David R. Henderson  

Denver Post's Media Bias, Part Two

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Media Bias, Case No. 15239... George Mason University's Econ...

Was the murderer a socialist? Can a high school student possibly use that word correctly?

A point that a commenter made on my post yesterday about the Denver Post's bias was so important that it deserves its own post.

Commenter FR writes:

The Denver Post article originally quoted one of his classmates describing him as "a very opinionated Socialist."

They have now scrubbed (memory-holed) this quote. An editor of the DP is on twitter now trying to defend themselves, saying that a mere student wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to understand this term.


I checked out FR's story. It turns out that the Denver Post did indeed quote a high school student calling murderer Karl Pierson "a very opinionated Socialist." That quote was later removed. I have not been able to find the editor on Twitter defending this edit on the grounds that a student wouldn't know what the word "socialism" means. I can certainly believe that an editor would say that. What other grounds would there be for removing such a quote other than that the student, Thomas Conrad, lacked understanding?

But here's what else is interesting. So what? News reporter are now supposed to remove actual quotes because the people quoted don't understand what they said? I doubt that the Denver Post applies that "principle" consistently.


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CATEGORIES: Revealed Preference



COMMENTS (19 to date)
Ted Levy writes:

This is particularly true when the student refers to himself as a "Keynesian" and lampoons "neoliberals". This indicates that while he may well not have had a sophisticated knowledge of these terms he clearly was more studied than most high schoolers. Plus, he was on the debate team, for goodness sake!

Perhaps more importantly, to get to Henderson's final point, can anyone seriously imagine if the shooter's friend had said, "He was a very opinionated advocate of free markets" that would have been converted to "he was very opinionated" because what high school student could possibly understand Adam Smith and invisible hand mechanisms?

BC writes:

I believe that this is the tweet from the Denver Post editor (Lee Ann Colacioppo, @LAColacioppo) defending the quote alteration:

https://twitter.com/LAColacioppo/statuses/411942295466823680


In the media's defense, in the aftermath of the 2011 Tuscon shooting, the one in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot, the media asked whether "harsh" conservative political rhetoric might have contributed in some way, even though the shooter did not turn out to have conservative political views. (At least one former friend even asserted that the shooter had held left-wing views in the past.) In the present Arapahoe case, where again the shooter's political views are characterized by friends as left-wing, at least the Post is not questioning whether harsh conservative rhetoric is partially to blame. I suppose that represents an improvement of sorts.

Skinny Nicky writes:

Somehow, I think if this guy was a tea-partier, the press would not be defending him on the basis that he was a "mere student wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to understand this term". Instead he would be conservative hatred, thinking and harsh political rhetoric put into real world consequences.

Methinks writes:

Hang on. So, 18 year old high school students are meant to be knowledgeable enough to vote and enter into contracts, including one to join the military where they can be sent to die in some politician's military adventure, but they're too dumb to know definitions of words they're meant to have learned in high school?

Look, if leftists want to sell an altered reality, they're going to have to be more skillful than 5 year-olds.

~FR writes:

Good Evening Professor Henderson,

Thank you for posting on my comment- I am pleased to be able to contribute something to your post.

Commenter BC above has posted the correct link to the Denver Post's editor attempting to rationalize their action.

My personal opinion is that our news-media has become blatantly Orwellian over the past 2 decades. They seem to consciously act against the idea that us 'proles' can handle being well-informed.

What confuses me is what the economic driver is. What was the 'payoff' (not necessarily financial) for altering this story?

RPLong writes:

I agree with the editor's decision to remove that part of the story. The student's bad use of political labels shouldn't be used to fan the flames of politics in the wake of a tragedy.

But, I also agree with those who see this as a double-standard in the media. It's too bad.

David R. Henderson writes:

@RPLong,
I agree with the editor's decision to remove that part of the story. The student's bad use of political labels shouldn't be used to fan the flames of politics in the wake of a tragedy.
How do you know that the student, Thomas Conrad, used political labels badly? I for one would be interested in a reporter following up by asking Mr. Conrad the basis for his claim.
@FR,
Thank you for posting on my comment- I am pleased to be able to contribute something to your post.
You’re welcome.
What confuses me is what the economic driver is. What was the 'payoff' (not necessarily financial) for altering this story?
I think the payoff is that they can help insulate many of their readers from examining some of their most strongly held views. To take a much bigger picture issue, and a much more important issue, look at how so many on the left refuse to admit that Mussolini, for essentially the whole of his adult life, was a leftist.

Jon Murphy writes:

If a newspaper feels it is their duty to not post quotes from people who do not understand what they said, then they'd have to stop posting letters to the editor, opinion polls, op-eds, etc, wouldn't they?

I mean, lots of people have opinions on minimum wage, but considerably few of them understand how it works.

Handle writes:

I distinctly remember a lot of semi-smart and very young teenagers just beginning to explore ideological ideas and political identity and being very obnoxious Socialists even before their freshman year of high school. They were completely self-aware in their Socialism, and knew exactly what it meant. Now, it's true that this was especially since they grew up during the last years of the Cold War, and the debate about Communism seemed to define the era. But they stuck to their socialism even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And I don't imagine kids are just ignorant of the idea these days, especially since they grew up during the financial crisis when talk of Socialism was very frequent and very much in the air.

To say that an average high school senior today doesn't know what 'Socialism' means (or 'really' means) is just ludicrous.

Brian E. writes:

So in the future, we can expect the Denver Post to omit any comments made by politicians on the subject of economics?

RPLong writes:

Prof. Henderson - I may have misspoke. What I was getting at is that it is unlikely that the shooter's professed political beliefs had anything meaningful to do with the shooting. This would be true regardless of what the particulars of those beliefs may have been.

Similarly, I do not think that Marilyn Manson's music caused the Columbine shooting or that any of the reports of shooters being "right wing" is a relevant piece of information.

People open fire on children because they're sick, not because they subscribe to an ideology that tells them so. There are certain obvious exceptions, of course, but when it comes to lone gunman and alienated youth I just don't think political beliefs are a relevant piece of the puzzle.

But I do agree with you about bias.

Hazel Meade writes:

What confuses me is what the economic driver is. What was the 'payoff' (not necessarily financial) for altering this story?
I think the payoff is that they can help insulate many of their readers from examining some of their most strongly held views. To take a much bigger picture issue, and a much more important issue, look at how so many on the left refuse to admit that Mussolini, for essentially the whole of his adult life, was a leftist.

I think that nails it. If many of the Post's readers are sufficiently opinionated leftists, then publishing a story that portrays a shooter as an opinionated leftist could alienate those readers. Like many blogs, newspapers thrive by telling their readers what they want to hear. People seek out information that confirms their biases. Ergo, you write stories in a way that helps your readers confirm their biases, and avoids confronting them with contradictory information. You make more money that wya.

JKB writes:

The irony is that it wouldn't take long to find many examples a mere newspaper editor/reporter "wouldn't be knowledgeable enough to understand this term."

The prevailing attitude of the academy seems to be that socialism is much to complicated to be recognized or comprehended by those who've not been indoctrinated. And besides, that socialism where bad things happened isn't the flavor of the month anymore and the new socialism is, like totally, different but the same.

Jay writes:

@RPLong

...but the original article in question had the headline stating that the shooter held strong political beliefs. I agree we shouldn't swing for political beliefs as the reason for everything tragic, but when you write an article about it then David's point is valid.

RPLong writes:

Jay - Totally agreed. I agree on the point about bias, and I especially agree with the "Part One" post.

But I also want to balance this opinion against the fact that, ultimately, it was wrong to report on this as a "political affiliation story," so removing references to political affiliation does make sense.

I am not close enough to the story to outright condemn the paper in this case, so I am trying to be as objective as possible.

Assume they made a mistake: The best course of action would be to fix the story and issue a published correction. Failing that, what is "next best?" In my opinion, issuing a subsequent correction without fixing the initial story is next best. Third best is just fixing the story without issuing a correction. Fourth best is pretending it never happened. And worst of all is willfully misleading readers.

So I think Henderson's "Part One" is a clear example of my worst-case scenario. I think this "Part Two" is an example of "third best," so not deliberately misleading, but not as forthcoming as we'd all prefer.

Hazel Meade writes:

How do you "fix" a story whose title emphasizes strong political belief? And that twice implies a right-leaning political affiliation before it gets around to quoting someone calling him a socialist?

The correct thing to do is to retract the whole story. Not to amend it to remove the reference to socialism wile leaving the statements about gun control and bible school intact.

David R. Henderson writes:

@RPLong,
I pretty much agree with everything you said above. Thanks for clarifying. The one thing I will take issue with, though, is this statement:
"People open fire on children because they're sick, not because they subscribe to an ideology that tells them so.”
You may well be right that it’s not ideology driven. But I’m not sure they’re sick either. I think it’s more likely that they’re evil.

Jay writes:

@RPLong

Sorry, but I disagree. I can't see how it can be third best (unless that is last place) to remove the socialism reference while leaving the rest of the article as is. At best this leaves a story about strong political beliefs ambiguous to what those beliefs actually are, and at worse (not even that far) it makes the shooter out to be anti-government and therefore right-leaning.

libfree writes:

Totally with @RPLong on this one. I doubt anyone is evil, not the comic book villian kind of way. They are sick because they think what they are doing is right or heroic. I'm not so far from high school to realize what an awful place it is for many people.

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