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Media Bias Archive



April 2016



Most Common Media Myths About the Panama Papers

Written by , Posted in Liberty & Limited Government, Media Bias, Taxes

The media has breathlessly reported on the massive data breach of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Much of that coverage has involved the politicians and other figures whose activities revealed corruption, ethical lapses, or dishonesty and wrongdoing. That includes Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who has “stepped aside” for an unspecified period of time after his ownership of a holding company established by Mossack in the British Virgin Islands was discovered. There’s been no indication so far that there was anything legally wrong with the company or its activities, or that he pursued favoritism on behalf of his financial interests while in office. However, he failed to disclose his assets in Iceland’s parliamentary register of MPs’ financial interests and was not forthcoming with his constituency.

In other words, like most of the stories from the Panama Papers that are dominating the news, Gunnlaugsson’s is one of only tangential relation to the actual business of Mossack Fonseca. Had he been a private citizen with the exact same legal and business arrangements, no one would care. Where he erred was on his responsibility to disclose his holdings and maintain the trust of his citizens.

Nevertheless, his and other similar stories have been framed as proof that something must be done about “shady” offshore dealings. In fact, the entire media coverage from start to finish has been littered, either directly or through implication, with myths.

Here are a few areas where the media, and the public discussion surrounding the Panama Papers, has more often than not gotten it wrong:

Myth 1: Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion Are Both Wrong

On the tax front (the instances of corruption representing a different matter entirely), most all of the media and political hand-wringing surrounding the Panama Papers has been due to a willful blurring of the lines between tax evasion and avoidance. Yet in reality there are significant legal and ethical differences between the two.

Tax evasion is a crime, and involves the deliberate disregard of tax obligations. Evasion can be committed by lying about assets or engaging in fraud. Banking in jurisdictions that respect privacy rights can be used by unscrupulous individuals as part of a strategy to commit tax evasion. But so can using cash. Both also have legitimate functions, making it unfair to treat everyone who uses privacy respecting services (or cash) as suspect and unwise to create rules on that assumption.

Tax avoidance is not a crime. It is, in fact, simply obedience to the law as it is written. Lawmakers bemoan those who seek to minimize their tax burdens when doing so shines a negative light on the quality of the laws they have written. But in other instances they encourage it. When politicians provide tax credits, for instance, it is with the understanding that those who use them are doing so to avoid paying more tax than they have to. And when they seek to discourage other activities through excise taxes, they are counting on people changing their behavior to avoid the tax. Politicians understand and even expect tax avoidance when it suits them, and decry it when it does not.

Most of what the media directly claims or indirectly implies to be tax evasion is merely legal avoidance. It is individuals choosing to do business in jurisdictions with less onerous tax codes. Not only is this legal, but it has concomitant positive benefits. Tax competition between jurisdictions serves as a check on political greed, and pressures governments to adopt tax policies designed to grow economies instead of just treasuries.

Myth 2: Offshore Financial Services Are Only Used for Wrongdoing

Opportunists who have long despised the ability of individuals to legally flee from confiscatory tax rates want to make the Panama Papers story about financial privacy. It’s not. That makes no more sense than if the story of Congressman William Jefferson, found with a stash of ill-gotten money in his freezer, had been spun as one primarily about cash or kitchen appliances.

Yes, bad people also use legal and financial services. Sometimes they even do so to help them conduct their illicit activity. They also sometimes use airplanes to meet with co-conspirators, or cash to conduct black market sales. That’s not an argument for depriving law abiding citizens of then use of either of those. The fact that corrupt politicians made use of the legal services of Mossack Fonseca does not mean that something must be done about Mossack Fonseca and similar firms. It suggests, if anything, that something must be done about political corruption.

The idea that anyone benefiting from the legal services of Mossack Fonseca, and others who specialize in meeting the needs of international clientele in establishing new businesses and trusts, simply does not match reality. They file incorporation papers. What is then done with those companies is on the people who actually manage them.

Myth 3: Indiscriminate Leaking of Private Financial and Legal Information, Especially of the Rich, Serves a Public Good 

While exposing potential corruption of politicians who might be looting their national treasuries or hiding potential conflicts of interest likely serves a public good, massive data leaks that include innocents are still a massive violation of privacy. The Panama Papers leak consists of confidential and legally protected communications, including those of the vast majority of innocent Mossack Fonseca clients caught up in the data for no other reason than that they used ordinary legal and tax planning services that a small number of elites may have been simultaneously misusing.

Whether or not the individuals who did nothing wrong but were exposed anyway are wealthy or not shouldn’t matter. They have the same expectation of privacy as the rest of us. Moreover, the implication that they are “hiding” their wealth even when all tax laws have been followed presumes a public right to individual financial information that does not exist. No one accuses an individual with an ordinary savings account who chooses not to broadcast their account balance as “hiding” their money. That information is simply their business and their business alone.



November 2014



Ignoring the President is Healthy for the Republic

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Liberty & Limited Government, Media Bias

President Obama’s immigration speech wasn’t carried live on the four major networks – NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. He never officially requested the time from the networks because initial inquiries suggested the requests would all be denied. The White House is peeved, and its freelance propagandists in the media are none too happy either.

John Nichols of The Nation, for instance, is livid that networks didn’t jump at the opportunity to upend their schedules and force the President’s speechifying down their viewers throats. Inexcusably, networks chose “relentless profiteering” over being dutiful agents of the President’s political apparatus. That, he says, is “one important part of why this great democracy is not working as well as it could.”

Balderdash. The fact that private life goes on largely undistributed by the political machinations of a self-indulgent President is a sign of a restoring vitality in our republic.

A king might expect citizens to drop whatever they are doing to attend to every egotistic whim of the crown. An American president not only needs no such luxury, but ought not seek it. Except in the most serious of emergencies, the proper role of the president is to attend to enforcement of the law. Outside military affairs he is simply a chief executive, a glorified bureaucrat putting the ideas of Congress into practice. Certainly, he has a role in crafting law as well, but more so by exercise of political power than granted authority. But that political power has limits, as President Obama has experienced.

Americans should not have much tolerance for a President who seeks to grab society by the horns and steer it wherever he pleases. That has never been the American way, where individual rights and preferences are held in reverence.

Nichols ties the decision of the networks into what he sees as a broader battle for civic engagement:

Former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps has repeatedly warned in recent years of the threat posed to democracy by the “diminished and too often dumbed-down civic dialogue” that emerges when those who broadcast on the people’s airwaves fail to serve the people’s interest.

Copps explains, “Our country confronts challenges to its viability in some ways reminiscent of the 1930s, making it a national imperative that every American be empowered with the news and information essential for knowledgeable decision-making. Without that, the challenges go misunderstood, untended, unresolved. When our media, our press and our journalism catch cold, democracy catches pneumonia.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, sees the network neglect of a particular presidential address as just one measure of a broader crisis for democracy that results when media are no longer “educating the American people so that we’re debating the real issues.”

When these elites worry that Americans are no longer being educated about the “real issues,” what they mean is that they are no longer having their thinking done for them by those who know better. There is more information available than ever before, and it is no longer filtered through a regimented point of view. In a world of cable television and 24/7 news stations, the “network” distinction is all but irrelevant. Those who cared to see the speech easily could do so. What troubles Nichols and his ilk is that there were other choices available at all.

What they see as evidence of some crisis in political engagement, I see as a healthy awareness of the limited importance of collective action. What has always made America great is recognition that the everyday decisions of millions of free and productive people outweigh the preferences of a tiny, centralized few. The private must maintain supremacy over the public. The more that people tune out Washington’s self-indulgent and excessively frequent demands for attention, the more time is available for them to live their lives, exercise their liberty, and pursue their own happiness.



February 2014



Whose Washington Post Will It Be?

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Media Bias

It was a pleasant surprise when the Washington Post added Radley Balko as an opinion blogger, a surprise which was compounded when they soon after announced the Volokh Conspiracy would now publish under their banner. While both Balko and the many excellent law bloggers at Volokh bring a healthy dose of libertarianism to the Post, they have also injected some rare skepticism into the paper. Not only are they obviously skeptical of government, but they tend to approach all sources of authority with a healthy dose of skepticism. Why, they even direct it toward their own ideas, a novel concept at the Post.

This attitude contrasts with Washington Post relics like E.J. Dionne, whose hackneyed, partisan water-carrying tends to result in confused arguments and dishonest caricatures. To be sure, the Post has long counted George Will among its numbers, but the Dionne model has tended to dominate.

The two styles are perhaps the result of the environments in which they were crafted. Balko and the writers at Volokh honed their craft of commentary in an immensely crowded and competitive internet field, where name recognition meant squat. The quality of their individual work was paramount to their success, whereas the Washington Post and its assortment of writers have coasted on brand identification after its one significant achievement back during the Nixon Administration.

While the new additions are most welcome, I wonder whether or not they can ultimately co-exist with the close-mindedness of the old model. More importantly, I wonder which will ultimately win out, real investigative reporting or obsequious water-carrying for the powers that be? I hope it’s the former, as the New York Times has already called dibs on being the dead-tree version of MSNBC.

Ideological diversity is desirable, but it needn’t come at the expense of intellectual rigor. It is not necessary for the Washington Post to become a libertarian, anti-government mouthpiece. It just needs to dump the garbage. And while the acquisition of the paper by Jeff Bezos augurs well that the new additions might signal more than mere superficial reform, the J-school dominated news industry is still doggedly opposed to any challenge of elite media orthodoxy.



December 2013



Most Prudent Congress Ever?

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Media Bias

USA today reported that the current Congress has hit “new productivity lows” (Hat-tip: Reason):

Congress is on track to beat its own low record of productivity, enacting fewer laws this year than at any point in the past 66 years.

It’s a continuing slide of productivity that began in 2011, after Republicans recaptured the House majority in the 2010 elections, and the ability to find common ground has eluded the two parties while the legislative to-do list piles up.

The 112th Congress, covering 2011-12, emerged as the least productive two-year legislating period on record, while 2013 is on track to become the least productive single year in modern history.

Stories such as this do a lot to illustrate the assumptions of journalists that don’t explicitly make it into their reporting (some might consider it, dare I say, bias). The obvious, and also foolish, assumption behind this rather typical approach to legislative reporting is the belief that laws are fundamentally positive in nature, and therefore the more the merrier. Put another way, the Congress which passes the most laws is also seen as the most productive.

We could challenge this assumption by highlighting the plethora of laws passed in recent years that have been anything but productive (Obamacare, Dodd Frank, etc.), but I don’t want to get into the legislative weeds. I’d rather just point out that the logic behind concern-trolling Congressional productivity is internally inconsistent. If, as they presume, legislation is de facto positive and productive, then we should expect the need for new legislation to decrease over time. Since the purpose for passing legislation is, or ought to be, to solve actual problems, there should be fewer and fewer things we need solving over time as more and more laws are passed. In which case, articles like this would not be written.

But the reality is that legislation is not always productive. Sometimes it fails to solve an issue, or creates more problems than it solves. This is why the same people who take the statist view of legislation still implicitly acknowledge there remain a great many problems to solve. The realization that legislation can be either productive or unproductive, rather, should caution against reacting to problems by rushing through legislation without due consideration of the full ramifications of any proposed solutions. Looked at this way, the same evidence USA Today used to declare the current Congress to have “the least productive single year in modern history” can be used to say that is has been the most prudent in modern history.

Obviously, it’s not really so simple. Contrary to the logic of the article, Congress does not operate in a vacuum. Laws must also be signed by the President before enacted into law. Fewer laws are thus to be expected in a split government, as the two branches will agree on fewer issues when controlled by different parties. In this way, we see in practice the theory of our system of checks and balances: it sometimes forces politicians into behaving prudently despite their best efforts and intentions to the contrary.



April 2012



Free Market Capitalism Breaks Out in New York, NYT Can't Figure Out Who to Blame

Written by , Posted in Economics & the Economy, Free Markets, Media Bias

In one of the odder stories I’ve seen in sometime, the New York Times describes competition among local pizza shop owners as if it’s reporting from the front lines of Afghanistan. In essence, new competition has forced prices at local pizza shops down from $1.50 to $.75. Wonderful, right? How great for the consumers!

But the article describes the “amped-up war of commerce” in the starkest of terms, warning that “escalation seems imminent,” as if the missiles might fly at any moment. They even note that both sides accuse the other of “unprovoked” price slashing, implying that it’s a negative thing that can only occur after some sort of initial affront. Not once does the piece object to this absurd characterization by offering the point of view of the consumer. Price cutting is not an action that must be “provoked,” it is a simple consequence of our competitive system where businesses fight to attract customers. Nor do we need the New York Times to delve into the he said/he said to determine who is the “true aggressor.”

There is no aggressor; there are merely multiple suppliers rushing to serve the same customers as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Perhaps if the New York Times understood the concept they wouldn’t be losing so many of theirs.



July 2011



Let This Be a Lesson to Agenda Journalists Everywhere

Written by , Posted in Media Bias

In what may be one of the funniest media moments of the year, MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer got slapped down by Rep. Mo Brooks when she tried to sarcastically dismiss his views by questioning whether he had a background in economics. Watch below for the fun:

Rep. Brooks had made the horrible mistake of daring to question the learned authority of Secretary Geithner. For a lackey at MSNBC this is akin to blasphemy, and so Contessa thought she was being quite clever with her question designed to put the upstart Congressman in his place. And even though it’s clearly a fallacy to believe that having credentials makes one correct, as she would have it (at least when the credentialed person is a liberal or Democrat, no doubt she would offer no such presumption of accuracy to an accomplished conservative), it’s quite enjoyable to see her fall by her own premise.

Let this be a lesson to hack journalists everywhere trying to push an agenda: don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer too.

(Hat-tip: Matt Lewis)



July 2011



How Unexpected

Written by , Posted in Economics & the Economy, Media Bias

The media was caught off guard once again by June’s dismal jobs report:

U.S. Payrolls Grow at Slowest Pace in 9 Months

American employers added jobs at the slowest pace in nine months in June and the unemployment rate unexpectedly climbed to 9.2 percent…

Jobs Report Dashes Recovery Optimism

The unemployment rate jumped unexpectedly higher in June as U.S. job growth was virtually non-existent.

June jobs report: Hiring slows, unemployment rises

The job market hit a major roadblock last month, as hiring slowed to a crawl and the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose.

Treasury 5-Year Note Yields Fall Most in 14 Months as Payroll Gains Shrink

Treasuries gained, pushing five-year yields down the most in more than a year, after the economy added the fewest jobs in nine months and the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose, fueling bets the recovery is losing steam.

Economic outlook worsens as U.S. adds only 18,000 jobs in June

Job growth came nearly to a halt in June, the federal government said Friday with surprisingly grim new data that challenge expectations that the economy is poised to bounce back from its spring lull.

Treasury Prices Surge On Weak Jobs Report, Obama Comments

As a surprisingly weak jobs report sent shockwaves through the financial markets Friday, investors scrambled into the safe harbor of Treasury bonds.

On and on it goes. Question: When do these clowns start expecting the “unexpected”?



January 2011



Constitutional Deference is not Theater

Written by , Posted in Media Bias, Waste & Government Reform

The New York Times sneered yesterday at the apparent deference of the new Republican majority to the Constitution. They did not, mind you, call into question area where Republicans might not be as keen on Constitutional enforcement (the Drug War, for instance), which would have been legitimate. Instead they poo-pooed the whole idea of Constitutional government as “theatrical production.”

The Times complained:

[I]t is far from clear what message is being sent by, for instance, reading aloud the nation’s foundational document. Is this group of Republicans really trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution than anyone else and will follow it more closely?

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation.

Someone should offer the New York Times editorial board a basic lesson in Constitutional history.  The document was not “left open to generations of reinterpretation.” It has one and only one interpretation, and that is the right one.  Rather, it is left open to amendment. That’s not reinterpretation, that’s changing the actual document.

There is plenty of room to debate just what is the one, correct interpretation of the Constitution. But the Times is not interested in doing that here, and has instead satisfied itself by sneering at the very idea that it matters at all.  That newly elected Speaker Boehner, just like all Speakers before him, was sworn in today by vowing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” while affirming that he would “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” must be all part of that theatrical production of which the Times has no use. One wonders anyway what, exactly, the oath is for if the document was intended to be reinterpreted at will by each new generation.

But despite the best effort of the Times, the Constitution will be, I dare hope, center stage once again in all political discussions. New House rules mandating that all legislation cite its Constitutional authority will hopefully force some public discussions about the document, its meaning, and its purpose in maintaining the integrity of our Constitutional Republic.



April 2010



New York Times Runs Racist Op-Ed Against Tea Party

Written by , Posted in General/Misc., Identity Politics, Media Bias

Charles M. Blow, a regular columnist for the New York Times, has taken the already despicable race narrative on the Tea Parties to another level.  He begins with a bit of “diversity” hunting:

I had specifically come to this rally because it was supposed to be especially diverse. And, on the stage at least, it was. The speakers included a black doctor who bashed Democrats for crying racism, a Hispanic immigrant who said that she had never received a single government entitlement and a Vietnamese immigrant who said that the Tea Party leader was God. It felt like a bizarre spoof of a 1980s Benetton ad.

The juxtaposition was striking: an abundance of diversity on the stage and a dearth of it in the crowd, with the exception of a few minorities like the young black man who carried a sign that read “Quit calling me a racist.”

…It was a farce. This Tea Party wanted to project a mainstream image of a group that is anything but. A New York Times/CBS News poll released on Wednesday found that only 1 percent of Tea Party supporters are black and only 1 percent are Hispanic. It’s almost all white.

The implication: a lack of the kind of diversity Mr. Blow deems important (because there are other kinds, which he apparently doesn’t care about) is somehow condemning.  Notice he never actually explains the logic for how this matters.  But don’t hold your breath waiting for Mr. Blow to similarly investigate an NAACP event, or the next Million Man March.

But that’s hardly the worst.  Things really get ugly when he begins using his own racist attacks:

And even when compared to other whites, their views are extreme and marginal. For instance, white Tea Party supporters are twice as likely as white independents and eight times as likely as white Democrats to believe that Barack Obama was born in another country.

Furthermore, they were more than eight times as likely as white independents and six times as likely as white Democrats to think that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.

Thursday night I saw a political minstrel show devised for the entertainment of those on the rim of obliviousness and for those engaged in the subterfuge of intolerance. I was not amused.

Because, you know, white views are just naturally extreme and marginal, so even by that standard the tea parties are on the fringe!  What a racist.  Can you imagine the New York Times running an op-ed that says “even compared to other blacks, their views are [insert negative attribute]?” The author of such a statement would be crucified.

He then doubles down with a racist attack on the black speakers, who he dubs a “minstrel show.”  Apparently no black person is capable of the free thinking that might lead them to be there because they believe in the cause. Oh no.  They must be getting used or duped.  I wonder if Mr. Blow has ever applied the same logic to his employment at the upper-class, white New York Times.  Probably not, because if he did his head might just explode.



April 2010



Passing Obamacare Was Bad For Congressional Health

Written by , Posted in Health Care, Welfare & Entitlements, Media Bias

Not just electorally, but literally:

In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.

For example, it says, the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.

The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?

Of course, the New York Times had no use for this question when it might have actually mattered.

Hat-tip: Hot Air