Investigating media bias

Submitted by michelin on February 5th, 2010 at 6:02 PM


Many of the posts here have suggested that a certain unnamed newspaper in a big city near Ann Arbor has a media bias.  If you want to learn more about the topic of media bias—how to investigate it and what to do about it---you might want to start by checking out the interesting summary and references on the topic of media bias in the link below.   In fact, it raises some interesting questions if anyone wants to investigate the investigators—ie the unnamed newspaper which makes money trying to expose the frail underbelly of defenseless adolescents and their schools.

First, to determine whether or not there is a hidden agenda of writers or editors, look at their personal and business contacts, sociodemographics, attitudes, past professional connections, payments to speak or write (eg Do they ever get gigs through the influence of people with an axe to grind or those who would directly benefit from harm to a particular school’s program?).  Also, look at quotes that reveal their beliefs, the frequencies of positive or negative word use or topic or headline choice for one school vs. another.  Look at the paper's selective use or exclusion of experts, spokespersons, sources (eg interviewing a police officer for a player in a unfavored school but the father of a student in a more favored competitor).

Second, to determine if the larger organization fosters a bias, ask: What are the business interests of the paper (eg advertisers)?  Could they be motivating a bias?  Are any of the advertisers actually boosters at competing schools?  Also, how about the paper’s ownership? (Hypothetically, for instance, if you were to look at two randomly chosen papers, like the Freep and the now defunct AnnArbor News, you would find they're owned by a mega-corporation called Newhouse News). 

Why is that relevant?   Maybe I'm naive but I can't really disprove the academic quote from the link below.  It says “reporters and especially editors share and/or acquire values with corporate elites in order to further their careers. Those that don’t are usually weeded out or marginalized.  If so, one might conclude that one of the largest media groups in the country, with outlets all over the nation, like Newhouse, could have enough clout to--not necessarily even get you on TV, get you cited in national sources, or get you a news job in the future—but in fact, decide whether or not your paper folds (and I don’t mean putting a crease in your newspaper). 

What to do about media bias

First, publicly disclose affiliations “
when a news organization is reporting a story with some relevancy to the news organization itself or to its ownership individuals or conglomerate.”  Do a paper’s sponsors have interests that conflict with sponsors of the school they attack?  “Often this disclosure is mandated by the laws or regulations pertaining to stocks and securities”

Also, publicly disclose which owners of media outlets have vested interests in other commercial enterprises or organizations…Note whether any of them are boosters  of athletic departments at competing schools....Do they have commercial ties to university officials or members of the Board of Directors at these schools?

If justified, demand the resignation or reassignment of biased reporters and or editors….possibly petitions or letters from prominent journalists, organizations etc…even referrals to the attorney general in the unlikely event that there are possible violations related to stocks or securities.

Finally (and probably the most effective measure), put pressure on the paper’s financial ties.  I know, it may seem overwhelming if you are up against a large publication or even a mega-corporation.  However the link notes: There is “a long history of advertisers pulling out support when media content becomes too controversial.

Of course, I am not suggesting any of these actions…or even asserting that a media bias does exist at all, let alone in the state of Michigan…Horrors, no....But, I can’t help thinking about its hypothetical relevance to UM.

Doesn’t UM have the largest alumni base in the country?  If they were (hypothetically) the victim of biased coverage, how long would they keep being fed what any clearly hostile media sources are serving? 

In fact, doesn’t UM now even have a politically savvy, well-connected AD with commercial ties all over the world due to his past role as a CEO of a major corporation?

What would happen then if the new AD were to learn about the presence and sources of bias, if the advertiser’s associations with biased media started gaining publicity, even starting on widely read blogs like this?

 If I were an advertiser for such as source, making a lot of dough by indirectly paying hacks to trash a school,.....well,

I’d thank my lucky stars if the alums, AD, and other prominent people couldn’t get mad enough to stand up and fight back.... 


Privately, though, I’d be shaking in my hypothetical boots.



February 5th, 2010 at 7:44 PM ^

Its remarkable how much they have backed off in one single day. After the backlash of people calling/writing/threatening, the print stories and radio coverage were a little better. This is not any time to back down.

Keep up the heat. Keep sending emails and being as critical as possible about these individuals. Constant pressure is the only way these things will change. Don't just sit back and take it anymore.

I'm starting to sound like a Marxist, but I don't even give a shit anymore. I've simply had enough. Keep talking shit about Sharp. Keep talking shit about that cocksucker Dave Birkett. Keep talking shit about Snyder. Keep talking shit about Rosenberg.

I have been told that the Freep sports editor is a MSU booster. This shit is no longer acceptable. That fucker needs to be taken down. Keep the pressure up!!!

Read this article, done by the editor from a major newspaper. It is a direct indictment of the freep in the practice scandal.

Here is another article (for people with WSJ subscriptions) directly accusing the Detroit Free Press two months ago for allowing advertisers to directly dictate news coverage.…

End of rant.


February 5th, 2010 at 8:14 PM ^

It gets curiouser and curiouser. These comments in response to the WSJ article suggest that the paper's relation to advertisers is unusual and irreputable: that, contrary to the policies of reputable papers, ad sales and editorial activities are directed by one and the same person at the Freep.

Published comments on the WSJ article

1. “A newspaper letting advertisers choose topics to receive coverage, or the layout of its pages, as the Free Press is doing, is going far beyond what readers would otherwise expect.

Or, at least, what would have been expected before now”

2. “Traditionally, ad sales (under the publisher) and editorial (under the editor) are totally separate functions at a reputable newspaper or magazine. I found it interesting that the publisher of the Detroit Free Press is the same person, Paul Anger, according to the WSJ article.”

The commenter goes on to recommend referral of the problem to the FTC.…


February 6th, 2010 at 12:20 PM ^

But no matter how much one dislikes the source of the information, it's only the content that is really relevant here.

Although I didn't post the link but the comments about it, I do think they revealed some possibly important, objective information. If you can show it's untrue, then I'd be very interested in reading about that.


February 5th, 2010 at 9:04 PM ^

Is there anyone out there with access to Free Press readership data? The information is compiled and provided to advertisers and their agencies. Someone in the MGoBlog world must be able to get their hands on the numbers. I'm sure that readership is declining, along with lots of other things in southeast Michigan, but how is the Free Press doing versus the News, or the Oakland Press?

It sure would be nice to know if the six month boycott of the Free Press was having any measurable impact.


February 5th, 2010 at 10:11 PM ^

308,944 Daily
606,374 Sunday
-From Wikipedia, so not guaranteed to be accurate. Actual numbers are probably lower than that, and continue to drop.

I was looking at income projections for the Freep, and they actually expect to turn a profit by the end of 2010. If we allow this to happen, it will only encourage more of this despicable behavior. ACTION MUST BE TAKEN TO PREVENT THIS!


February 6th, 2010 at 1:04 AM ^

Although my post really concerns how to investigate media bias, there are suggestions about what to do, if you do indeed find such biases. For instance, you can boycott sponsors and let them know why you are doing this. For instance, this site notes that 5 months ago, the largest sponsors of the Freep were: Varsity Ford, Belle Tire, JCPenny, and Kroger. It would be interesting to see if any of these dropped their sponsorship. But I don't see any addresses listed of where one would send a letter to reach their CEO's.

Three is a petition also in the facebook group, in which this link is posted.!/topic.php?uid=129671490988&topic=102…


February 6th, 2010 at 10:42 AM ^

You are speaking to a relatively small audience. People who get so worked up over college football are probbly not considered great party invites.

You are speaking to the most avid college football fan, the one who, to be quite honest, is probably not very rational. And sorry, not many other folks are going to go crazy enough over the Drew Sharps of the world for about a billion reasons, not the least of which is that the average college football fan probably just doesn't care that much.

AndI agree with mispogon here--I'm getting a little sick and tired of sweeping indictments of an entire industry or profession because of a handful of people readers disagree with.


February 6th, 2010 at 3:51 PM ^

So, if you think want to see that UM is treated fairly in the press, then: You are no fun at parties?

Gee, I forgot we were having a party. Sorry, I guess that means we should all lie down and take it. In fact, when we read a link here trashing our coach and latest recruit or making unsubstantiated allegations about the program, we should just get out the champagne, pop the cork, and say "whoopee, Go Blue." Otherwise, we won’t be popular, right?

Duh.....I'd say that sounds like an argument that some PR type would give you to make you shut up. But I don't even think it rises to that low standard. The average UM fan would never buy into that silly idea, let alone the average UM student or poster on this blog.

In fact, if you search this blog for posts, hits and comments on freep, Dorsey etc, you will find ample evidence right here. In fact, you might read Brian's last piece on the Freep coverage issues while you're at it.

In addition, if you read what is in this diary, you will find that it was originally intended to be focused on a local problem, which could be investigated by methods used in more sweeping studies. I responded to someone's reasonable concerns about the more sweeping implications for the media, in general. But, I admit, I probably should not have even gotten into this issue.

The more I think about it, the more I am persuaded that the main problem UM now has is more due to local media dynamics--the personal grudges, supervisory influences, advertising revenue issues etc. Although I can't be sure without the studies of media bias, my guess is that the media company ownership, in this case, is less important.


February 6th, 2010 at 6:11 AM ^

One thing you forgot to mention about us journalists and our hidden agendas:

An inordinate amount of us are Jews!

Clearly this suggests the possibility that our large presence in media could further our opportunity to promote the Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy, which, as a card-carrying member, I can tell you exists and it is our goal is to procure as much ice cream as possible. As it stands, some of the best ice cream in the United States is produced by the cows of East Lansing, and we need those cows kept happy and producing beautiful ice cream-making milk. If that means trashing Michigan's football program to make Sparty feel better (and thus his cows and ice cream makers to feel better) that is what it will take.

Look at the "demographics" you say?

I say horseshit.

No other profession -- not even politicians -- are scrutinized these days like media. If you want to search, and believe me, there are people who search and search, you will find plenty of evidence of bias, and opportunism, etc. in anything penned. Whether the bias is admitted or not makes little difference to the end product.

Every time Drew Sharp goes for someone's jugular in order "ruffle feathers" or "strike a chord" one of the ugliest side effects are these indictments of media in general.

The irony is you're going after probably the one profession whose product side is least tied to its corporate side. Can you find evidence of corruption? Sure. What's amazing about journalism, though, is that it is hemmed in by not one but TWO market forces: sponsors and readers.

In the case of Sharp, it's the second market that you need to pay attention to. Sparty readers, Mich fan readers who don't like RR, general Metro Detroit sports fans, they like it when the Sharp titillates them. Most will tell you flat-out that they think he's nuts. That's the idea -- he takes an offensive position every time, and that way people listen because we are intrigued by extremism.

Do you think Rush Limbaugh's fans just sit and nod to everything he says? Maybe a few do, and these are people who get precious little respect from anyone else. Most Limbaugh listeners will agree he's a hypocritical bigoted shit-faced ethically challenged asshole. Many are just happy he's out there attacking -- even if he hasn't made a reasonable argument since 1995 -- because at least he's attacking for their side.

Before you start going around trying to figure out what hockey team the son of a Michigan Hockey beat writer plays for, etc., with every article you read, before becoming a media "watchdog," which is a pretty pathetic form of existence, I suggest you take a broader look at the biggest market factor on journalism, which is your peers.

And I beg you to ask yourself this question: if you think that media directly controls what people think, why is it you don't know anybody who changes how they think because of what they read?

It happens, but it is rare indeed that we will convince you of something. Most of the time, we are saying what we saw, and doing so with the biases that the readers have. Trade pub editorial is often pretty industry friendly. Your magazine covering local hockey is going to make local hockey sound pretty good. The biggest paper in the United States will probably, in general, make the United States an overall pretty sweet-sounding thing. CNN is going to be kinder to the President than Al Jazeera.

Also, just a little insider dope: bosses in media are probably the least powerful bosses in any profession. I'm a boss. Ask Chait, too -- he's a boss. A publisher may suggest "hey, try not to tick off the advertisers" to an editor, who may suggest, nicely, to his reporter, "hey, lighten up," to which the reporter is almost certain to say "do you want the facts or do you want me to just make shit up?" The most control is at the bottom, with the guy typing the words. Editors can and do suggest coverage, but journalists generally don't play ball.

Which brings me to my final point: Drew Sharp is not a journalist. He doesn't investigate. He doesn't report. And most importantly, he doesn't get judged on the accuracy of his material. He is a showman, a loudmouth, a Detroit Sports Limbaugh. You don't need to say "Fuck CBS" or "Fuck The Free Press" or "Fuck all mass media and their Ice Cream-Loving Jewish Overlords" -- just say "Fuck These Guys" and "Fuck the Asswipes who listen to them."


February 6th, 2010 at 12:28 PM ^

I realize and appreciate your own particular contribution to this blog. I have enjoyed reading your posts. Yet, the intensity of your reaction as someone in charge of a media source does little to reassure me that there's nothing important to see in the study of media bias.

Journalism, I agree, is in theory one of the best institutions in our society. It has done more for our civilization than just about any profession I can think of. I cannot judge your belief that the overwhelming majority of journalists today are some kind of renegades who will write whatever they like. However, that caricature certainly does not seem to fit my perceptions of journalists who worked for a couple of papers in the Ann Arbor-Detroit area. Beyond that, having a family member who is a journalist, I’ve followed with her, over the past forty years, some worrisome signs in the profession. You’d have to be pretty blind not so see them. It’s tragic.

You seem to want to blame “the Sparty and Mich fan readers who don't like RR” for the biased coverage, saying “they like it when the Sharp titillates them.” In fact, studies of the brain suggest that people do derive pleasure from information that fits their beliefs and that they have to, annoyingly, activate inhibitory regions when they are given information that bothers them. Clealy, such reactions affect readership and, more importantly, advertising revenue. But, for that reason, the field of journalism exploits the worst human tendencies more than ever today. To exploit readers’ prior prejudices, they make their coverage increasingly extreme on both ends of the spectrum, playing “good cop, bad cop games” (eg it reminds me of the DetNews and the Freep owned by the same parent organization, being more pro UM vs pro MSU--although, through my admittedly biased perspective, the DetNews does seem far more objective).

I am very sorry if you took the statement I copied from the link about examining “demographics” as some kind of anti-semetic slur. It didn’t occur to me that the word “demographics” could be interpreted in that context. Yet, now I can guess why you reacted in this way. I do recall seeing anti-semetic slurs to smear the Freep’s parent organization. As someone who has part Jewish, part Catholic heritage, and who has experienced prejudice, these slurs disgust me as much as they disgust you. Also, any so-called objective academic study that attempted to prove a link between sports reporting and race, ethnicity, or religion would be a pretty bizarre and foolish waste of time.

Nevertheless, you fail to persuade me to reject the study of media bias. It's a perfectly legitimate academic field. Indeed, it’s probably good for journalism, if it wishes to clean house and regain public trust. In any case, an open examination of the business of journalism is fair game—god knows, certain papers in Michigan don’t seem to think anything is out of bounds for themselves to investigate.

Furthermore, if a paper has nothing to hide—and should go unexamined while it proceeds to examine everyone else—then I do not see why you or any other journalists should get so upset. All I did was to post some academic guidelines used for examining possible, sources of media bias.


February 6th, 2010 at 1:22 PM ^

It's all a play for attention. Much like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. These guys are smart enough to know that half the shit they say is just that. But they don't care. It's provocative. It makes them money.

Drew Sharp doesn't care that he doesn't know what he's talking about. Accuracy is not what he's going for. His currency is hyperbole, which he uses liberally to get people fired up.

Zone Left

February 8th, 2010 at 4:57 PM ^

Do you mean the same bias that gets Michigan on TV every week all over the country? I live in SoCal, and it's easier to find Michigan games than USC games on TV. That's bias Michigan fans can live with.

Lazy, shitty reporting is a disease that severely hampers our national discourse--regardless of who it favors. It encourages snap responses, ignores facts, and discourages honest evaluation in the pursuit of improvement. I call myself a conservative, but people such as Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck ruin political discourse for everyone.


February 6th, 2010 at 5:01 PM ^

If you ask questions of a group of people at the scene of a murder, does that mean you are implying they’re all guilty? Or are you just trying to find the rotten apple?

If you investigate the media…even just one paper…for reasonable cause…then, how is that an indictment of all journalists---even if it was not just a single individual but a group or network of people that may have been involved?

All my original post intended was to point out the methods others have used to carry out such investigations. Remember, we're not pros. We need to know what questions to ask.

My longer answer below clarifies where I stand on the more general issues you raise. Some concerns we share. On others, we still may not agree. Although I did not intend to get into a general discussion of the media, I do really think there's a problem. With UM's problem, after thinking about your post though, I think the problem is most likely to be local.


February 8th, 2010 at 6:05 PM ^

I appreciate the civil tone of your response. And I, too, don't really feel up to a great debate on mass media and biases in general.

And that's the point.

Your article is titled "Investigating Media Bias," but really, the complaints we all have are about the sports page, and the sports columnists in general.

You weren't talking about that. You were providing a How-To for ripping on (not assessing) a medium.

This is the offending passage:

First, to determine whether or not there is a hidden agenda of writers or editors, look at their personal and business contacts, sociodemographics, attitudes, past professional connections, payments to speak or write (eg Do they ever get gigs through the influence of people with an axe to grind or those who would directly benefit from harm to a particular school’s program?). Also, look at quotes that reveal their beliefs, the frequencies of positive or negative word use or topic or headline choice for one school vs. another. Look at the paper's selective use or exclusion of experts, spokespersons, sources (eg interviewing a police officer for a player in a unfavored school but the father of a student in a more favored competitor).

These are great tips, if you're a Michigan fan commenting on the sports coverage of Michigan versus Michigan State in the Detroit Free Press since 2008. But you applied them broadly.

Rather, you use keywords like "hidden agenda," and made reference to "sociodemographics." Which agenda? Which sociodemographics?

I've spent some time on the receiving end of media bias claims and so I may have my own biases when it comes to those words. So you tell me: when you said "hidden" agenda, wasn't there a specific agenda you had in mind? And when you said "sociodemographics," which sociodemographics would be a negative, or positive, and how should they affect coverage?

This, I think, is very different from "ask[ing] questions of a group of people at the scene of a murder."

Did you get to see last season's South Park episode, where Cartman kept justifying his Limbaughean takeover of the morning announcements by saying he was "asking questions"? If not, the point of the joke was that for Cartman (and Limbaugh), "questions" was newsspeak for "inquisition."

Nobody will say you're wrong for "questioning" the media you consume. This is doubly your right as a member of a free society and as a consumer.

But you used the guise of "asking questions" here as an excuse for inquisition.

What you're really about is that the Free Press's sports section has been generally unfair to Michigan, and that Drew Sharp's asshattery was recently turned, with vindictive bile, toward our beloved program. That you did this under a working title of "Investigating Media Bias" and through discussion of, e.g. corporate ownership, is what caused me to respond as I did.

So when you ask:

If you investigate the media…even just one paper…for reasonable cause…then, how is that an indictment of all journalists---even if it was not just a single individual but a group or network of people that may have been involved?

then that is my answer: that you weren't investigating "just one paper for reasonable cause" but actually indicting all journalists by suggesting that we our coverage is primarily dictated by our social and demographic backgrounds, the corporate situation of our publishers, and our axes for which we desire a sharpening procedure.

If your original post intended "to point out the methods others have used to carry out such investigations," then I suggest that the "others" you refer to may not be the best example to follow, since the methods described are those not of healthy skepticism, but of malfeasant inquisition.

In the responses, you noted your own concerns about "political and other societal implications raised below," but don't seem to realize how the approach you suggested raises all sorts of political and societal implications.

This isn't the first time that I've wandered slightly over the line as to the official MGoBlog topic, and I will take credit for doing so. This is how my mind works -- I look for analogy across the spectrum of common experiences in order to best illustrate my points, and this means sometimes I may wander near restricted lines.

Note, however, that this particular restricted line is broached most often on this board when mainstream media bias is under discussion. Well, michelin, I'm not too up with the biased coverage of the Movies section, nor am I able to really pick out the sources and representative incarnations of media bias in the Arts or Cars sections. I know News and Sports. You, same? Everyone else, same? So if news is off limits, where are we going to get our representative examples? Whence shall come our e.g.'s?

The closest analogue I can find to Sharp is Limbaugh.

If there's a Movies columnist who spends every day trashing every movie from Scorsese because there's a major market for people who hate Scorsese, then tell me and I will use that guy. Like Sharp, the entertainment value of Rush's material comes not from accuracy of information or acuity of insight -- it comes from the titillation. Like Sharp, his method is to invent talking points and approach them editorially as if he is presenting "what everyone really thinks but is too afraid to say.."

That right there is a smoking gun for titillation journalism -- and I'm sure you can see the fallacy: it's "everyone." The trick: really, it's not "everyone" who thinks such things, but rather the people who think such things who would love to imagine that "everyone" else thinks it too.

Other keywords for this kind of titillation are "telling it to you straight" or "not afraid to speak his mind" or "not afraid to ask the tough questions," or pick your cliche. Think about these adjectives, and what kind of news they are advertising: do they promise the reader/listener a piece that will inform, or provocate? Obviously, the latter.

The effectiveness of such an approach, you agree, has psychological power as a product offering.

I think this is a very important consideration as a Michigan fan going against Drew Sharp columns, because we are no more Drew Sharp's target market than African Americans are Limbaugh's. He's not talking to you and me, or the regular MGoBlog community. He's talking to people who have their preconceived notions and don't want them questioned. That is not to say that his readers think he's "right on" -- that's not the plan. The idea is to set himself up as just on the edge of extreme, so that his readers with relatively extreme views can feel like they're in the considerate center.

The importance to us is in how we fight it. You suggested in the original column that we band together as alumni and fans hit the Free Press financially, by putting pressure on its advertisers to pull out because of the crappy job they're doing. You even suggested that our new AD might lead the charge, nevermind that Dominos is one of the biggest advertisers in the Free Press sports sections.

We're the injured party, thus your recommendation boils down to acting the injured party. Of course, we have a weakness there (other than the patheticness of playing injured party): those offended were a sunk cost to the operation to begin with.

This takes us back to the point of my entire rebuttal: you can't get into a comprehensive discussion of media bias without discussing the biases of the readership. What the readers want is infinitely more important than which corporate conglomerate owns the presses.

I'm not trying to put you off from media skepticism, or researching media bias as an academic field. I do, however, think it important to caution you as the witch hunt-iness of a large bulk of media criticism. The difference between academic investigation and inquisition is in intent. If your intent is more favorable coverage for Michigan sports, then you are as qualified to perform an academic survey of media bias against Michigan sports as I am to referee a Big Ten football game.

Enfin, I shall answer the rhetorical question with which you concluded your rebuttal:

Furthermore, if a paper has nothing to hide—and should go unexamined while it proceeds to examine everyone else—then I do not see why you or any other journalists should get so upset. All I did was to post some academic guidelines used for examining possible, sources of media bias.

My argument wasn't that media should go unexamined. My argument was that you shouldn't be the one examining it because you suck at it. That is to say your own biases (which, at least in the case of Michigan football I share) make you a worse barometer for a piece's or section's or paper's or medium's credibility than a.) the ombudsman, and b.) the readership.

Just think of all the money Talk Radio would miss out on if the most centrist guy in America got to pick who was on there? Now imagine if Rush Limbaugh's contract was based on how well he got the facts straight? Now, picture a world in which Michigan fans got to dictate what Detroit media's biggest asshat wrote in his columns?

We'd love to have this fight based on the facts alone, but -- I'm sorry -- that's not what Drew Sharp does for a living, and that's not what Drew Sharp's readers are looking for when they read his columns. They want justification and vindication, and thus they rather like it when he gets vindictive and prejudicial against their enemies.

The key here -- which you touched on with your use of the word "academic" -- is that it is possible for people to put aside some of their biases to a greater degree than other. This is the key to good journalism, and good critique of journalism, as much as it is with academics and the good critique of academics. To use an analogy, you want Evolution in biology to be constantly questioned, but having the Creationists doing ALL or MOST or even a LARGE BULK of the questioning is unreasonable and, except in rare circumstances, generally not particularly useful.

Thus is the case of MGoBlog readers like us leading the charge against the Freep Sports Section's Michigan coverage. We're biased. We would have a very hard time giving any opinion that ends up worse for Michigan an honest assessment. And when it comes to Michigam fans and Michigan football, let's face it, you can't Tourquemada Anything.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:13 AM ^

when I just post some of the general methods being used by others to investigate media. If you want to talk about witch hunts, just go back over the press clippings from the past two years to see the relentless sniping at RR from reporters from Newhouse (the Freep and the AA News). It's not even just what they might say in a single article---it's the degree and persistence of of negative attention and investigation focused on a single man and his program--to the exclusion of other coaches and programs far more deserving of criticism for ethical lapses. So, yes, maybe there was a witch hunt--but those were the words used by Craig James on national TV to describe the way certain members of the press were going after RR.

Also, why is the right of investigation limited to the press---to people like rosenberg/sharp/snyder/anger and all the rest of them--including the other Newhouse reporters from the defunct AA news? Why do UM fans have any less right to investigate than journalists do, especially when those journalists do not live up to their own code of ethics?

So, you say, we should not speak out because we're biased? Biased? Please don't talk to me about biases. If the rules were that you have to shut up if you have biases, then the sports page at the Freep would be pretty damn short. I would be delighted if somebody else would take up the analysis of biases at the free press--in fact, I cited some objective methods of content analysis that can be used for this purpose. But unless I post these methods as information, many of us will not know what to do. And what should we do, if nobody steps forward to do an "objective" study? If they don't, it would be laughable for the Freep to complain of "biased investigation and reporting."

Also, when we write here, we do not derive personal financial benefit from doing so...even though some of us, myself included, do get paid for writing elsewhere. Yet, these hacks get paid for their hateful, vindictive distortions and insinuations, and the more muck they rake, the better they do. On top of this, they are apparently writing news articles requested by their advertisers (eg health insurance companies like Humana..see links below). IMO,and in the opinion of many of their fellow journalists, they walk along a very narrow ethical line. Can we really be confident in their objectivity?
What should we do if no one else speaks out?

IMO, just because they call themselves journalists does not give them the right to harm to others, then claim immunity for themselves. We have a right, if not a duty, to collect facts a to provided a basis for our assertions. We have a right to then speak out. It is part of the give-and-take of our democracy.

Free economic choices are another basic right. If you don't treat people fairly, then why should I buy your products?


February 9th, 2010 at 6:33 PM ^

When I read in the wee hours, I sometimes don't read everything and may get carried away with my rant. So let me add this in response to your main point.

I agree that putting aside biases is important in the synthesis of facts. In an ideal world, an ideal journalist would do a better job than me in synthesizing and validating the information .

But here are the problems I see, from my limited point of view,

1. It takes a lot of time and effort to collect facts. Unless journalists first have some idea what the facts might be, they probably won’t invest the time to investigate them. That’s where we could help, IMO.

2 Journalists would do a better reporting the information in an ideal world, wherein they actually felt free to report what they found. Yet, I suspect that they do a risk benefit analysis in their minds and consider the chance they could get into legal trouble, alienate their colleagues, etc. people are understandably reluctant to criticize their colleagues.

3 For a journalist to investigate another journalist is like having another doctor investigating another doctor in a malpractice case. That does have value. However, courts appoint lawyers to do the investigating. Doctors often would be tempted to defend each other, and not evaluate a patients’ complaints as aggressively as would a lawyer. The bias to defend people in your own profession is often just human nature…I’m as guilty as anyone of this….If someone attacks one's profession, it’s easy to feel that one is being attacked.

Thus, I fear that you are feeling that I am attacking you indirectly and attacking your profession in general. Why? First, you again claim that I accuse your profession of making coverage decisions based on sociodemographics. Not true. I clarified that a few times in prior posts. Also, you swore multiple times in responding to my initial post.

No problem. No offense taken. Yet, I am led inescapably to the question as to whether you yourself have an emotional investment in defending the field of journalism. If so, I would reluctantly question whether even you would objectively investigate your own colleagues.

4 I said in my post: “what should we do, if nobody steps forward to do an "objective" study?”
This was indeed intended as a rhetorical question. Who really is likely to invest the time and effort required to investigate biased reporting, It does occasionally occur. But how often, particularly in traditional news sources (not just espn rivals etc)?

After I have said all this, you might be surprised to hear that I do still agree with your conclusion that a journalist should be doing the writing in this story. My purpose was to encourage people to collect facts. If we find sufficient material, then what we find should be turned over to a reputable source to judge and, if appropriate, disseminate.

Still, while I would prefer that a completely neutral party stepped forward to do all the work, the chances of that happening, without somebody first gathering some information, are less than the chances that the Cubs will go undefeated next year and win the World Series. As a Cubs fan, I admit that I have a bad case of optimistic bias. But it’s not that bad.

In any case, I find final justification in my opinions through the words of Socrates, who said:

An unexamined paper is not worth reading

(apologies to Socrates if I am misquoting him,
but I really “suck” at reporting)


February 6th, 2010 at 3:08 PM ^

I can see how this topic has political and other societal implications raised below. I have trouble restraining myself from getting into these myself. However, those topics are best considered elsewhere.

Most of us are here to share common interests and address problems relevant to UM. Honest disagreements about the content of this diary are fine. Fire away. But diversions that would divide us by hijacking the diary take it away from the intended topic and the purpose of this blog, I think.



February 7th, 2010 at 11:11 AM ^

There may very well be true bias by the Free Press against Michigan and more specifically RR. But I believe that in a time when newspapers are failing left and right and with the struggling local economy, the FP tries to manufacture news to sell more papers.

So how does this explain the unequal treatment of UofM and MSU? Simple, UofM is a bigger name, so a UM "scandal" will attract more attention. Additionally, RR has a bit of that used car salesman persona, which unfortunately makes him an easy target. The news industry has become just another consumer driven market where sensationalistic stories and eye opening titles are what wins (there are of course exceptions).

IMO, these tactics by the FP are just their last gasp for air.


February 7th, 2010 at 4:25 PM ^

Here's the thing - media don't change the way people think. They change what they talk about. It's called agenda setting. In other words, regardless of how much basis there is for these accusations and condemnations, because it gets mentioned, it's what people talk about when they talk about Michigan now. Even if it's, "Do you really think we should condemn Dorsey?" or "Do you really think there was a violation in the practice times?"

Writer George Saunders refers to this phenomenon as "The Braindead Megaphone." Everyone is standing in a room, talking, and this guy walks in with a megaphone and starts rambling about how much he loves sunny days. Soon, the people in the room start to talk about whether or not they enjoy sunny days (I'm paraphrasing). Essentially, what the guy with the megaphone is doing is making his opinions, whether people agree with them or not, the topic of conversation. He's becoming the center of attention.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Drew Sharp and the Detroit Free Press.

No matter what their rationale is for their content, and no matter whether or not it actually changes people's minds, it's worth noting - That should not be what journalism does.

Some say, "Drew Sharp is not a journalist." That's immaterial. If he is, if he's not, he's out there in journalist's clothes, and he's the one with the megaphone.

That's the problem we're facing. The only ways to deal with it are: a) Ignore it, or b) kick the asshole holding the megaphone in the face and go about our business. Take your pick.

Zone Left

February 8th, 2010 at 4:52 PM ^


Exactly what did you investigate in this post? Got it, Free Press Jihad, etc. I'm in agreement that the investigation about practice time was at best shoddy and that Drew Sharp is a shitty columnist.

However, you insinuated that there was an extensive Free Press bias based on a Wikipedia link and approximately one fact--that AA News and the Freep are owned by News House. This is not evidence of bias. Wikipedia is easily manipulated by anyone willing to put forth effort, and should only be relied upon for basic facts (i.e. number of games won by Michigan in 2004). Media bias is a clearly controversial subject that an anonymous author may manipulate to his/her ends.

Again, what's the investigation? Freep reporters must be expected to have a high standard due to their Constitutional protections and their purported unbiased coverage. However, you seem to make the same mistake they have repeatedly.


February 9th, 2010 at 12:23 AM ^

So, I am just sharing with you the existing methods for investigating media bias.

You first acknowlege that such biases exist but then accuse me of insinuating a bias. I don't get it.

The reason I lay these principles out is this: It is not just the press that has constitutional protections. We do too. When we write on these blogs, we have rights to hold the press to the same high standards that they want to hold others to.

That seems only fair to me.


February 9th, 2010 at 2:43 PM ^

I thank posters below for their useful information and even objections to my ideas, to which the following posts respond:

1. You should not attack a free press, which has a constitutional right and duty to investigate wrongdoing.

A: This is a confusing world. IMO, the concept of a free press should be defended, even when particular writers say things we don’t like.

Yet, what happens when it does not abide by codes of journalism? Is it really journalism at all? Is it entitled to the same respect? Is it entitled to some kind of immunity from investigation or criticism itself? If it allows advertisers to dictate what news is covered, do we have any obligation to turn a blind eye, to keep buying products from these advertisers as if nothing were happening? Must we resign ourselves to the role of helpless hostages of media interests, about which we must remain ignorant, for fear of infringing on a free press? Indeed, when a free press becomes not free but takes direction from commercial interests (see the WSJ articles linked below)? Is it still a free press? Or is it just masquerading as one? Has its name—a free press—crossed the line between being a proud title to an empty phrase and from an empty phrase to a sad irony?


February 9th, 2010 at 2:44 PM ^

The irony reminds me of politics. I once heard that politics had become like a sports event—people don’t consume information in order to make up their minds, they just “root” for their political parties, as if they were sports teams. Yet, has the opposite become true too? Has some papers’ sports coverage become like politics? Has the coverage once intended to describe the elation and disappointment of an adolescents’ game now shifted toward other agendas? Have papers begun setting the agenda for their coverage by relying on networks of people with “grudges” or personal interests rooted in the politics of getting or losing jobs, keeping or alienating sponsors, surviving or dying as an organization? If not, what motivates the kind of slanted coverage we see?


February 9th, 2010 at 2:53 PM ^

Objection: You haven’t proven any biases.

A: I didn't intend to, but a good place to look for this is the direction of attention of the press, which can be much proof of a bias as the content is.

Is a paper just exposing the truth not matter what it chooses to investigate? Suppose, for instance, that you use your own biased view to identify coaches you dislike. You then investigate them—for one thing after another—academics, commercial interests, past employers practice time, until eventually you find some evidence that misdeeds seem likely.

You then write an article to present that evidence. Implicitly, you give the impression that this coach is bad apple—you may even eventually get to say for a year or two that he’s being investigated by the NCAA—then you can even get national media to repeat the suspicions even when they don’t even bother themselves with the evidence. You can even suggest that the investigation would not be happening unless he was likely to be guilty. How many people will even then find out about subsequent proof that your suspicions were invalid and your evidence faulty?

But suppose you did the same to any other coach—even the coaches that you like. You then investigate them—for one thing after another—academics, commercial interests, past employers practice time…. Would you be any less likely eventually to find some evidence misdeeds, possibly far more serious ones?


February 9th, 2010 at 3:04 PM ^

3. Objection: The coach would be cleared if he were not guilty. If you’re guilty, you’re no less guilty just because other coaches are

A: moral absolutism is a luxury that few can afford

Do you realize how common dishonesty of one sort or another is? Studies show that randomly chosen, otherwise reputable people, are more likely to cheat on their taxes when told that their friends have cheated. They also do so more if their cheating gives them a reward that is not money (eg a better team) that can later be exchanged for money (eg a higher salary)?

I can only guess how common such dishonesty might be if you felt you needed to cheat in order to even keep your job—when the same newspaper that investigates you for everything under the sun will not merely condemn you as a cheater if you succeed but as an incompetent if you don’t keep up with the other cheaters and then fail.

I do not justify cheating, far from it. Yet, suppose the same newspaper came after you, intent on finding something. How would you like it then if you yourself were relentlessly investigated for one thing after another—your compliance with ethical codes, your commercial interests, past employers, or violations of company rules? How many of us have never done anything that they would not like their employer to know or something that they are not proud of, even anything that we would not like to have appear in the newspaper? Then, once your guilt is revealed to the world, no matter how minor, no matter how common the offense, consider: how would you feel. Were you treated fairly, when the investigators turn a blind eye to your colleagues? Or are the people turning this blind eye, knowing the effects of the biases, the biggest cheaters of all?


February 9th, 2010 at 3:06 PM ^

To promote more honesty, is the answer just to commit to the jail of media scorn a few “examples” that serve as a warning to others? But what if the others know they can get off scott-free because they know you will not investigate them, due to your location or sometimes even your personal agendas?

And how effective are organizations like the NCAA when they don't pursue violations unless they, rarely, are investigated by the courts or, more commonly, by a biased media?

Maybe we need not just to condemn violations after the fact but rethink our day-to-day monitoring policies, and above all, to limit the monetary motivations for cheating, so that we prevent violations in the first place.


February 10th, 2010 at 12:13 PM ^

The link below says WTKA reported, from a secondary source: Freep lied to Dorsey and family. I had not heard this and haven't seen any more traditional news links. To anyone: please let us know if you have more information about the report.

The tactic reminds me of reports from an interviewed player about how the AA News lied in seeking evidence re: the academic investigation. i.e., that they told Freshmen they were writing an article in praise of a UM prof, whom they later accused of abusing independent studies to qualify athletes.

in any case, my favorite line from the post below (from Tater) is:

"the most important reason for boycotting the freep: you will be smarter for not having read it."

Go down to column on freep and ethics by Tater


February 10th, 2010 at 11:41 PM ^

“As the parent of a UM football player, this makes me livid. It is unimaginable that a "home town" newspaper would take a shot at a recruit like the Free Press did. The last trumped up scandal with the excess practice time was bad enough. It's one thing to take shots at the coach, its another thing to take a shot at an 18 year old high school senior. This is borderline child abuse and clear-cut racism. Do you think they would have done the article on a white kid from Scottsdale, Az?”


February 11th, 2010 at 12:14 AM ^

Editor in chief of mlive (the net remnants of AA News, which had same owner as Freep) is an MSU grad

Per the 2nd link he suggests he is not interested in UM, even though he edits UM coverage.

Their UM board is continually overrun with MSU according to posters there. Also, has been deleting many reasonable UM posts.

I do not read it anymore, since the phony academic scandal accusations. So I cannot evaluate the comments of the posters there. I thought I heard the website was still owned by the same organization which would keep it tied to the Freep.

D.C. Dave

September 3rd, 2010 at 4:18 PM ^


Not to throw cold water on this discussion, because the Free Press so-called investigation of Michigan was about as flawed and biased as they come (not helped, of course, by the failure of the Rodriguez staff to fill out routine forms regarding voluntary workouts that all D-I programs lie on), but the Detroit Free Press is owned by Gannett Newspapers and was previously owned by Dean Singleton's company.

It has never been owned by Newhouse.

Also true, and more to the bias point: The Free Press reporters lied to Michigan players, particularly freshman, and wrote a series that was deceptive in its breathless declarations that greatly embellished and exagerrated the facts. And then the paper took the view that any NCAA violations made their entire series true, but as we know, that is not so and the reporters remain guilty of lying. The JeRon Stokes quotes, and the response from the kid's father, are exhibit A on that point.

Anyway, way back when, Newhouse bought Booth Newspapers, which was a family chain, and that gave Newhouse the papers in Ann Arbor, Flint, Bay City, Saginaw, Jackson and Grand Rapids. Curiously, they decided to close Ann Arbor, a city with more potential readers than any of the others, as a grand online experiment which led to what could arguably be called the worst newspaper-converted-to-online-only-disaster in the history of the internet. If you pulled Charles Woodson and replaced him with Jordan Kovacs' little sister, that would be an appropriate football analogy.

I have no quarrel with the point about the inherent bias of the MSU grad being in charge at, though I am not surprised an MSU grad is at the helm as it is one of the ugliest, most poorly organized web sites around with millions of dollars behind it. The problem with bias here, in my experience, is that Michigan grads always have found it much easier to view Michigan State properly and objectively (which is to say, if you cannot get in to Michigan and you don't care all that much about future total household income, MSU is a reasonably decent place to get a degree that will make you one of the more polished barristas at Starbucks) than Michigan State fans have in viewing graduates of the great, world-class research institution in Ann Arbor. (The overall problem, I believe, stems from every MSU grad secretly wishing they were U-M grads, because that degree can take you somewhere that is not an A) lowly paid school teacher, and God knows MSU cranks out a lot of dumbass teachers or B) a hotel manager, because you can major in that there, which is the suit-and-tie version of majoring in welding.) Personally, I don't think MSU grads should be able to draw unemployment because they knew that was going to happen and they went to school there anyway.

So of course the guy is a little mad. That job pays like crap, too, and you can tell by looking at that sea of garish type that passes for one of the state's major news sites.

Now, back to the bias discussion!