Slant

Time was,  most every newspaper or magazine had an explicit slant.   No one thought it strange that one paper promoted the point of view of one political party while a competing newspaper promulgated the views of their opponents.   And then it was decided that journalists are really supposed to be neutral.    Except of course I don’t really think they can be.   It seems to me that a reporter’s or a publication’s bias inevitably influences all reporting.   That a journalist claims to be “fair and balanced” is a huge red flag to me.   I would much sooner read a report by a journalist who openly supports my political opponents over one who claimed to have no horse in the race.

Some of the worst journalism that I see,  browsing as I do many different newspapers are a feature called  “fact checker” which purports to drill down to the real truth behind a claim some politician or other has made.    The statement is then rated on a scale of one to four Pinnochios  (referring to a fictional character whose nose grew longer whenever he lied) to help readers judge the “truthieness”  (damn you Jon Stewart) of what was said.   While the syndicate that produces this feature talks a lot about truth and facts,  the fact is the feature is hardly unbiased,  from it’s selection of what political claims to investigate to the manner in which each claim is held to scrutiny.     Yesterday in the Houston Chronicle I even saw a very similar feature that used a gas gauge icon  to evaluate Newt Gingrich’s #250gas  public relations twitter campaign.   They concluded correctly that the bloviator is per usual running on empty,  but their analysis was a mess.

I commented on Facbook yesterday,  quoting Pontius Pilate  (“But what is truth, is truth unchanging law?  We both have truths are mine the same as yours?”) and indeed truth seems to me an ephemeral and deeply personal thing.   There are facts,  as may be proven in a court of law,  but even there they do not presume to find the truth,  they seek only justice which may in fact be more readily quantified and obtained.   It seems to me if some talented people with resources behind them set out to create a new publication that attempted to have a real slant,  a definite point of view and a strong sense of looking for the truth,  there might be a huge market for it among those of use who read a great many newspapers,  but find very little truth in the he-said, she said  “objective reporting”.    Heck,    if someone gave me  that  I might find it worth paying ten bucks a month for.

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44 comments on “Slant

    • Wow. Is that ever a loaded question, Sia. On this blog, I am trying to write about my truth of my world as I see it. I suspect there are as many different motivations for publishing a blog as there are bloggers. I won’t presume to speak for journalists.

    • The Fact Checker stories with the cute graphic seem to me as biased as anything else I read in the newspaper, Thomas. I love newspapers, and read them all the time. But I know in my heart that all stories (including my own) are biased and usually told with some agenda.

      • Agree – I believe the newspaper is biased and will perform the fact checker on a very selective basis. I know the Washington Post is biased but there selection of fact checker articles seems to cover both sides of the story.

      • yes. the graphic is the same from one paper to another. but the articles themselves….the feature plays very differently in the Journal Sentinel than it does in the Post. IMHO, the Post is one of the best newspapers. They have columnists from both sides and ends of the spectrum and do a better job than most these days of covering complex stories with integrity.

  1. Well said Anne Thomas “I think we all have our biases, and it is impossible to be totally impartial..” I do agree with her !!

  2. I agree with Anne and others above. I believe it is impossible to be totally impartial. And if you had no opinions of your own, why on earth would you want to be a journalist in the first place. Most journos I know at least start out wanting to change the world! (OK they may grow out of that).

    However, that is not to say it is impossible to sum up the facts in a neutral way. That is the exact job of a judge in a court of law. At least some of them do this perfectly well.

    • You know, I think I disagree with you, Laura. From what I have seen in my own experiences of life, courtrooms are at least as political and biased as any newspaper. Though I do think our court system does a better job at apportioning (roughly) something akin to justice most of the time. A search for truth, it seems to me, is beyond what reasonable people can reasonably agree upon.

    • I think the dreaded mainstream media could get a bunch of their credibility back if they jettisoned all claims of objectivity and each simply presented one side of the story. Objectivity is not working for them, at least among the portion of their potential audience that can think for themselves.

  3. It’s possible to report a given story impartially. I think. Though I’ve never really seen it happen. But, even then, there’s a notorious bias in deciding *which* stories to report. Where Fox and CNN might have differing wording while reporting whatever actual event, tmz.com [if we’re generous enough to call them ‘news’] are off complaining that yet another celebrity didn’t want to talk to them.

    Personally, I just watch the AP feed, and try to ignore any adverbs.

    Incidentally, ‘truthiness’ came from Colbert.

    • My late huzband Joel was a huge fan of The Daily Show. My current huzband doesn’t like to watch that channel so I most never look at it any more. But I do hear about those brilliant comedians in social media all the time. I’ve never looked at tmz.com. I’ve no interest in celebrity gossip.

  4. Whatever the starting point, the bias is reflected from that point on. Time shifts, facts shift, what is fixed in history is open to interpretation. Every statement should be qualified by “in my opinion”, it’s just we forget this.

    • Hmm. Steve, I’m thinking I can’t possibly be in that second group…..my spelling is far from perfect and I also tend to use words the squiggly red lines don’t actually know 🙂

  5. By the time you reach my advanced age, most people have a pretty good idea what their particular biases are. You can then do one of two things: surround yourself with other people who think almost exactly as you do (not as difficult as it sounds – finding a newspaper, and people to follow on twitter, bloggistas to read etc who will reinforce your existing world view is easily done). Or – and this is what I try to do – surround yourself deliberately with people from all shades of opinion. Then, if you can do so without losing your temper (so bad for the blood pressure!), join in a lively and stimulating debate.

    • Laura, I think you have summed up better than I ever could have exactly what my goal is with this blog. I am trying to not just “preach to the choir” so to speak but to go out into the world and interact with all sorts of different people. And prove, to myself more than anyone else, that polite, intelligent discussion among people who disagree about important things really is as possible as it is necessary.

  6. I think i am in a good position to answer this one. Hell No !!! Newspapers are biased as biased can be. As a case in point in India every single damn political party has its own paper. That apart there are newspaper families (100yr old + existence) married into political families getting biased 🙂 It is so much fun to read two newspapers in the morning 🙂 – IF you all have time compare “The Hindu” – http://www.thehindu.com and “The Times of India” — http://www.toi.com (i guess) …

    As for men … the less said the better. No man can ever be truly unbiased. There will be some bias something little somewhere everywhere 🙂

    • Srivatsan, my point was that we here in the United States might be far better served if every darned political point of view had it’s own publication and they all covered all of the major news of the day. From your comment, it sounds as though in this one sense you in India have it better than we in the US do today.

  7. Bias is inevitable. A journalist should, IMO, fight it hard while acknowledging it is never quite possible.

    In the broadest sense, our language defines our thoughts and creates bias from there. Our culture, times and understandings create bias – never mind personal opinion.

    Allowing the bias to be known prevents confusion and allows for more vigorous debate.

    The corporate influence on our media is another matter and a relentlessly corrupting influence, I fear, both to what is reported and how it is reported. Presenting such outlets as “unbiased” is …well… rather horrifying.

    • So Sarah, you are saying that you agree that bias is inevitable, but journalists have a professional duty to produce unbiased reporting? Similar to what Laura was referring to as what was it “a bundle of proven facts”?

  8. No, I don’t think anyone could be unbiased in absolute. However, journalists should control the bias-ness to the minimum. On the other hand, blogger should be biased all the time – to highlight an biased opinion.

    • What about columnists– journalists who are explicitly hired to write commentary? Should they always make their biases as explicit to their readers as they can? Is that an obligation incumbent upon anyone who writes publicly?

  9. I do totally agree with “A journalist who openly supports my political opponents over one who claimed to have no horse in the race” . Now a day this is now regular practice; those who have power are using Media/Journalist !!

    • But Mithu, here in the United States it is NOT a common or standard practice these days. Some of the most partisan blowhards claim to be “fair and balanced”.

  10. Human beings are always biased, psychology has demonstrated that long ago. journalists are human beings. Given that, I still think there are two kind of journalisms, and you could clearly sense them particularly here in Italy in the last decades. When the majority of mass media is controlled by a single person/group it happens again and again that facts – and by facts I mean economic data, court proceedings, etc – are greatly distorted to please and serve that single person or group. Thus Italians were told for example that there was no economic crisis going on, they had to read about it on foreign newspapers or on some brave independent local newspapers that were crowdfunded (see “Il Fatto Quotidiano”). If you visit the Newseum in Washington DC you’ll see a big map on a wall, It’s the World press freedom map, and you’ll be able to spot Italy right away on it: It’s colour is yellow (partly free), in contrast to a green Europe (free). So, for me, as said, there are two types of journalism and journalists, I prefer those who at least try to be independent and continue doing their investigative work and stick to facts discovered instead of completely alter them. Probably you can identify them more easily only when press freedom is not to be taken for granted.

  11. Hi Alan,

    Your seafood images are really quite spectacular. Stunning colours.

    I believe I would find more ‘truth,’ whatever that may be, in 5 minutes in a kindergarten, than is 50 newspapers. Advertising and sponsorship dollars are hard earned and necessitate this end. And free papers funded by zealots are even more so.

    If there is such a person as someone with zero biases or prejudices, who is able to be wholly and unconditionally impartial at every turn, they can probably walk on water too.

    Biases and prejudices are part of the human condition. They are also our own private business and concern while ever we keep them to ourselves.

    As some mature, awareness grows of the existence of the shortcomings of our belief systems, attitudes and thinking. Some make a decision to be aware and challenge their thinking and reactions as they come along. Some add a healthy dose of tolerance and empathy into the mix. Life’s interesting. We have so many choices.

    Interesting discussion Alan, thank you 🙂

    Gaye

    • Oh Gaye. You would have been killer back in the day on CompuServe. (Recalling long online chats with smart women where I learned a great deal about Privilege, and any of the tributaries that touch upon it. 🙂

  12. I have to agree with Gaye here, and maybe add in a little. Bias is a cultural, societal, and natural condition. Everyone sees things through a ‘slant’ or a filter based on what they want to see. Impartiality is a claim made only by those trying to say that their slant is the morally correct one.

    But… in the role of the reader, we look for the ‘unbiased truth’ that most closely matches our own ‘unbiased truth’ and in that alignment we find a harmonic that rings close to ‘truth’.

    The only real facts I know have to do with atomic weights, and relative speeds. What politicians say, how people feel… no one is the villain in their own mind, and all we have is the relative framework of each other’s actions to be the compass of how we perceive.

    So, personally, when I see unbiased I take it with a grain of salt and try to read it with the understanding that the writer has a need to show that they have the moral high ground.

    😉

  13. Hi Alan,

    That Lobster background is stunning. Did you grow up around seafood? You seem to have a super appreciation for the stunningly eye-catching where seafood presentation is concerned. And more importantly, are you allowed to eat it now?
    Hugs friend,
    Gaye

    • Gaye,

      I grew up in New Orleans, the only child of gourmand parents who more often than not took him along as they ate their way through some of the city’s (which is to say the world’s) best restaurants. And I eat anything that’s not nailed down 🙂

      • Alan, they sound like they were divine times. Wow. And Creole food fests at their best too I imagine. How wonderful. Your recipe book must be a dream come true 🙂

  14. Interesting discussion, I suspect many journalists believe that they are reporting factually and in an unbiased way. However, often the bias is in what they choose to report, which sources they choose to use, and which side of the argument they feel has the moral high ground.

    Explosively divisive example, I guess most commentators here and and in fact most North Americans believe that Nelson Mandela is a saint, martyr, unjustly convicted fighter of oppression, largely because of the way he was portrayed in the liberal Western media.

    I lived in South Africa during the period when his organisation, the ANC was gleefully murdering thousands of Zulus (also black Africans) many by the gruesome “necklace” method of a gasoline car tyre placed around the victims necks and set on fire while the victims were alive with hands bound behind their backs. For that and many other incidents which would have seen Mandela and his cronies jailed for life in the USA or Canada, I see him as an evil character in the same category as Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe or right now Assad of Syria.

    The media chose to condemn white South Africans at every possible opportunity and ignore the far more numerous atrocities committed by the ANC. I could provide many more examples of biased reporting about events in Africa that elevated the term to an art form but I have exceeded my two sentences already.

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