Friday, October 30, 2015

Yes, the CNBC moderation was biased

In anger over CNBC's left-wing bias, the Republican party has suspended them from moderating future debates. Is there something to this?

Yes and no. CNBC, like most of the media, has a strong left-wing bias. On the other hand, the Republicans are quick to label legitimate criticism as examples of bias.

There is an easy way to detect improper bias. The principle of journalism is that there are two reasonable sides to any debate. One side may be wrong, of course, but both sides are reasonable. Partisan bias, however, involves arguing that one side in the debate is unreasonable. When the press calls somebody a "comic book clown", then it's bias. Merely saying they are "wrong" is not bias.

That's what happened many times during the CNBC moderated debate of Republican candidates, most egregiously when they called Trump a "comic book" version of a candidate. We all know that Trump is a demagogue, that he appeals to the ignorant masses more than intelligent people. But when you drill down on Trumps ideas, what you'll find is that he's usually merely wrong rather than irrational. For example, a couple months ago, Trump was attacked in the press for saying "the constitution is unconstitutional". Actually, if you looked at what Trump really said, in context, you'll find a quite reasonable interpretation of the 14th amendment. Not a likely "correct" interpretation, mind you, but still a "reasonable" one.

Moderators should attack Trump based on the assumption that he's reasonable. Everyone knows you can't deport all the illegal aliens in America without violating everyone's constitutional right to "due process". Does Trump propose suspending due process? Or does he have a concrete plan that'll prove everybody wrong? That's the question I'd ask him, instead of calling him a clown.

But it's not just with Trump where the moderators let their bias show. Another example was a question to Ben Carson on gay marriage. The left-wing press assumes that the Republican stance on gay marriage is due to bigotry, and hence, is unreasonable. That's not true.

Our society is quickly transitioning from a point when gays were ostracized to one where they are accepted. Democrats and Republicans handle this transition in different ways. As "conservatives", Republicans are of course going to handle this by being unwilling to change existing institutions. In particular, marriage has religious associations that Republicans are sensitive to. Had the national debate centered on "civil unions" instead of "gay marriage", as it did in France, you would have seen a very difference response from both Republicans and Democrats.

The CNBC moderator let his bias show by implicitly assuming Republicans were anti-gay bigots in his question to Carson:
MODERATOR: Why would you serve on a company whose policies [gay partner benefits] seem to run counter to your views on homosexuality?
CARSON: Well, obviously, you don't understand my views on homosexuality … [One] shouldn't automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe.
In other words, Carson's response was that his views on homosexuality are not the unreasonable caricature drawn by the CNBC moderator, and that of course gays deserve the same rights as everyone else.

Despite what I said above, gay marriage is indeed cover for a lot of homophobia. Kim Davis is proof: her rampant adultery and four marriages are as far from any Christian definition of the institution as gay marriage. Debate moderators should probe this -- but based on the assumption Republicans are reasonable people and not bigots. An example might be:
Moderator (me): Last year, the RNC put out a video declaring that everyone is welcome in the Republican party: men, women, whites, blacks, hispanics, and so on. Yet they didn’t mention gays. Do Republicans welcome gays? If you get the Republican nomination, what will you do to make gays feel more welcome in the party?

A similar issue is climate change. Republicans don’t deny the scientific consensus behind climate change. They may be wrong, not taking the issue seriously enough, but they aren’t unreasonable people who deny science. But "denialism" is too attractive an argument for Democrats, and the left-wing media has seized upon it, clearly violating their own journalistic principles to make it true.

This bias is apparent in CNBC’s question:
Moderator: Governor Christie, you've said something that many in your party do not believe, which is that climate change is undeniable, that human activity contributes to it, and you said, quote: "The question is, what do we do to deal with it?".
Journalisticly, the moderator's claim that “many in [the] party do not believe” is unsupported by the available evidence. It's a weird thing, because everyone knows it's true, but when you go hunting for the evidence, you'll find it difficult to find. Instead, what you'll find are statements like these at ClimateProgress, which when twisted out of context seem to indicate denialism, but which don't explicitly deny that human acitivity contributes to climate change.

If I were a candidate, I’d prepare for this question with the following response:
Candidate (me): Point of order. You make the claim that many Republicans deny that human activity contributes to climate change. Of the 10 candidates on this stage, Mr. Moderator, how many of us do you think would deny this?
Candidate: Okay fellow candidates, raise your hand if you deny that human activity contributes to climate change.
Candidate: As you know, we Republicans often complain of media bias. What just happened demonstrates why. We want to have substantive debate on this issue, but you can’t stop calling us deniers.

The problem being discussed here is not that journalists believe Republicans to be wrong. Instead, the problem is that journalists believe the Republicans to be unreasonable. Despite the fact that Republicans are often too quick to label valid criticism as "bias", a problem does exist. In the CNBC hosted debate, several questions (as shown here) are based on the erroneous belief that Republicans are unreasonable rather than merely wrong.


John Thacker said...

I think this is a good column also giving examples of tough questions that would never be asked by CNBC moderators. You could never imagine a question about Kasich expanding Medicaid skeptical at all, a tough question about sugar subsidies for Rubio, a gun control or liberal judges question for Christie. Even a question for Trump of "you have defended your bankruptcies as important business tools, so where do you stand on Puerto Rico being allowed to declare bankruptcy" would be interesting.

Paddle4Life said...

Actually gay marriage in France is labelled as "same sex marriage", which created a lot of heat because of the use of the "marriage" word. (2013 law)
There was indeed a civil union available for gays (1999 law), but that did not give the same rights as a civil marriage.