To End Media Bias, Journalists Should Stop Pretending They're Objective

There are two ideals the media believes, according to Ross Douthat writing at the New York Times:

One is an ideal of balance, nonpartisanship and near-perfect neutrality — distilled to its essence, perhaps, by the former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr.’s longstanding refusal to cast a vote, “so that I never make up my mind which party, candidate or ideology should be in power.”

The other is a much more ideological ideal, which treats journalism as a kind of vanguard profession — fighting for the powerless against the powerful and leading America toward enlightenment.

Both of these visions have inspired great journalists and impressive publications. But many of the establishment media’s worst habits arise from the doomed attempt to pursue both of them at once.

Douthat goes on to point out that these often incompatible ideals manifest themselves in two ways. First is in a fetish for bipartisanship and deal-making, which has the media rooting for a compromise regardless of what that compromise is. The other is “leading the conversation,” in which the media doesn’t merely report on what the various factions on a certain issue are saying in doing but actively tries to drive the debate between the factions.

“[T]he problem here isn’t that American journalists are too quick to go on crusades,” writes Douthat. “Rather, it’s that the press’s ideological blinders limit the kinds of crusades mainstream outlets are willing to entertain, and the formal commitment to neutrality encourages self-deception about what counts as crusading.”

This is similar, I think, to those who pursue “diversity” by trying to expunge certain types of view from the public square. You’re not promoting diversity when you ban Christmas decorations in public schools, for instance. You’re promoting diversity when you allow decorations for other religious celebrations to be put up in schools as well.

Journalism, it follows, isn’t objective when points of views are banned from reporting. It’s objective when all points of view – all “crusades” as Douthat puts it – are given equal hearing.

And we have a shining example of that not happening before us right now. How else to explain how the national media has manage to collectively ignore the horrific trial of an abortion doctor in Pennsylvania? If Kermit Gosnell weren’t inconvenient for the media’s pro-abortion, “war on women” crusade he’d be front-page news. As it is, the silence is deafening.

The status quo in journalism allows reporters to hide behind a mask of objectivity even as they pursue their biases or “crusades” in their reporting. Which is why the worst offenders in this regard, newspapers, are suffering so mightily in terms of revenue, hitting a 62-year low in 2012:

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This decline isn’t just the newspaper business model. It’s not just the internet which is doing this. If it was, you wouldn’t be seeing online revenues from newspapers declining along with print revenues.

Rather, the problem is that the public is sick of pompous reporters casting themselves as objective even as they pursue their agendas.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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