Bias in Journalism
This week’s Opinions is going to talk about bias in journalism and the ethical considerations involved. Last week’s, trying to convince some Republicans to go ahead and change to blue, can be found here, and you can find any Opinions here.
Bias, slant, spin, whatever you want to call it, bias in journalism is a pretty big underground discussion right now. You can see it in the comments section on every article and news video online. I hear it all the time being directed at me or my organization, and frequently accuse other organizations of it.
The question is, what is bias, and what are acceptable levels? Some might say that no bias is acceptable. That’s ridiculous, and I’ll explain why.
Google defines bias to mean “Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair” as a noun. For this conversation, we will refer to bias as that definition with one small change: we will be replacing “usually” with “sometimes,” as I disagree that all bias is unfair.
Here’s the deal. I’ve heard it said again and again, “No self-respecting news organization is biased. You should cover both sides of the issues.” That’s all very well and good to say — if you’re not a journalist. If you’ve worked for a news organization that reports on politics, you’ll know that it is literally impossible not to be biased on some level. If individual stories aren’t biased (several major news organizations are pretty good about having even stories), there is generally bias on a managerial level in terms of picking which stories are covered and which aren’t.
The simple truth is that it is extremely difficult for an organization — whether it is a large newspaper or network, or an online publication like ours — to process and cover all sides of a situation. Therefore there is always bias — it can be hidden in a turn of phrase, in an ignored story, in how many words are dedicated to a certain issue.
The solution? Stop thinking that all bias is bad. There are several news organizations that are unabashedly biased. You will never hear anyone at Addicting Info saying that we’re a balanced site. We cover one side of things. The left. We’re a progressive news analysis site. At the same time, you can go to Red State or other blogs and see the other side of the story. If you want true unbiased coverage, check the fact checks. They just tell you how much people lie, though, and it gets sort of depressing after a bit (what people will do for power). Major networks that are generally considered to be unbiased are still slanted; as Jon Stewart said, they’re slanted toward sensationalism. If it’s simple and memorable, it gets exhaustively covered. That’s because that’s what sells. That’s what the consumer wants.
Honesty is the ethical consideration. If you have a bias as a reporter, journalist or political writer/analyst, it is unethical not to make that clear. For example, on my public Facebook page, it clearly states (and it is instantly visible) that, “I’m a political writer and junior editor for Addicting Info. As such, I am not non-partisan; I write from a liberal perspective and do not pretend otherwise.” That is to avoid charges of unfair coverage. You know what you’re getting. On Addicting Info’s main page, it states, “AddictingInfo.org- Political knowledge and news, shared by moderates, independents, and people on the left. Our goal is to be a resource to discredit right-wing lies, myths, and talking points.”
I’ve heard several charges of being the liberal Fox News. Let’s get something straight; Fox lies. They blatantly distort facts or simply make them up. That is where they make the change from advocacy journalism to a lack of journalistic ethics. Plus, have you seen their slogan? Here’s an image:
You’ll never see us claiming to be fair and balanced. Once again, though; Fox lies. We don’t. However, Fox’s assertion above has led to a variety of counter images intending to point out the hypocrisy:
And others like it.
Don’t miss next week’s Opinions, and if you have questions/comments/tips I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or the link seen below.