Stop Pretending To Be Unbiased

It seems to me that lately, the prescriptions for the future of news issued frequently by Internet celebrity (and not so celebrated) journalists and pundits have been including items on “truth.” Most recently, Dan Gillmor, in “Eleven Things I’d Do If I Ran a News Organization,” said,

6. We would refuse to do stenography and call it journalism. If one faction or party to a dispute is lying, we would say so, with the accompanying evidence. If we learned that a significant number of people in our community believed a lie about an important person or issue, we would make it part of an ongoing mission to help them understand the truth.

Truth has been part of journalism’s code of ethics since the beginnings of “scientific journalism” in 1923, when the American Society of Newspaper Editors issued its Canons of Journalism which included the statement, “News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any kind.” The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists begins with, “Seek Truth and Report It.”

The reality, however, is stated in a post on 10,000 Words called “10 Ugly Truths About Journalism“:

5. Journalists are biased
There is no such thing as unbiased…it is humanly impossible. While journalists often strive to make sure their stories are as unbiased as possible, many cover particular subjects or issues because they feel particularly strong about them.

Yes, it is humanly impossible to be unbiased. Journalists, by what they cover, how they report what they do cover, and what they include and ignore, bring bias into their reporting. That’s just the way it is. Most of those who today clamor for “truth in reporting,” really mean “my truth in reporting.” Perhaps the most obvious example of this is a post by Mark Adams on American Street which includes the statement:

From my view the FOXization of the media is destroying its credibility and function as a true check on government power, the role that earns the press the moniker Fourth Estate.

Fox’s claim to be “Fair and Balanced” may be over the top, but Adams destroys his own credibility when he blames Fox for destroying the media’s ability to act as a check on government power. If Fox doesn’t challenge this administration, who does?

All of which should make one wonder if a media that tries, or claims, to be unbiased is even desirable? When an editor wishes his reporter hadn’t donated to a political candidate because it affects his credibility, isn’t that just a tad disingenuous? Whether or not he donates, his beliefs are unchanged. The transparency of the donation actually improves his credibility because now his readers know from what philosophical base he writes.

Journalists will never regain their lost credibility until they stop trying to convince the public that reporting can be unbiased. The public knows better. Honest reporting, though, is possible and journalists need to stop pretending they’re unbiased and start convincing us of their honesty.

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