It’s Not the Bias, It’s the Pretense of Having None

| March 2 2013
Greg Conterio

There is a great little post over at Ricochet which makes a point I have been talking about for years.  The bias of the media has been a hot argument between those on the right and the left for a long, long time.  But what should outrage you is not that fact that the bias exists, it’s the arrogant and laughable pretension that it does not.

The reality is, the first truly objective human being has yet to be born.  All of us have a bias in every single thing we think, say and believe.  Objectivity is in my opinion one of the most worthy and noble aspirations any of us can pursue, (and one of the two chief virtues that should be prized by us all) but it’s a journey without a destination.  None of us will ever achieve it.  This is why the left is always so ridiculously and absurdly wrong whenever they try to defend the media on this charge.  This is also why such a very large number of voters is so woefully ignorant and ill-informed on issues, public policy and current events.  When the media is allowed the pretense of being an objective, neutral reporter of information, it grants them an authority they not only don’t deserve, but which in recent times they have blatantly and deliberately abused in order to promote their own agenda.

Journalism used to be an honorable profession.  In the old days, journalists were trained to recognize and acknowledge their own biases, and how those biases affected their work.  The job of a journalist used to be to report information, to find the truth, no matter where it lead.  Ah, but those were the old-days.  In the past several decades, we have seen the rise, and the eventual dominance of advocacy-journalism, where a particular viewpoint, position or philosophy is assumed to be virtuous, with all research, reporting and story-telling revolving around this perspective.  Instead of trying to be mindful of the effect of your own bias on the story, it become the point of your story.  You’re no longer doing journalism, you’re doing an infomercial.

It isn’t the fact that you’re in the infomercial-business that’s bad, it’s pretending to sell it as objective and neutral.  Remember in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, when Dan Rather and CBS tried to push a story scandalizing George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard with their sole evidence being an obviously forged set of documents, obtained from a source known to be dishonest & unreliable?  Do you remember their initial, reactionary defense:

“..how dare anyone question our objectivity!”

What we all should have been outraged about was not Rather’s self-righteous indignation, it was his arrogant proclamation that he and he alone was being “objective.”  Such a claim is absurd on its face, yet it continues to be the claim made by large portions of the media today.

There are two approaches journalists can take to reporting the news.  One is to give voice to your biases openly and up-front, report on the facts and information as you see them, and invite opposing viewpoints as a check against your own perspective.  Nobody minds you editorializing, so long as you are open and honest about when you are doing it.  The second is to claim you are entirely objective and neutral, and therefore any advocacy-position you may appear to take is reasonable, honest, virtuous even, simply because that is the way it obviously is.  Sound familiar?  The first approach acknowledges that neutrality and objectivity are not really possible, but places all the facts before the reader or viewer, and lets them decide where the truth lies.  The second pretends that it alone defines fairness and neutrality, and therefore truth.  It sacrifices integrity and honesty.  Unfortunately, that is also how most mainstream news organizations operate.

2 comments
Mike DeVine
Mike DeVine moderator

Great report Greg. I actually think that much of what we saw from the Walter Cronkite era of supposed objective journalism was biased when all we have were the three TV networks, but that they were more subtle about it because there wasn't yet a Rush Limbaugh (until Reagan got rid of the Fairness Doctrine)  or Fox News. But there has also been a decline in the "objective but fair" (as I call it) brand of journalism over the past decades as well. Of course, bias affects what stories are covered in the first place and not just how they are covered. I think we were better off before TV when most cities had at least two newspapers, one of which was openly Democrat and one openly Republican; which competed for readers on politics but also on who covered the news (who, what,when, where) most competently and completely.