Bob and Chez Show

The Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show 12/06/12

We spend the whole hour vigorously debating whether MSNBC has a so-called pro-Obama bias. Bob says no, Chez says yes, and we fight about it. Brought to you by Bubble Genius!

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  • D_C_Wilson

    Really good debate, guys.

    I don’t think there’s any question that the evening hosts on MSNBC are politically in favor of Obama.

    On the other hand, there is Joe Scarborough and his three hours of pro-conservative bias. You can’t ignore that. However, I think if you take the channel as a whole, Chez is right, there is definitely a pro-Obama sentiment among the people on MSNBC.

    But I think the entire debate about whether MSNBC has a particular bias misses the larger point. Everyone has a particular bias and anyone who is intellectually honest will admit that. Maddow, Schultz, Sharpton, etc, all do interpret the day’s news through the lens of the liberal POV. However, even though they do have a bias, they still operate within the set of parameters that we call reality.

    That’s the main difference between MSNBC and Fox. MSNBC doesn’t knowingly get stories wrong and when they do make mistakes, they own up to them. Fox is not in the business of providing people with factual information. It’s not just because, as we often (somewhat) jokingly say, reality has a liberal bias. It’s because Fox just doesn’t give a rat’s ass what the actual fact are. They don’t care if a story is true or not. Their job is to sell a pre-packaged narrative, facts be damne. If they have to lie to sell the narrative, so be it.

    This is what Chez was alluding to when he was talking about how Fox receives orders from on high to report whatever Ailes and Company want reported. MSNBC doesn’t give marching orders. They just hire people who are generally liberal and let them do their thing. It’s a different kind of bias. Fox’s bias is part of a concerted strategy to present a conservative slant regardless of what the facts are. MSNBC’s bias is just the result of hiring liberals are their evening talent.

    The other difference between the channels is that MSNBC is willing to debate conservatives honestly. They give Scarborough his segment in the morning to make the conservative case. They also bring intelligent conservatives like Steve Schmidt or David Frum on to present their POV. In contrast, Fox puts people like drunken hobo Bob Beckel, who probably knows full well his purpose on the Five is to just be the punching bag, just as Alan Colmes knew that before him.

    Fox debates strawmen held up by people they know will only make the weakest possible case for the liberal side. MSNBC will put conservatives on who can defend themselves and then spars with them honestly.

    That’s the real difference between the two: One is intellectually honest. The other one is Fox.

  • mrbrink

    Saying MSNBC has a pro-Obama bias is like criticizing ESPN for their post game analysis of Tom Brady’s good game/bad game.

    Like, “he had a good game, despite the defense burning down the stadium and running off with the ball.”

    Intellectual honesty isn’t pro-Obama bias.

    Saying president Obama has “a strong throwing arm” or “Chess hand,” or deferring to a legislative success rate in some historical context, isn’t bias.

    It’s honest analysis.

  • Sorry, Bob. Way too many straw men arguments on your part. Is it really that difficult to admit that MSNBC has some pro-Obama bias? They do. And I like that they do. To claim otherwise makes you sound like the one who’s suffering from a lack of objectivity.

    MSNBC, if graded as a whole, I’d say gets about a C or C+ for objectivity. Not terrible, for sure, but enough that we should all be able to admit that it’s happening.

    Just because FOX gets a solid F- on objectivity doesn’t mean MSNBC is blameless.

    • Straw man? When?

      Opinion shows don’t need to be objective. They only need to be intellectually honest and factually correct.

      As I said on the show, “bias” in this context implies a deliberate agenda, at least in terms of how Greenwald and the others were using the term in the pejorative sense as a criticism of MSNBC. Their argument was that MSNBC is a PR wing of the Obama White House and the Democratic Party — deliberately so. Other than one show, however, I’m not aware of a deliberate effort to pitch the Obama presidency on that network, especially in the morning for 5 hours plus. Now it’s likely the hosts who occupy the 6 hours of programming out of 16.5 hours of live shows voted for President Obama. But does that mean they consciously decided to serve as campaign spokespeople?

      The accusation from the right of a “liberal media bias” definitely implies a deliberate attempt to help liberalism and the Democratic Party. But it’s not true and multiple books and thousands of articles have been written disproving it.

      There is no liberal media bias. Yes, there are a few liberal shows out of 100+ hours of TV per day, but that doesn’t mean the TV news media has a liberal agenda. Same with the print press. Likewise, on a smaller scale and using the same criteria for evaluation, there is no pro-Obama bias on MSNBC.

      • When someone like Chez, whose credentials you are well aware of, makes a simple observation that MSNBC does in fact have a degree of pro-Obama bias it’s totally unfair of you to compare him to the Right Wing noise machine and their cries of “it’s the liberal media!” You know he’s not saying that, and to suggest otherwise is a cheap ploy.

        Him saying MSNBC has *some* of that bias is NOT the same as making the weak-tea “liberal media” argument. Surely you know that. Equating Chez’s pretty-reasonable take with the fire-breathing bullshit spewed by the conservative whackos out there, yes that’s pretty much in straw man territory for me.

        You basically seem to imply that not only is your thesis the correct one, but that any dissent is equivalent to the bloviations of Rush Limbaugh – or worse, Glenn Greenwald.

        • >>You basically seem to imply that not only is your thesis the correct one,

          Shocker. I’m a political op/ed writer. It’s what we do.

          >>but that any dissent is equivalent to the bloviations of Rush Limbaugh – or worse, Glenn Greenwald.

          Well, in a broad stroke way, Chez agreed with Greenwald (MSNBC has a pro-Democratic, pro-Obama bias) and called me “fucking delusional” because I disagreed. Those are fightin’ words.

    • Lazarus Durden

      Eh I don’t think it’s that bad. MSNBC is biased toward Obama, or they were during the election, but it’s not the C+ range. Depending on who it is I’d give it higher marks. A to A- for Rachel Maddow, and solid B+ sometimes A- for Lawrence O’Donnell. Melissa Harris-Perry and Chris Hayes are more critical of the President then they are supportive of him, and up until the repeal of DADT and the GOP’s War on Women Rachel was pretty rough on him too.

      So while I think Bob is a little too rigid in his arguments I don’t think they’re fallacious. Plus I think Bob and Chez are looking at two different facets of the same thing. Both are correct it’s just from what side you’re looking at.

  • rob black

    So, I guess the real question I want answered after listening to that is:
    Are the Bubble Genius girls hot?
    Just kidding, I haven’t heard it yet….but are they?

  • GrafZeppelin127

    Good debate, guys. Enjoyed listening to it. You both made some really good points. To the extent I had to take sides here, I think I ended up agreeing with Chez more than I agreed with Bob; I think Chez’s “benefit-of-the-doubt” argument was the most persuasive. I posted about this last week, using my “Obama tried to force veterans to pay for their own war injuries” example. Most of us, when we read a statement like that, say “that can’t be true,” for either or both of two reasons: (1) It just sounds ridiculous and unreasonable, because no President would want to do that; and/or (2) we give Obama the benefit of the doubt that he’s not that stupid, mean, cruel, or anti-veteran. But either way, hearing something like that, saying to yourself, “That’s got to be bullshit,” looking it up and finding out what really happened (someone suggested having private insurance cover all medical needs for vets instead of splitting service and non-service treatment between the V.A. and private carrier), could be a manifestation of pro-Obama bias. We know he wouldn’t do that, so we choose not to believe it and then prove ourselves right.

    As I pointed out, I don’t think the issue is whether bias exists or not, whether a TV network, its personnel, its content, etc. are biased or not; yes/no questions and binary formulations are seldom helpful. I also think it is very different to say that “MSNBC is biased” than to say that “there is bias at MSNBC.” A TV network can’t really be biased; only people can be biased, and every living person has biases. You guys talked about “pro-conflict bias,” and “pro-reality bias.” There are biases toward believing that things are generally OK, and there are biases toward believing that everything sucks and the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Everyone has biases.

    My point, I think, is that whether bias exists or not is not the point. It’s best to avoid binary formulations. What’s important is what the biases are, and what effect they have on the network’s content and coverage of the news. Whether, and to what extent, the biases are insidious, subversive, undermining, and ultimately enough to make the coverage untrustworthy. And, as you guys pointed out, whether the biases are just present in the people talking on the air, just naturally part of their individual personalities and worldviews [as much as I hate that word], or whether the biases are directed and required, put into the content consciously and deliberately by those in charge.

    Maybe that last bit is the key. Maybe the difference between MSNBC and Fox is this: that the former has a bunch of liberals on TV talking about the news, and the latter has a bunch of actors on TV performing an improv act.

    It’s not so much that Fox hosts are being told what to say; improvisational theatre doesn’t have a script. What it has is a set of background conditions, characters, scenarios, etc. that the actors play out on stage, improvising the dialogue and narrative within the confines of the background scenario. Ultimately, I think that’s the difference. Fox’s programming, content and presentation is an improv act, where MSNBC’s is not.

    This, unfortunately, is what the Right (i.e., the GOP and its fans) has accomplished over the last 40 years, since Nixon and his acolytes started whining about “liberal media bias.” They spent 20 years doing that, then they created right-wing talk radio and Fox, disingenuously calling themselves a “fair and balanced” alternative to the “biased” “liberal” media. 20 years after that, they’re at the point where everything they present to the public is deeply paranoid, shrieking, hair-on-fire, psychotic, seething, white-hot hatred of Democrats, “liberals,” and whoever else they’re being ordered to hate this week. As a result, the mere absence of that automatic, knee-jerk, vicious, spiteful, schizophrenic animosity toward the President and anything associated with his party and his supporters could be considered “pro-Obama bias.”

  • Lazarus Durden

    Just my own two cents:

    There’s a difference between having a bias and being objective. Everyone has a bias. You cannot escape it. And yes MSNBC has a liberal bias in the sense that their pundits generally have a liberal bias, and since MSNBC decides who it’s going to hire they support that bias. This is most definitely because of ratings, and ad revenue. They have to because that’s the environment they operate in. So in that sense Chez is correct.

    However as Bob pointed out the liberal hosts, with the exception of Bashir and Rev. Rollo Goodlove aka Al Sharpton, although they have a liberal bias are objective in their analysis. Their ideological hosts make up small portion of the programming at MSNBC. When you factor in the total hours of programming it isn’t anywhere close to Fox News so the argument that MSNBC is the mirror image of that network is false. To be clear that’s not the argument Chez was making but I understand Bob’s concern about that and that’s the argument he was making. Bob’s arguing against the so-called “Liberal Media Bias” marco, not micro.

    This is all in how the word bias is used. Bias as in “inclination” or “lean towards” yes MSNBC is liberally biased and Pro-Obama. Bias as in “agenda driven” no they are not. They lean towards Obama because their audience does so they deliver that type of programming, but they are objective in giving analysis that is based in fact checked reality. They are objective. (I use objective to describe something as having a truth value i.e. true or false not bias free.)

    Pundits like Rachel Maddow have a bias but it doesn’t rule their analysis. They argue from that position but evidence, reason, and facts make up that foundation. Fox News as a whole is ideologically driven. Facts, evidence, and reason become completely irrelevant. That’s the difference. Both are biased but Fox doesn’t check it, and instead takes it a step further and disregards objectivity in favor of ideology and agenda.

  • Lazarus Durden

    Okay this is one of the reasons I love this podcast. The main reason I went to grad school was because I like intellectual sparing matches. Yes there are problems with both arguments. Bob’s a little too rigid in his premises and definitions, and Chez’s structure could be a bit better. But both Bob and Chez present valid, coherent thought-provoking arguments about the nature of bias in the media. They do so in an intellectually honest fashion with each person giving the other due credit, and treating the other’s argument seriously and respectfully. There aren’t any nasty cheap shots just to score points which distract from the discussion. It’s obvious the goal is to gain a greater understanding about the world through solid, honest debate.

    I’d much rather you guys spend an entire podcast fleshing out one issue, really pushing the arguments in an intellectually, but spirited fashion then blather on about several topics of the day just because you feel you should especially if there isn’t as much passion in it. Good job guys. Keep it up!

  • Lazarus Durden

    They didn’t argue about this the whole time. There was that part about Metal Christmas Wishes. That lasted almost two minutes! Maybe more!

  • Chez has a streak of college-kid contrarianism, and is sometimes a bit intellectually incoherent. Like when he prefixes his impending use of a logical fallacy with “I know this is the Argumentum ad populum fallacy, BUT…” then proceeds to use it anyway.

    It’s really no different than any one of the cable news pundits who on a daily basis preface statements they know aren’t true with “I’m not saying x,y and z, BUT…” before saying x,y and z.

  • Seriously, I thought you were kidding, it took you 2 an hour to debate this? Tune in next week for an hour debate: ‘Does the sun really set in the West’? Bob says ‘No, it sets on BO’s shoulders’ and Chez says ‘Yes, but that’s because he was born in Hawaii’

  • I thought it was a spirited discussion and even though you guys sometimes beat that horse till it disintegrates, I still like it. 🙂

    Something that needed to be defined, IMO, was “Pro-Obama bias”. To me, it is an effect, not a goal. Like Bob says, reality has a well known liberal bias which when you look at it after the fact, could be labeled “Pro-Obama”.

    I found myself agreeing with both of you, but because “Pro-Obama bias” was not put into context, which could be stated as “does it help Obama” whether it is the goal of the host or just a byproduct of reality, I think you guys talked past each other quite a bit.

    I totally agree with Bob that MSNBC has spent many hours, days and weeks not being “Pro-Obama”…the example I always use is the couple of weeks where Donald Trump was given time on the half hour to spew his birther crap and promote his lame show on NBC. I also think about all the appearances by Adam Green and Jane Hamsher fighting against the Affordable Care Act, because…you know.

    I also think that Chez is dead on about the fact that MSNBC chooses to hire people for the opinion shows who we know have a liberal bias in general and that choice does influence the perception of MSNBC as “Pro-Obama”.

    I stopped watching MSNBC entirely for quite a while during that 2 years Bob talked about when the network did no favors for POTUS with ACA whining, DADT whining, GITMO whining, Drone whining….and on and on. I noticed as the election came closer and the Repubs finally had a target chosen, Mitt, the network turned it’s guns towards him and Akin and all the other boneheaded Repubs. So because they were focused on the crazy GOP shit, they just didn’t have time to beat up on the President.

    Now that the election is over, I sense a return to the “whining” motif. And it won’t be long until the likes of Greenwald, Green and Hamsher probably start making appearances again.

    • Dan_in_DE

      Great points, Jim.

      Where Fox pundits will more or less keep the wagons circled, enforce ideological rigidity and keep bolstering party cohesion in the off season, the liberal pundits will go back to in-fighting because we do allow criticism, and revision, of our own ideology. We keep ourselves honest by airing out internal grievances and discussing them. Personally, I can’t stand to listen to very much of it either because the far left are a buch of myopic, idealistic whiners. But you have to admit, the things that they care about, protecting the innocent and aiding the downtrodden for example, are noble and worthwhile causes.

  • Bob, you have much more patience than I would be able to conjure up.

    Adds………I didn’t mean that exactly the way it may have sounded, I was primarily referring to my own lack of patience with arguments—I don’t have the patience, as you can probably tell from perusing my comments on this blog.

    So, kudos to both of you for not totally losing it, and walking away.

  • roxsteady

    Haven’t listened yet Bob but, I’m planning to later today. I’m hoping that you guys covered my least favorite show, next to Scarborough’s which is the Cycle. I can’t stand S.E. Cupp and I’m still livid that Phil Griffin put this wingnut moron on the air. I don’t like any Conservatives, truth be told because I haven’t seen one yet who doesn’t just regurgitate rightwing, bullshit, talking points. What Griffin needs to know is that if Liberals wanted to watch Conservatives, we’d just turn on fox!

    • If you won’t tolerate even one conservative on your network, you’re not doing much to bolster Bob’s argument that MSNBC isn’t just the liberal version of FOX.

  • One of the advantages of new media is the ability to occasionally take the time to hash out important topics without worrying about traditional media time- and content constraints. When I blogged almost exclusively about healthcare reform and the BP oil spill, I heard the same gripes. But these issue areas were worth the risk of losing a few readers.

    No apologies. Yes, two or three times per year we’ll talk about one solid topic for the whole show, probably because we feel that it deserves more than just a throw-away blip between commercial breaks (see also topics like racism, Trayvon Martin, and rape jokes in pop culture).

    The integrity of the news media happens to be one of those seriously crucial topics, seeing as how it’s the only industry specifically named in the Constitution. Hence the full show on MSNBC and bias.

    • ranger11

      Haven’t listened to the show yet but I noticed your twitter feed to the right of the page and picked up some f-bombs that you laid in to a few miscreants. Rock on!

    • Dan_in_DE

      Bob, I agree that it’s really good to go in depth on important topics now and again, but I also agree that this one didn’t make for the best show. It became pretty tedious, though you were both very passionate about the opposing sides of the argument, because you kept circling back around to the starting point (and becoming frustrated with each other).

      Personally, I was getting frustrated with both of you for not delving into some of the arguments that were begging to be taken up. Chez failed to point out that MSNBC spends most of their time on subject matter that are they think are good for Democrats to be talking about. Rachel Maddow often addresses this directly, explaining that, strategically, Democratic politicians need to be spending more time hammering home point X. Where Chez kept conceding to you that he couldn’t provide numbers, I’m sure an analysis of segment topics would show MSNBC as a whole talking about issues on which Dem arguments are the strongest.

      On the other hand, Bob, you kept coming back around to intellectual honesty without ever going into how that plays out in liberal discourse. I think it’s your strongest point. Liberals do value truth, and will often concede when the facts don’t support them, and this is what you see on MSNBC that will never be mirrored on Fox. Pundits like Rachel Maddow are practically bound by their enlightenment values to sort out the facts and seek the truth. They don’t make shit up or present misleading arguments. And they don’t practice poor journalism in service of ideology, like Fox’s infamous “some people are saying..” bullshit. But they certainly spend most of their time on ‘big D’ Democratic turf, Medicare and the economy for example, where they spend most of their time pointing out Republican failures, and Republican lies and misinformation. You’re both right on this topic, but you needed to prepare and structure your arguments better to make a compelling show out of it.

  • muselet

    Well, the 46 seconds of Vince Guaraldi was nice.


  • No_Unkindness_to_Bears

    I’m a weekly subscriber, and I love you two guys, and I don’t mind when you two go at each other for a little while, but the whole show – seriously ? That wasn’t fun to listen to at all. And when I eventually fast forward to the end–something that I have never done before–it just sounded like two fevered egos who couldn’t come to terms with the thought of losing some silly argument, which didn’t cover much ground in last 50 minutes that wasn’t already covered in the first five.

    As usual, I can’t wait until next Thursday night when I continually hit the reload button for hours on end just waiting the episode to post. But I hope it will be nothing like tonight, or I don’t see myself being excited for much longer.

    – An Adoring Fan

    • The After Party features a wide variety of topics this week, from cars to movies to blogging to Jovan Belcher. Sometimes we jump around, sometimes we hash things out. No matter what happens, you’re hearing our spontaneous, honest and passionate views.