An actual ‘bias’ in media that tends to bother even me

I share this selfie as a gift to the kids. They can point at it and say, "THIS is who's saying this!"

I share this selfie today as a gift to the kids. They can point at it and say, “THIS old guy is who’s saying this!”

People like to talk about “media bias” — still. With all the stuff going on around us — the virus, the protests, the fact that we have a president of the United States who calls any fact-based reporting “fake news” and encourages millions of others to do the same — people still talk about it.

And generally speaking, the way most people who talk about it define “media bias” is no more relevant or accurate than when Spiro Agnew moaned about the “nattering nabobs.”

Are there inclinations in the MSM that one should worry about? Of course. There are several things that worry me, with the biggest probably being the bias toward conflict, and a particularly stupid, brainless form of conflict — the sports model. Journalists (helped by parties and advocacy groups) have trained most of the country to think of politics the way they, for their own convenience, have defined it: There are two teams on the field, and those two teams are the only ones in the universe, reflecting the only two ways of defining reality. When one is up, the other is down, and vice versa. If you aren’t a fan of one team, you are by definition a fan of the other…

There are others, which I could go on at some length about, but won’t today, because I want to write about a fairly new bias concern that has been bothering me more and more as my white beard has grown. The bias of the young — the problem of depending for critical information on people who are too young to have experienced much of the world.

Today, as I walked around the neighborhood in the unreasonably hot sun, I listened to The Daily podcast. It was the first part of a two-day report: “Cancel Culture, Part 1: Where it Came From.”

Jonah Bromwich. Do you see a SINGLE white hair in that beard?

Jonah Bromwich. Do you see a SINGLE white hair in that beard? I don’t. And I know why…

As I listened, host Michael Barbaro and New York Times reporter Jonah Bromwich first expressed some laughing nervousness over even daring to approach the topic. Then, Bromwich launched into an explanation of the brief history of the phrase and the phenomenon. And as one would expect with a New York Times journalist, his account was well-informed and interesting.

But in launching upon his tale, he dropped a personal reference that went to the heart of this recent concern of mine: “So, growing up I was an enormous fan of Kanye West…”

I listened to what followed, even though my mind was briefly boggled by those few words. The most shocking, of course, being “growing up.”

Kanye West, of course, is the person who is famous for being a rapper and being affiliated with the Kardashians, but mostly for being a big supporter of Donald Trump, and having quite a number of screws loose. Not knowing any more than that, I went to Wikipedia, and saw that his first album dropped in 2004 (although he was making his name as a producer for several years before that).

Barbaro is only 40, but at least has SOME gray...

Barbaro is only 40, but at least has SOME gray…

It seems to me like West has been around, what, about 10 minutes? And this guy was a big fan when he was “growing up?”

This is entirely possible, I find. LinkedIn says Bromwich got his bachelor’s degree in 2011. You know, within the past decade. Which means, assuming he was 22 at the time, he wasn’t a little bitty kid at the time West became big. But OK, I guess you’re still “growing up” at 15.

So in terms of age, that places West’s first release in Bromwich’s life about where, say, Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” fell for me — rather than back at the time of Bobby Darin’s “Splish-Splash.” Which is somewhat encouraging.

But still.

We’re talking Twitter here, and while I see myself as a very late adopter of the platform, I had been a highly active user for two years while this guy was still in college. (Right about the time he graduated, I was named one of the local Twitterati — although probably ironically, as an amused sop to the “old guy” from the kids at Free Times.) I had been blogging for six years. We won’t even go into my decades of experience with older media, professionally observing society, before that.

Which makes this sort of thing… unsettling. Because there’s nothing new about listening to young Master Bromwich explain the world to me. This happens all the time.

And it affects the way the news is covered. Even really big, important news. To me, and to all those South Carolina voters who didn’t get to weigh in until Feb. 29, it was obvious that the only person running for the presidency who was fully qualified and ready to toss Donald Trump out of office was Joe Biden. Once SC ‘splained it to people, everyone else realized it, too.

But for months and months and months and eons — seeming to stretch, in retrospect, almost back to when I was “growing up” — it was hard to find that point of view being given any credence in the coverage we saw.

I was sure there were quite a few explanations for that, but one seemed obvious — and occasionally others gave it voice: The reporters covering this campaign were unbelievably young. I was far from the only one to notice this. From Politico in September of last year:

The first thing you notice at a Joe Biden event is the age: Many of the reporters covering him are really young. Biden is not. The press corps, or so the Biden campaign sees it, is culturally liberal and highly attuned to modern issues around race and gender and social justice. Biden is not. The reporters are Extremely Online. Biden couldn’t tell you what TikTok is.

Inside the Biden campaign, it is the collision between these two worlds that advisers believe explain why his White House run often looks like a months-long series of gaffes. For a team in command of the Democratic primary, at least for now, they’re awfully resentful of how their man is being covered. And yet supremely confident that they, not the woke press that pounces on Biden’s every seeming error and blight in his record, has a vastly superior understanding of the Democratic electorate. This is the central paradox of Biden’s run: He’s been amazingly durable. But he gets no respect from the people who make conventional wisdom on the left….

Of course, none of this was new to me. Back when I was the press guy on James’ campaign in 2018, I was extremely conscious of the age differential. So, I suppose, were the young reporters. When they would, for instance, get excited about presidential candidates coming to SC (I imagine they got tired of it later), I found myself wishing they’d get that excited about covering the gubernatorial race. I had to remind myself that in 1980, I was excited about covering the presidential stuff, too. Because, you know, I was a kid.

At this point I should probably quote Ecclesiastes: One generation passeth away, and so forth.

I am forced to confront the possibility, even the likelihood, that some of those old coots who thought I was too young to presume to tell them what was going on more than 40 years ago may have had a point. Or at least, a perspective with some basis. Or… nahh, what did they know?

The problems of journalism in America today — especially on the local level — are profound and shocking, and mostly have to do with the utter collapse of the business model. It’s not just that the kids doing it are way, way too young.

But sometimes it seems like it…

Kanye West's first release was in 2004. That year, my beard was already THIS gray...

Kanye West’s first release was in 2004. That year, my beard was already THIS gray. And apparently, I still thought presidential politics were fun to cover. At least, a LITTLE bit of fun. And yeah, those glasses were about 20 years out of style THEN, kids…

12 thoughts on “An actual ‘bias’ in media that tends to bother even me

  1. Ken

    Evaluating someone’s judgment solely on the basis of how young they are is no better than evaluating someone’s judgement solely on the basis of how old they are.

    Try to learn how to learn from others no matter what their age.

      1. Ken

        Oh no, not that response again:
        Some people are just not up to understanding Brad’s highly nuanced arguments.

        Yeah, Ecclesiastes. Mea culpa, admits Brad — to, y’know, sorta cover all the bases, so that he can be “right” no matter what.

        But at its heart your original post was grumbling about all those whippersnappers not having the vast experience that people of your advanced years have to judge what is going on in the world.
        I mean, it’s stated succinctly enough:

        “The bias of the young — the problem of depending for critical information on people who are too young to have experienced much of the world.”

        And it’s right there in the concluding lines, for goodness sake:

        “It’s not just that the kids doing it are way, way too young.

        But sometimes it seems like it….”

        Actually, all you’ve demonstrated here is your own ageist bias — against the young.
        Which, as I said, is nothing more than a mirror image of the reverse.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yep, that argument again!

          As any old guy who ever worked on the old Atex front-end system might say, I’ve got that one on a SAVE/GET key. Just for you, and all the other whippersnappers…

          1. Ken

            Maybe you should program that key to create links to past posts about topics, like this one, you address repeatedly.

            Then all you need do is create a headline and then hit that key.
            Saves so much time and effort.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I was thinking this morning about this post, and the way it morphed while I was writing it. That tends to happen, once I get into a subject. It’s why over the years I abandoned so many nearly-written columns.

    I’ve never been great at what organized people call “time management.” Or so they tell me. One reason why: Doing things ahead of time never worked for me. Time and time again, I would try to write a Sunday column on Thursday, so I wouldn’t find myself scrambling to write it on Friday, the worst day of the week — when we had to produce all the pages for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

    So I’d start on a promising column idea on Thursday afternoon. And I’d work on it into the night — to 8 or 9, perhaps. And I’d leave thinking, “OK, I’m ahead. This is good.”

    Then I would come in on Friday morning and read it, and realize it hadn’t worked out well at all, and scrap the whole thing — sometimes in part because I would have read something far MORE promising that morning.

    Anyway, sometimes the flaw in the first try was that I had wandered away from the original idea — but now thought it wasn’t a good enough idea to start over.

    With blog posts, I do a lot less worrying over stuff like that — but I have completely abandoned several lengthy posts lately. I keep meaning to get back to them and fix them, but I haven’t.

    Anyway, on this post, my original idea was this: I’m listening to the podcast, and I’m shocked by this working journalist saying he was a huge fan of this recent, current, celebrity when he was “growing up.”

    And of course, I encounter little shocks like that all the time. You know, it’s like those frequent articles you read that tell you all the things kids starting college this year never experienced, and you go, “Really? That didn’t just happen five minutes ago?”

    And I was thinking about exploring the idea of how our perception of time shifts as we get older, and how startling such realizations can be.

    But then I sat down to write it, and went in other directions.

    Happens all the time. To me, anyway. Probably not to the more-organized people…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The process of writing has its own tendencies, its own currents. It makes its own decisions.

      I’ve never liked to tell people what I was going to write ahead of time. You have to do that, and I did do that at the paper. But I knew that whatever my plans were going to my desk after the meeting at which I made the promise, once I started writing things tended to go in other directions.

      Often this happened in the final research process. Nailing down answers to remaining questions would often push me in different directions. Sometimes, it caused me to completely reverse what I had planned to say.

      But even more often, the writing itself would take me to unexpected places. The culprit was often some seductive transition that took me somewhere I wanted to explore more fully, and I’d end up wandering somewhere unexpected.

      That’s in part because my original idea was never Idea A, or Idea B. It was usually about the relationships between Idea A and B, with some additional bits about C and D as well. I was interested in how the things interacted. It was the mortar as much as the bricks that I wanted to address.

      And I was seldom entirely sure about where that was going to go until I started putting the words on the screen.

      This is columns I’m talking about. Editorials tended to be more definite. We reached a consensus about what to say, and then we said it. On an editorial, you’re expressing the view of the board, not your own perspective.

      Columns were more of an adventure…

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Made me think of this line from Casablanca:

          Annina: Monsieur Rick, what kind of a man is Captain Renault?

          Rick: Oh, he’s just like any other man, only more so.

Comments are closed.