Oct 29, 2007

Detroit News editor chosen as the most biased in Michigan mainstream media

The Michigan Messenger readers have spoken, and after a week of online voting the Big 3 of media bias are Detroit News editor Nolan Finley, radio host Frank Beckmann and Detroit Free Press reporter Dawson Bell.

We asked our readers to nominate which journalists were the most biased, and from that list we asked them to vote last week on which journalists from a list showed the most bias. This is the result. Actually, political pundit Bill Ballenger was tied with Bell for third place, but I am exercising my power as the unofficial media critic at MM to cast my tie-breaking vote for Bell. However, I will play closer attention to Ballenger.

The voter turnout was a little disappointing, but it's certainly consistent with the voter turnout we see for general elections; and it was even better than most primary elections. When you consider that only about a quarter of the registered voters actually decide who is going to run the state, the 43 votes cast in this informal poll isn't all that bad.

Finley was the big winner - or loser depending on your point of view - with 27 percent of the vote, followed by Beckman with 25 percent of the vote and Bell and Ballenger with 16 percent. Also receiving votes were Tim Skubick with three votes; George Weeks, two votes and Murray Feldman with one vote. In the comments section I also received write in votes for Chris Christoff, the Detroit Free Press Lansing bureau chief; Chad Selewski of the Macomb Daily; nationally known sports writer, best-selling author and radio host Mitch Albom; and Detroit News columnist Laura Berman.

Among the other comments I received was that I was concentrating only on conservative media bias. My answer to that is that the myth that has been floated around since the 1970s is that the media is liberally biased, but that is simply not true. I am pointing out the predominant bias of the mainstream media. An argument was also made that some of our slate of candidates are not journalists. However, anyone who conveys information to the public fits our definition of a journalist.

Finley is a columnist and the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, and as a columnist he is expressing his opinion, which by its very nature is biased. But it's clear where his bias lays. It's very hard to find bias in the newspaper's straight stories, but as the editorial page editor, it follows Finley's bias that sets the tone for the entire newspaper. Clearly, his biggest obsession is Gov. Jennifer Granholm. He seems to blame her for everything but the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. He must not be aware that the governor, any governor, cannot influence macroeconomic activity through the two most important factors: monetary policy and fiscal policy.

In a recent column about the governor's leadership on the budget situation, he used a quote in a column he said was from Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township: "Why doesn't she take control of these negotiations?" asks Dillon, and then answered, "Because she doesn't have leadership instincts."

When called out on the source of the quote, Finley changed the online version and attributed the quote it its rightful owner; Granholm opponent, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

According to the Detroit News official bio, Finley is the "Editorial Page Editor of The Detroit News, a position he's held since May 1, 2000. He directs the expression of the newspaper's editorial position on various national and local issues, and also writes a column in the Sunday newspaper. Prior to that, Finley was the newspaper's Deputy Managing Editor, directing the newsroom. Previously, he served as Business Editor, and in various editing positions on the city, state and metro desks. He was also a reporter, covering Detroit City Hall during the Coleman Young administration. Finley has been with the newspaper since 1976, starting as a copy boy in the newsroom while a student at Wayne State University.

Beckman hosts a show on conservative talk radio station WJR weekdays from 9-11:30 a.m., and he is an occasional columnist for the Detroit News. He shares a similar obsession with Finely for the governor while claiming he is fair and balanced and looking out for us. He seems to be a Bill O'Reilly wannabe with a rather large ego. His bias seems to fit in at WJR, and it's a mystery how the most powerful radio station in a state that has been blue since 1992 located in one of the most liberal cities in America can get way with not having one non-conservative voice on the air.

Beckman drew the ire of progressives in early October when he taped an interview with the governor for replay later in the day, and then he allegedly used a YouTube clip supplied by a conservative blog from an old debate about a completely different topic to accuse the governor of lying to the public about tax increases.

Bell covers Lansing and politics for the Detroit Free Press, and he is the only reporter on the list. Finding bias in a straight news story is difficult, but bias there can cause the most damage because it is not so obvious. Bell helped start the "ipod for every student in Michigan" controversary last spring when he mistakenly wrote in a story that House Democrats were proposing a $58 million line item to buy every student an ipod that was really for new technology. Republicans made hay with that line, and it continues today.

Ballenger is one of the most well-known and respected political pundits in the state. According to his official biography as the former Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government at Central Michigan University, Ballenger "…is a former (Republican) state representative and state senator, an ex-state racing commissioner and director of the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulation. Mr. Ballenger also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare in the administration of President Gerald R. Ford." He also writes and publishes the newsletter "Inside Michigan Politics," and he is a regular panelist on the political talk TV show "Off the Record."


Johnny C said...

If there's one person I can't stand it's Nolan Finley.. He makes Sean Hannity look like an objective journalist.

Communications guru said...

Wow. That's biased. Thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Nolan Finley's job is to express an opinion, hence his title as opinion page editor. Frank Beckmann is a columnist, paid to express his opinion, as well. You can disagree with them. But calling them biased is just ignorant. Dawson Bell is an excellent journalist with decades of experience. It's amusing for someone who was fired from the Livingston Co. paper for just making stuff up to question the integrity of one of the Capital's best reporters.

Communications guru said...

It’s nice to see you don’t have the courage to identify yourself. I don’t see what my employment status has to do with anything. No one has ever questioned the accuracy of my published work for the Livingston County paper over six years of work. If you can show when I ever “made stuff up” please do so. In fact, I challenge you to do it. I am not ashamed of being fired from the Daily Press & Argus.

You assessment is completely incorrect. Nolan Finely’s job as the editorial page editor is to weigh both sides of an issue and take a position, not to take the side that supports his right-wing bent. Frank Beckmann is the host of a daily radio show, and he falsely claims to be unbiased. Now, Dawson Bell may be “an excellent journalist with decades of experience,” but the are a few people who think he is extremely biased. Personally, I don’t really know if he is or not because I didn’t choose him, but I plan to shine a light on his workt. And I could care less if someone who doesn’t even have the courage to own up to what he writes doesn’t like it.

Anonymous said...

No wonder you were fired. You don't understand anything about journalism. Editorial pages don't have to be objective. Most lean either left or right. The Detroit News has never endorsed a Democrat for president. So, genius, why would you think Nolan Finley would support your left-wing agenda on his pages? You obviously understand nothing about blogs, either. People can post anonymously. If you don't like that, why don't you get a real job in the media?

Communications guru said...

If you are a journalist you certinally do not know anything about it. Editorial pages do have to be objective. Here’s how endorsements work. An editorial board usually sits down with each candidate and interviews them then makes a decision based on that interview. In the case of a natitional candidate where access is a problem they may make the decision based on debates and a questionnaire. The makeup of the editorial board consists of different configurations, based on the size of the newspaper, and some even have citizens on the board. At no time do they automatically choose a candidate based just on their party, or they are no longer a part of the mainstream media.

I don’t believe the Detroit News has never endorsed a Democrat for president, but if that’s true then readers are getting cheated because the paper is not doing its job. Am not asking Nolan Finley to support my “left-wing agenda on his pages.” I am asking him to look at each issue fairly and judge it on its merits by looking at both sides. If they don’t do that then they are not fulfilling newspapers’ mission. I obviously know more about newspapers than you because I am a journalist, and I also know more abut blogs than you because I am also a blogger. I certinaslly understand people can post anonymously or a coward like you would not be allowed to make personal attacks. Many blogs require you to at least choose a screen name before you post. This blog is one of a shrinking number of blogs that allows that. But that does make you any less a coward because you are afraid to take ownership of what you write. I have never not had “a real job in the media” since I retired from the Navy in 1995.

Anonymous said...

I worked with Nolan Finley when he was a copy boy at the Detroit News.

He was a gawky kid with a shock of hair that kept falling over his eyes and a goofy smile. He came across somewhat like the northern version of Gomer Pile.

He ripped copy off the wires and delivered it to the various departments at a snail's pace.

I was very sorry to see how far he had risen in the ranks at the Detroit News.

Besides his looks, I remember him as someone with little integrity. As soon as he didn't think he needed you anymore, the goofy smile was gone and he ignored you.

It is a shame that the Detroit News couldn't do any better--or didn't want to do any better--than someone like Nolan Finley.

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