What liberal media bias? Part DCCXIV

by Ted Frank on February 19, 2008

Associated Press:

The Supreme Court has refused to offer help to Hurricane Katrina victims who want their insurance companies to pay for flood damage to their homes and businesses.

As David Rossmiller notes,

As if the choice in a case is simply going where your sympathies lie, and when the court decided not to take the appeal, the halls rang with evil laughter and mocking statements such as this: “We will extend no help to Katrina victims because we love to see them suffer and we love to support our evil twins, the insurance companies who steal from them.”

The Fifth Circuit, of course, simply enforced the insurance policies as written, and noted that the word “flood” included a flood caused by the breach of the levees in New Orleans, reversing a district court that disingenuously held otherwise. And the Supreme Court simply refused to make the appeal of that obvious decision one of the 1% of petitions for certiorari that it grants.

Update: Mark Obbie, while also critical of the lede, writes:

Seeing this through ideological goggles is a mere reflex, but it’s far too facile for its own good. I suspect what’s really at work here — and, like Frank, I’m merely guessing — is not bias or laziness, but instead an impulse to make legal news so reader friendly (or “relatable,” to borrow that loathsome phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately) that we don’t worry ourselves with the “technicalities.”

Two points in response:

1) If the problem were merely one of media oversimplification (and I agree that oversimplification has a role here), rather than bias, then it would function as a random error, and one would see stories that oversimplify in ways that bias against trial lawyers as often as those that bias in favor of trial lawyers. We don’t. Not by a longshot. When the oversimplification happens, it almost always works to fit the story into reporters’ preconceived boxes, and those boxes have a slant.

2) As if to prove my point, Obbie makes light of my accusation of evidence of bias by titling his post “Liberal conspiracy?” Of course, I alleged no conspiracy: merely a lack of objectivity, a lack so non-obvious to Obbie that he mocks any recognition of it as tin-foil-hatted conspiracy theory. Obbie’s confirmation bias has previously caused him to miss signs of liberal bias.


1 Jason Barney 02.19.08 at 2:38 pm

This MSNBC link reports on the identical story, but with the sub-headline, “Aid is refused for victims who want funds for businesses, homes”

Aid is refused? As if the Supreme Court Justices can simply hand out money with no regard to the substance of the law.

Geez Louise, let’s get some objectivity into the reporting here, folks.

2 Eric Turkewitz 02.19.08 at 2:48 pm

Well, in all fairness, the media routinely screws up news stories with legal issues.

How many times have you seen a story where the journalist or headline writer claimed a jury found someone innocent?

Ignorance as to the subtleties of legal language is the most likely reason for any blown news story.

3 Anonymous Attorney 02.19.08 at 3:06 pm

As a former journalist myself, I can only cringe at both the bias and misunderstanding (the former is probably worse than the latter) of the law perpetrated by the press. At least the NYT will say the Supreme Court “let stand” a decision they don’t review, as opposed to actively siding with one party or another — a frequent error made by much of the rest of the press. But this gem from the AP is incredible. Rossmiller’s comment is hilarious. The general pro-plaintiff bias of the press is something I think desperately needs to be addressed by civil defendants, but it would help if reporters had a clue. Or maybe took a year of law school.

4 Todd Rogers 02.19.08 at 8:47 pm

Anonymous Attorney: Don’t think for a second that reporters don’t have a clue. While I was of course not privy to the editing or thinking of said journalist, if I were a gambler I would bet that the headline and spin used in this story were carefully selected to maximize its attraction. Lest we not forget, the media is not in the news business. They’re in the ad business. The so called “news” is merely the nectar which attracts the bees.

5 Dave Lincoln 02.20.08 at 7:50 pm

“Well, in all fairness, the media routinely screws up news stories with legal issues.”

Actually, in all fairness, the media routinely screws up news stories about all issues. The only reason you see the media’s stupidity regarding legal issues, is that, that is your field. In a couple of industries that I am very familiar with, the media screws up many facts, to where you wonder if they spent any time to ask someone in the know.

I really think you won’t see any better, until MSM companies hire people with other than journalism (too stupid to get into the “General Studies” department (for football players) ) degrees. They don’t take a lick of science and math, so they have no idea if someone from a scientific field or engineering is totally snowing them. How can you evaluate a paper on Warmal Globing, or whatever, if you can’t even read the paper’s summary, much less the meat of the paper?

Numbers scare the heck out of these people, so they don’t check them.

Well, enough of this rant – let’s hope bloggers like you Ted, can give the MSM idiots some competition.

6 Dr. T 02.20.08 at 9:43 pm

I echo Dave Lincoln’s comments. I’ve been a physician for 25 years, and not once have I seen a medical story in the lay press that was free of errors. The same is true for science stories. Perhaps we should lobby for consumer protection laws regarding wrong information. Amusingly, trial lawyers and the media would end up on opposite sides.

7 Deoxy 02.21.08 at 10:55 am

Another agreement with Dave Lincoln on general press ignorance, stupidity, and errors.

That said, their errors do slant certain directions on certain topics, where simple mistakes ought to fall on either side.

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