Liberal and Conservative Writers Debate Media Bias at PSU

New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat and Nation columnist and contributor to the Center for American Progress Eric Alterman spoke at this year’s installment of the Pomona Student Union (PSU)’s Great Debate. The event, entitled “Can We Trust the Media?” took place at Pomona’s Bridges Hall of Music on Nov. 5.The debate, which attracted 230 students and faculty, consisted of initial statements by the two speakers about media bias, followed by two questions from PSU member Nina Vertlib PO ’11, and then questions from three members of the audience.In addition to moderating, Vertlib, who is the chair of the themes committee for PSU this semester, helped organize and develop the idea for the event. She said the debate was the capstone of a series of events this semester surrounding the press.The focus of the event, in accordance with PSU’s overall mission of bringing honest and open dialogue to campus and exposing students to a multiplicity of perspectives, was to discuss where we see bias, both liberal and conservative, in the media.“It seems that a lot of political disagreements actually stem from what your perception of the world is,” Vertlib said. “The goal of this event was to look at how bias impacts our perception of the news and how constructive of a political conversation we can have based on those informational sources.”Although the two speakers agreed with each other on many issues, they focused heavily on their main points of disagreement.One point of contention between the speakers was the role of conservatives in pushing media to the right.Alterman, the more liberal-minded of the two speakers, argued that journalists “bend over backwards” in order to include conservative points of view in their articles. Alterman pointed out that journalists include creationist theory in any journalistic article about evolution, despite the fact that only a small number of people believe in that theory.Douthat countered by arguing that this push to the right is more a matter of being fair, than bending over backwards. In addition, Douthat insisted that now there is a push back towards the left in media coverage.“Conservatives became very adept at playing off the existent bias of the media,” Douthat said. “However, as soon as the mainstream media started covering conservatives fairly, and possibly even more fairly than they deserved, it sparked an angry reaction from the left….Now you have an organized liberal media operation that is pushing what remains of mainstream media back towards the left.”Another point of disagreement between the speakers was how the media has affected the health care debate.Alterman argued that the “public option” is the possibility considered farthest to the left, despite being a fairly moderate plan. He insisted that this conception is due to the conservative push on the media.“Journalists and congress treat the public option as if it’s the far-left position that’s allowable today,” Alterman said. “The true left position, which is a single-payer system, which every other intelligent democracy has, is off the table… This is one example where the debate, as defined by the much more powerful right, is able to define the discourse in a way that is actually well to the right of what American people say.”Douthat countered Alterman’s argument by insisting that he look at the issue from the right’s point of view.“Imagine this health care issue from the point of view of one of the smart care policy experts at the American Enterprise Institute—and yes, they do exist—who watched Republicans be unable to pass even the most moderate of free-market reforms to the national health care system,” Douthat said. “From a certain angle, conservatives are losing slowly.”According to theory practice PO ’12, a member of PSU, neither speaker addressed the important issues.“It was a successful event, in terms of getting people to come and entertaining them, but I don’t know if it was personally successful for me in learning ‘can we trust the news?’ which is a simple question,” theory practice said.Vertlib, however, said she was very pleased with how the event went, both in terms of the number of people it attracted and the topics that the speakers covered in the small time allotted to them.“I was extremely [happy] with how the event went,” Vertlib said. “Overall, I think they did a pretty comprehensive job of giving a perception of what bias looks like in the news.”

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