I roll my eyes at most charges of media bias. I used to be a journalist, so I recognize that a lot of complaints about bias and unfairness simply boil down to people not liking it that reporters don’t tell stories from whatever point of view they happen to agree with. But every now and then, serious examples of unfair journalism jump out at me.
Michael Strong sent me a story Friday in which the public radio show Marketplace talked about the idea of free economic zones existing inside countries that have draconian rules otherwise. (I’ve talked before about developments leading toward free cities, so take a look here, here and here if you haven’t seen them.) It was nice to see the idea of free economic zones at least be mentioned in a news story — because it’s frequently ignored — but I want to point out two things. Once you’ve read the story, tell me which parts stand out starkly as not fitting the rest.
First, there’s the headline, which isn’t supported in the story at all: “Separate and unequal economies in the Arab world.” Unless you live under a rock, it’s very, very clear what the headline writer is trying to imply. He’s trying to invoke the Jim Crow world of “separate but equal” when it comes to schools and public facilities in the United States. Although the story has nothing to do with that — and it’s a very dishonest characterization of the situation — the headline writer has clearly decided to express his disapproval by disdainfully making it clear that what’s going on is just as wrong as forcing black Americans to drink from different water fountains.
Second, there’s the way the story ends. So far, the story had been a fairly straightforward explanation of the concept and how it worked. Then, without explanation or foundation, the reporter suddenly says this:
It’s been a year when so many people around the Middle East are demanding the right to participate in their countries, politically and economically. The Arab Spring is a reminder that sticking so much of the economic fun into special zones for foreigners may not be a sustainable, long-term plan. [Emphasis mine]
Does the reporter misunderstand the purpose of the free economic zones? Or does he simply think that continuing a repressive economic system is suddenly going to start producing growth without liberalizing rules? It’s hard to say. It seems as though some people are so reflexively against anything that allows for different systems that he couldn’t ask himself whether this might be a first step toward bringing more freedom to the entire country.
I’d like for economic freedom to come to the entire world all at once, but nobody has to ability make that happen. If we have to take the baby steps of establishing free economic zones — to show what benefits economic freedom can bring — that’s better than leaving an entire country repressed.
I don’t want to start yelling “bias” every time a reporter says something I don’t agree with, but it’s fair to call media organizations out on headlines and conclusions that are this biased and this divorced from the facts.
Note: The line I quoted in my headline here comes from a rather old and dated song about media bias called “Meat the Press.” Yes, the title is spelled correctly. It’s just a play on words.