Along the Tracks

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Media Bias

As a member of the journalism community, I want to tell you something: The media is biased. Now, you knew that already, I understand, but the point is that I, as a journalist, admitted it.
More to the point, I myself am biased. Just as you are biased, your uncle in Kunkle is biased and your dear sweet Aunt Emily, the one who makes the wonderful oatmeal-raisin cookies, is biased.
All human beings carry within themselves the sum total of their experiences. Those experiences bias their outlook on everything from toilet paper brands to favorite books to - politics.
Journalism, however, is a field dedicated to seeking the truth, wherever the story may lead. Its ideal is (as they say on Fox News) “fair and balanced” reporting. However, it is not, and can never be, “unbiased” - at least until robots take all our jobs. And even then, I’m not so sure.
The key difference between “fair and balanced” and “unbiased” is that the former admits its humanity, allowing the consumer to consider that factor with the reporting involved, while the latter does not, depriving the consumer the context of the reporting. This is deceptive, and the antithesis of what journalists should be striving to achieve.
In a small-town paper like The Leader, it’s easy for readers to know where I’m coming from. Read my columns and you’ll see I’m a politically independent conservative with some libertarian tendencies. You can also tell by the stories I, as editor, choose to run and the angles at which they study particular issues. That, in particular, is where my own bias must be offset by fair and balanced reporting. With the help of a great staff and observant readers, I hope to achieve that ideal. But if I were to claim my reporting is “unbiased,” not only would it be deceptive to the very people upon whom I rely for my living, it would fail the standards of journalism all in the industry claim to revere.
That is why it is so jarring, and disappointing, to hear members of the media claim there is no “bias” in their coverage. It displays a callous attitude toward what the mainstream media considers an unenlightened and easily duped public. However, polls, the success of books critical of media bias and the meteoric rise of new media suggest the public sees through the “unbiased” claim rather clearly. The mainstream media’s refusal to do any self-evaluation in response to the criticism only assures its rapid descent.
One other thing: Contrary to what many people say, I feel it is a good thing that most journalists have a liberal slant. Let’s face it, there are plenty of problems in the world, and exposure of these problems is the stock and trade of liberal journalism. That is a wonderful, necessary service: Knowing our challenges is the first step in overcoming them.

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