Do you think the media is biased?
In the turbulent political environment in Middletown, it’s not unusual—although it can be exasperating—for someone to allege bias in a story we print. In fact, I’m always surprised when people describe a grand conspiratorial agenda that they believe lurks behind every page of the Press and Journal. I certainly don’t have an agenda, and I don’t think our editorial department strives to do anything other than provide high quality, fair, and informative news coverage.
Maintaining neutrality and avoiding bias sounds deceptively simple—just tell the readers what one side says, then give the same amount of room to the other side.
Alas, it’s more difficult than that—reporting, and editing, requires judgment calls. First, deciding to which stories you will give the most attention is a judgment call—you’re essentially telling the reader one issue is important, while another issue is not. To use an example from the 2012 presidential election campaign: which story deserves more coverage, Mitt Romney’s reluctance in releasing income tax forms to the public or Barack Obama’s administration’s reluctance to provide details on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi?
Another problem is what’s known as false equivalency: acting as if both sides of an argument are equally valid when one is objectively closer to the truth than the other. A classic example of this problem is the case of Baghdad Bob, Sadaam Hussein’s press secretary who yelled over the gunfire of approaching American troops to tell the press that American soldiers would never be able to enter Baghdad. To print his comments as if they might be true would be a disservice to readers.
When making the tough decisions that go into reporting the news, all of us have subconscious biases that we can never completely recognize or eliminate. I think diversity of opinion, ruthless self-reflection, and the bravery to trust your own judgment are probably the best things a newsroom can do to eliminate bias.
What do you think? How can the news media do a better job of maintaining neutrality while still giving readers the true story?