Stupid conservative numbers game is no proof of bias

Gavin Atkins’s post on ABC’s The Drum is the latest in a line of conservatives playing stupid numbers games to ‘prove’ that the ABC (or some other media organisation) has an inherent left-wing bias. In fact, all it demonstrates is that Atkins and his fellow cultural warriors do not have the faintest clue about the purpose of journalism.

Atkins read through every article published on The Drum website during the election campaign and scored each individual sentence as follows:

Each time a value-laden remark was made about Julia Gillard (or her campaign) that was positive or negative, it was noted as G+ or G-. For Tony Abbott, it was given the value A+ or A.

Yup, that’s it. It’s all very well to call this system moronic or pathetically simplistic, but why?

Because it assumes that everything Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott did during the election campaign was equally credible or unbelievable and that all critiques or praises published on The Drum were equally fair. This is demonstrably not the case.

For example, every time Tony Abbott claimed interest rates would always be lower under a Coalition government than under Labor, this was:

  • Historically inaccurate, when referring to past governments
  • Completely impossible to prove or disprove, when referring to future governments

In other words, it was complete bullshit.

But if an article in The Drum criticised this comment, Atkins would give it an A-, thus confirming in his mind that the ABC was full of socialists.

The Atkins system also makes no differentiation between an article that criticised Julia Gillard for proposing a citizens’ assembly to develop a new policy on climate change – a dumb idea – and one that bitched about the Prime Ministerial earlobes or dress sense. Both would get a G- under this scale.

Being critical of politicians’ stupid ideas is a journalist or commentator’s job. If an article simply reports what a politician said without any analysis or comparison to reality, that is bad journalism. So is an article that ridicules a politician’s personal attributes.

To demonstrate bias, Atkins would therefore need to show not only that The Drum criticised one side or another more, but also that those critiques were unfair or unjustified. Otherwise, his results could just as easily be explained by the fact that Tony Abbott said and did a lot more stupid things that were worthy of criticism.

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