Fox Lite

Maybe it’s because I seldom watch the cable news channels, but this morning I was very surprised to see two stories on CNN that were blatant in their rightward bias.

The first, prompted by Stephen Colbert’s appearance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, was a story about the recent rise in humorous attacks on George Bush. They played excepts from the Colbert appearance and also from Letterman. The gist of the story was that making fun of the president was a bad thing because it affects his ability to govern. Realizing that this might prompt some of its viewers to think back to what was going on in the 90s—and to wonder why such a tsk-tsking story was never run back then—CNN helpfully distinguished between Clinton-based humor and Bush-based humor: the Clinton jokes, said CNN, were innocuous because they were just about sex, whereas the Bush jokes are potentially harmful because they attack his intelligence. The bloviator interviewed for the piece sternly warned us that laughing at jokes about the president’s stupidity could undermine his effectiveness. CNN did not interview anyone who said that it was the president’s stupidity itself that could undermine his effectiveness. Come to think of it, they also didn’t interview anyone who said that undermining a stupid president’s effectiveness was a good thing.

The second story was about this study from the Harvard School of Public Health concering medical malpractice and frivolous lawsuits. According to CNN, the study showed that frivolous lawsuits are quite costly. In fact, the primary finding of the study was that the legal system does a better job of weeding out frivolous lawsuits than is generally thought. According to the study, about three-quarters of plaintiffs who bring frivolous lawsuits collect nothing. I suppose you could look at this and focus on the one-quarter of frivolous lawsuits in which the plaintiffs collect, but the study also found that about one-quarter of plaintiffs who bring meritorious lawsuits collect nothing. So the injustice runs both ways.

How did CNN report that this study showed frivolous lawsuits to be costly? Hit the link and scroll down. In the seventh (of nine) paragraph of the HSPH press release, you’ll see that the study also found “administrative costs” of malpractice suits—legal fees to plaintiff and defense attorneys, basically—to be quite high, roughly equal to half of what is paid out to the plaintiffs themselves. These costs come from all cases, frivolous and meritorious. So although there’s a nugget of truth in CNN’s report, by focusing on only one aspect of the study, and by implying that across-the-board costs are due to frivolous lawsuits only, CNN distorted the findings to present the story as a standard Republican talking point. A talking point that the study itself largely refutes.