I am sure that everyone has heard about the recent Unity Convention for "journalists of color" in DC. Lets get past the incredibly offensive "of color" tag, which is purposely designed to exclude--well--people like me, and talk about how these journalists acted during the candidate speeches. When Kerry spoke he received numerous accolates, including a standing ovation at the end of his talk. Bush was less warmly received, and the attendees reportedly sniggered at some of the things he said. This display of partiality has been criticized by people on the left, right, and center. For example:
Granted, there are some kinds of activism that may be consistent with a journalist's role. If you believe we need diverse newsrooms to cover a diverse country, advocating for more hiring and promotion of minority journalists is arguably advocating on behalf of better journalism. But publicly supporting one candidate over another is the ultimate betrayal - to everyone.
And USA Today said that the journalists acted unprofessionally in letting their politics show:
Journalists risk losing their credibility if they let their politics show, said Bob Steele, an ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. They should be "observers guided by the principle of independence," he said.
Well, I don't agree. The vast majority of what gets reported in the media carries a liberal bias. I don't think that this is due to a sinister conspiracy of leftists, its just that, as evidenced by the above incident and a lot of surveys most journalists are liberals. These liberal views creep into the stories we read and hear.
I know that the J-School types will protest that reporters can be objective. I am willing to concede that a lot of them try (although a lot of them don't). But I submit that every story is unique, and a journalist's world view (whether liberal or conservative) is going to have an impact on what he reports, what facts he includes in a story, and what facts he leaves out.
For example, look at the now discredited story of when Bush the elder was being shown a new type of grocery scanner. The pool reporters who were present didn't see anything unusual in Bush's reaction, but a New York Times guy read the pool report and concluded that Bush's amazement at seeing (what the reporter believed) was commonplace technology was a significant story. Presuming that the NYT guy was actually trying to be unbiased, the "story" of a patrician president being "amazed" by technology that common people see every day was clearly impacted by his particular view that this president was out of touch with regular folks. Otherwise, why did he report this "fact" when no one else did?
Look, a liberal friend of mine tells me that Fox News is incredibly slanted. I think Fox News is about right, and that most of the rest of the media, from CBS to CNN, tends to do its reporting from the left. Both of us honestly believe what we are saying, its just that this is very subjective stuff. So if a liberal journalist with passionate beliefs tells me that he can be "fair and balanced" in his political reporting, I just don't believe him.
The "J-School" answer to this is apparently to pretend that the bias does not exist, for the reporter to pretend that he has no opinion one way or another, and to just try his best to be objective. But if a reporter has a conflict of interest--for example he is attempting to report fairly on a presidential campaign when he passionately believes that one side or the other should prevail--the last thing he should do is to conceal the conflict.
Journalists didn't invent conflicts, politicians run into them whenever a vote comes up on an issue that impacts a contributor. One way to deal with the conflict is to make it go away, say for example by prohibiting California assemblymen who accepted money from Indian tribes from voting on Indian casino issues. However, the three or four members of the California legislature who haven't taken money from one tribe or another might not make up a quorum, so this wouldn't work. The next best thing is for the politicians to disclose the conflict, letting us know where their contributions come from, so we can decide for ourselves whether their votes are motivated by self-interest. The worst possible way of dealing with this issue is the J-School answer, keeping the conflict a secret.
Attornies also deal with conflicts and potential conflicts all the time, say two criminal defendants, each of whose defense might be "the other guy did it". Ideally the lawyer shouldn't take both cases, but if for some reason he has to he has an ethical obligation to disclose the potential conflict to both of his clients. Again, the last thing we want is for him to pretend that there isn't a conflict.
Now, I don't have any problem with reporters having strong opinions on political issues; frankly I would expect smart people who are interested in politics to have their minds made up as to who they think the good guys are. As Jonah Goldberg has repeatedly pointed out, anyone with an interest and politics and even half a brain has chosen sides. I am also not surprised when their views creep into their reporting. And it certainly isn't possible to remove the conflict, by only hiring completely undecided people to be political reporters.
But the worst answer to the bias that comes from having politically opinionated people as reporters is the J-School answer, for everyone to pretend that they haven't got an opinion about it. The end result of that is what the liberal "Daily Kos" had wished would have happened at the Unity Convention:
Here's what I wish had happened at the Unity conference: I wish that the journalists had remained as neutral as possible during the candidates speeches (and I acknowledge that I myself might have snickered during the sovereignty nonsense), giving neither a reception more favorable than the other.
Then I wish they had made a point of reporting, in as prominent a way as possible, what was said, including Bush's astonishing lack of preparedness.
In other words, Kos' answer, the J-School answer, is for these journalists to actively try to conceal their bias against Bush, so they could write biased stories against him without the readers being aware of the bias. (To be fair, Kos probably thinks stories slamming Bush are unbiased, because Bush is--in his view--a moron. Of course, his view of Bush's intelligence or lack thereof is colored by his political views, which is precisely the point).
On a larger (and hopefully a little less biased) scale, Kos' answer is the way things are done now. Liberal journalists protect their "integrity" by concealing their political views. So the guy reporting on the Bush campaign from the LA Times might be sincerely convinced that Bush is wrong, and profoundly hoping that Kerry beats him this November. He purposesly doesn't let us know this, because otherwise we might question his "credibility". (This is just a made up example, for all I know that LA Times guy on the Bush campaign is a Christian conservative, anti-abortion, and a lifetime member of the NRA (yeah right).
This just isn't the right way to deal with this conflict, for reporters to conceal their bias against a candidate when reporting on him. The right answer is the opposite one, reporters, like politicians and attorneys, should be expected to disclose their position on politics, tell us who they have voted for in past elections, and who they intend to vote for in the coming election. That way, if we don't have truely "objective" reporting, at least when we read a news story we will know where the bias is coming from.