Bias in the news


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One of the fundamental challenges for journalists is overcoming our personal biases in our presentation of the news. Of course, true non-biased presentation is impossible.

There is a simple solution to this conundrum, though: Journalists should disclose and acknowledge their biases, while maintaining their pursuit of objectivity. This disclosure could take the form of a 10-20 sentence biography page, available online, anchored to reporters' bylines via hyperlink.

Such a system would not only allow journalists to come out of the ideological closet but would serve you, the reader. When the bias of a journalist can be decoupled from her or his writing, it becomes that much easier for you to discern the truth. If an investigatory journalist whose bias disclosure notes she is an anti-capitalist, it's probably not a bad idea to take her story about Coca-Cola's destructive behavior with a grain of salt.

"Any reporter who comes up to me and says, 'This is an objective account,' would immediately draw my attention," said Stephen Berry, a University of Iowa associate professor of journalism and the cofounder of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. "I would fact-check every single line of that story."

The mainstream media incessantly face charges of liberal bias, a topic I addressed and attempted to explain earlier this year. These charges, it seems, are not without merit. Most journalists are liberal, and all people are biased. These biases manifest themselves, often subconsciously, in all communication.

"Part of the criticism of objectivity says that human beings cannot be objective. Nobody can be completely objective, and thus, no one can be completely unbiased," Berry told me. "I am a proponent of the pursuit of objectivity."

While journalists are biased, the status quo demands we pretend otherwise. Most journalists are banned from political expression, making campaign contributions, or otherwise opining on the news they cover. It's this policy that has delegitimized media.

Because journalists are, after all, human beings — something Berry pointed out with a grim chuckle — we will have opinions and biases. When we pretend otherwise, an easily detected charade, writing off the reporting as "biased" becomes a simple matter of making the accusation, something opponents of the "lamestream media" do with remarkable frequency and clarity.

Bias disclosure would also increase the worth of the writing. If reporters knew their readers had access to their political beliefs, they would have to go even further out of their way in the pursuit of objectivity. After all, given that their political beliefs were public knowledge, any blatant bias in their articles would be immediately obvious.

I'll be the first to start: I'm a liberal. I voted straight-ticket Democrat and to retain the Supreme Court justices. That being said, I am a firm believer in individual rights — do whatever you want as long as it isn't harming anyone else.

I respect the hell out of any politician willing to take a politically unpopular position because it's the right one to take. (I'm looking at you, Paul Ryan.) I believe in a hard day's work and that we need to balance the budget, though this may not be the time to do it. Above all else, I believe in the value of civil discourse and the need to be both responsible and open to new ideas.

And when I write for you, the reader, I will pursue objectivity.

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