Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Journalists who fool no one but themselves

Periodically, I see a journalist proclaim that he (or his profession) doesn't allow bias into his reporting, that he wouldn't dream of injecting his personal opinions into a straight news story.

The latest journalist living in that dream world is Randy Cox, the senior editor of visuals at The Oregonian. Writing on the Oregonian's editor weblog last week, Cox responded to readers who were concerned that the paper's choice of photos made certain people look "unflattering."

Cox wrote (emphasis mine):
Sometimes, in the heat of deadline, choices are made too quickly and can leave readers with the impression that we have an agenda in that selection.

I can assure you, though, that these choices are not attempting to reflect in any way our preference. In fact, we have no preference. That's the arena of our editorial page folks, but not our news employees.
In fact, we have no preference. What a load of horse droppings. If Cox had said they try not to allow their personal preferences to intrude into news judgment, I could have accepted that (though I still wouldn't believe they could succeed at such a task). Instead, Cox tries to portray himself and his coworkers as robots without opinions, instead of human beings with biases that they might not even be aware are intruding into their decisions.

Of course, Cox is hardly unique in his mistaken defense of his craft. Here's a recent example of the denial, as recorded on MSNBC's Hardball last year:
Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes: Look, at the end of the day, if we’re worried about too many conservatives in the White House press briefing room, this is a discussion that’s not, that’s not gonna resonate with the American public.
Host Chris Matthews: You think it’s mostly packed with liberals? Are you saying most of those people who are paid to be journalists in that room are lib-labs, they’re liberals?
Hayes: Yes, of course....Is there a debate about that?
Matthews: Well, there’s Helen Thomas, who I would call liberal. But who else is in there? Seriously. There are a lot of straight reporters in that room.
Time’s Margaret Carlson: I think they’re mostly straight reporters. And I don’t think you can keep your job otherwise....Elisabeth Bumiller reports for the New York Times, which has a liberal editorial page, but she plays it straight down the middle.
Straight down the middle. Who do they think they're fooling?

Fortunately, despite decades of denial by the journalistic establishment, the facade of neutrality is starting to crack (though I suspect it's a deliberate and futile attempt to hold off its critics and hold on to the power referred to by Howard Fineman below). Here are a few examples of admissions to the contrary:

CBS commentator Andy Rooney on Larry King Live, July 28, 2002:
There is just no question that I, among others, have a liberal bias. I mean, I'm consistently liberal in my opinions. And I think some of the -- I think Dan [Rather] is transparently liberal. Now, he may not like to hear me say that. I always agree with him, too. But I think he should be more careful.
New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent, July 25, 2004:
Headline: Is the New York Times a liberal newspaper?
First paragraph: Of course it is.
Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman, writing on January 11, 2005:
The notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto. Now it’s pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things. The seeds of its demise were sown with the best of intentions in the late 1960s, when the AMMP [American Mainstream Media Party] was founded in good measure (and ironically enough) by CBS. Old folks may remember the moment: Walter Cronkite stepped from behind the podium of presumed objectivity to become an outright foe of the war in Vietnam. Later, he and CBS’s star White House reporter, Dan Rather, went to painstaking lengths to make Watergate understandable to viewers, which helped seal Richard Nixon’s fate as the first President to resign. The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans. The problem was that, once the AMMP declared its existence by taking sides, there was no going back. A party was born.
Former New York Times reporter Steve Roberts, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, March 27, 2005:
I worked for the New York Times for 25 years. I could probably count on one hand, in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, people who would describe themselves as people of faith....I think one of the real built-in biases in the media is towards secularism....You want diversity in the newsroom, not because of some quota, but because you have to have diversity to cover the story well and cover all aspects of a society. And you don’t have religious people making the decisions about where coverage is focused. And I think that’s one of the faults.
ABC News correspondent Terry Moran, on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, May 17, 2005:
“There is, Hugh, I agree with you, a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it’s very dangerous. That’s different from the media doing it’s job of challenging the exercise of power without fear or favor.”
As blogs and other alternative media gain power and credibility, it will take more than a few candid admissions for the public to trust the Old Media. A good start would be something that is happening in the blogosphere -- complete transparency about the writer. And that includes party affiliation and voting history.


  • At 8/09/2006 10:29 AM, Anonymous gullyborg said…

    I consider myself a journalist. I make no bones about the fact that my life experiences shape the way I perceive, and report, reality.

    Anyone who claims otherwise is trying to hide an agenda.


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