Sheehan Speaks for the Media

There are millions of Americans with very strong views about the war in Iraq. Many of them have lost loved ones in Iraq, many of them are very outspoken. Some of them support the war, while others oppose it. Given Sheehan’s radical views, why is she given such special attention?

One possible explanation is that the media is simply treating her as a freak show, akin to the Michael Jackson saga. She’s news because she’s on the fringe. But consider the tone of the coverage and ask yourself whether the media approaches her with skepticism or deference. Is there a tone of condescension or respect? Are the “facts” that she recites scrutinized or simply regurgitated? It seems pretty clear that the media isn’t treating her as if she’s the story. No, her message is the story.

Sadly this appears to be yet another example of agenda journalism. The media will occasionally directly come out and call Bush a liar, say the war is unjust or proclaim the deaths of brave soldiers to be in vain in editorials. But they also have a simple way to send this same message through reporting of the “news” under the guise that they are impartial presenters of fact – they find people who espouse those views and give them airtime. Usually it takes the form of the “person on the street” interviews, as if the selection of people sought to be interviewed is completely random and representative of the public in general. The Sheehan story is an extreme example of this.

A sample of one can never be representative of the views of the population as a whole. You don’t have to be a statistics major to figure that out. However, it can be representative of the views of those doing the sampling.

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