Everyday Bias In The Washington Post

Most of the discussion of press bias concerns, as it should, slanted news coverage and, to a lesser extent, bias that is reflected over time in editorials and selection of oped authors. But there is another kind that is worthy of at least occasional notice, the flippant, mundane everyday bias revealed by reporters and regular columnists without, apparently, a second (or even first) thought.

A good example appears today in a WaPo column by Evelyn Nieves, who in passing refers to the president as “the born-again Christian in chief.”

And then there’s pure gush, such as this today from one of the regulars, Donna Britt, on appearances:

… first lady Laura Bush’s schoolmarm prettiness is a classic cinematic counterpoint to her husband’s smirking cowboy-ishness. Teresa Heinz Kerry’s lovely, young-for-65 features nicely complement her patrician-looking husband’s….


I’d seen John Edwards dozens of times on TV and in newspaper photos during the Democratic primaries, probably forming some subconscious opinion of how his wife would look. When I finally saw the couple on TV together, I gasped.

It wasn’t that Elizabeth Edwards, 55, isn’t attractive — because she is. Nothing about her was different from millions of other smart, energetic and giving women whom we all know. My visceral reaction was based entirely on the unexpected fact that Mrs. Edwards is what a male friend refers to as “a big girl.” Meaning she’s a bit overweight.

Okay, she’s fat.


In fact Elizabeth Edwards’s chubbiness is less troublesome than Hollywood’s size-zero superstars, who set an unattractive, and dangerous, example for young girls. I’d even suggest that Edwards’s weight gives her husband, well, heft.

I suppose weighty arguments come in all sorts of forms.

Say What? (5)

  1. linda seebach August 13, 2004 at 11:58 am | | Reply

    As an editorial writer and columnist, I think the choice of the term “bias” to describe opinion writing rather odd. (If it were someone other than John R. I might say “tendentious.”)

    We’re supposed to make the best possible case for whatever side we’re on, but have no obligation whatsoever to present the other side’s arguments.

    Like lawyers. Or bloggers, come to think of it.

  2. John Rosenberg August 13, 2004 at 12:21 pm | | Reply

    Linda – You’re terrific! Criticism from you sounds better than praise from just about anybody else! I’m not sure whether my problem is that what I said was unclear or that I said what I meant, and it was wrong. Anyway, let me try again, perhaps digging my hole deeper.

    I don’t think opinion writers, whether editorialists or columnists, have any obligation to be balanced. They are certainly free, or should be, to argue whatever they want. (Whether it makes sense to describe a left wing or a right wing opinion writer as “biased” is, I think, not a very interesting question, although linguists and Clintonians [“It depends on what you mean by ‘bias'”] could have a good time with it.)

    What I was trying to get at was not individual “bias” but something that could, at least arguably, be called bias in the paper itself. If a paper, say, consistently defends Democrats and attacks Republicans in its editorials (or, of course, the opposite) AND a heavy preponderance of its regular columnists and OpEd writers take the same positions AND one finds evidence of pro-Democratic leanings cropping up with some frequency in news articles, is it really out of line to use the word “bias” regarding such a paper?

    I don’t think the Washington Post is as bad as my example above, but my post was meant to indicate that it does have tendencies in that direction, enough in any event to make this sort of criticism reasonable.

  3. Mary August 14, 2004 at 4:03 am | | Reply

    I’m sorry, but patrician is abolutely the last word I would use to describe John Kerry’s features. More appropriate terms (in my mind) might be lugubrious or saturnine. Perhaps that is why I have always imagined that he looks more like a funeral home director than a president.

  4. Fleming August 15, 2004 at 2:27 pm | | Reply

    I have an idea for a movie about a snowboarding Frankenstein monster. I have just the person in mind to play the lead role. But I may have to wait until after the November elections, when he is certain to have a lot of free time.

    I am also have a role for a fat middle aged woman who runs a bed and breakfast on the mountain. The role requires her to have a passing acquaintance with legal terms, particularly from personal injury law. Do you know of anyone who will be available around November/December this year that fits that description?

Say What?