what you know about the author. You should do that on the news pages too, rather than being led around by a lack of context.


For Immediate Release

667 Words


Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center (with an opinion) based in Bozeman.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508