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Progressives have a brand new source for news in Missouri: FordwardSTL, an aggregator site that gathers together articles and commentary from selected Missouri newspapers, radio broadcasts and blogs is now open for business. The contents reflect progressive concerns and includes a calendar of events. This may sound like a modest production, but it’s really a big deal. If you want to know why, consider the 2010 elections.

You’ve heard lots of rationalizing about the election disaster, right? I have my own way of describing that little upset – theft. Right-wing theft of the political narrative, the details of which comprise a bigger, more complex story than I can deal with here. It’s a sure thing, though, that the most recent iteration of the GOP big lie was facilitated by the explicit and implicit bias that permeates our information infrastructure.

There was indeed a small percentage of Americans who were up in arms about the Obama presidency from the beginning – Bush dead-enders who enlisted early in the Tea Party and, according to polls, make up the largest part of that merry band of lunatics. But, thanks to media failures, they were able to hijack the narrative of the Bush recession and persuade some of the ever-malleable “independents” that hard times are a result of government over-reach, that success is failure, and that black is white.

Consider Fox News. Very recently Media Matters reported that Fox News bosses ordered news personnel to slant their coverage of climate issues in order to cast doubt on climate science.  Last week we learned how Fox News honchos ordered reporters to bias their coverage of the debate over health care reform. It’s no wonder that survey after survey has found that Fox News viewers usually harbor serious misconceptions about the real world. (A sample of such findings can be found here, here, here, here and here.) The same misinformation and mean-minded drek is spread by conservative talk radio stations – such as KSGF or KWTO-AM in Missouri, or locally-produced programs like Brian Nieves’ Teaple-oriented “The Patriot Enclave” on KWMO.

The problem goes beyond the explicit bias of agenda-driven coprorate outlets like Fox News and right-wing talk radio; there is also the problem of what is covered and what is ignored – implicit bias – by the traditional media. Last week Republicans deep-sixed the Zadroga  9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would have paid for the health care of 9/11 first responders who were harmed by ground-zero aftermath conditions. Among the reasons given by many in the GOP, who were, incidentally, fighting for Richie Rich’s tax cuts at the same time, was the cost. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert points out that the role played by congressional GOPers in this matter received absolutely zero, nada, zilch coverage on ABC, CBS or NBC.  

Another type of implicit bias has been characterized as the “he says, she says” reporting style which accurately reports politicians assertions, but provides no follow-up as to the veracity of the claims that are made. Or alternatively, there is reporting that leaves out or soft-pedals embarrassing details. Adam at the St. Louis Activist Hub has made the case for this type of “lazy” bias in the political reporting of the St. Louis’ Post-Dispatch‘s Jake Wagman (see, for example, here and here).

You don’t have to look far to see the consequences of explicit and implicit bias in our information infrastructure. The classic case is the ease with which the GOP media machine was able to sell the infamous death panels. Apropos of which, when considering implicit bias, ask yourself how many of the Tea Party girls and boys have heard that one of their own, Arizona governor Jan Brewer, has actually enacted “death panels” – real rationing, not the comparatively benign end of life counseling of the dreaded “Obamacare” – in the service of the GOP obsession with cutting social spending and never, never raising taxes?  

We all know that to a certain extent, progressive political blogs exist to counter media bias as well as to present the progressive viewpoint. To take a local example, consider FiredUp! Missouri‘s coverage of Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder. So far as I know, FiredUp! is the only media resource that has addressed numerous irregularities in Kinder’s conduct, most notably, but not limited to some rather obvious questions about the funding for Kinder’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act. It’s hard to argue that Kinder’s comportment is not newsworthy since he is a major state office holder who, apparently, has ambitions to be governor one day.

However, although they offer an important corrective to right-wing and traditional media, regional blogs in particular often reach a somewhat limited and fragmented number group of readers. Which is why a well-organized and comprehensive site like ForwardSTL can play a significant role, bringing readers from across the state together in a one-stop-shopping site. Integrating information and expanding its reach isn’t a magic bullet – but it is an important step in building a progressive infrastructure in Missouri, and as it matures, ForwardSTL will provide one more tool to use as progressives work to recapture the essential narrative line.