Is the Press Biased?

The job of journalists is to report news objectively. While this is the overarching goal, unfortunately, it is given off that a lot of it has the potential to become biased. An article in The New York Times by Timothy P. Carner states, “News media bias is real. It reduces the quality of journalism, and it fosters distrust among readers and viewers.” The press continually takes criticism for this. The fake news phenomenon does not make this any easier; but a Huffington Post article by Cenk Uygur spoke of journalists, saying, “It is not their job to try to create an artificial neutral reality.” Clearly, there are some different opinions when it comes to the press as a whole. Could misinformation be spreading?

Representative Mike Rohrkaste of the Wisconsin State Assembly believes that the press does not always do the best job of portraying the truth. “The biggest disappointment I have has a lot to do with the press,” he said. “They take sides.” From his political perspective, Rohrkaste experiences a lot of news firsthand, and he has found that the press does not always stay objective like they are supposed to. “When you’re really looking at an issue, you have to explain it and fully present it. And good journalism does that,” he stated. In his experience, this has not always been the case.

On the other hand, Kathleen Culver has a slightly different perspective. Culver is on the James E. Burgess Chair in Journalism Ethics and the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics in UW Madison.Overall, I think mainstream news media try to report stories fairly and accurately and bring a goal of neutrality to their work,” she said. On common ground, Rohrkaste agreed, “I think the role of journalism is to present both sides of the story not slant the article one way or another.”

Culver brought up an interesting point about how some articles can be viewed as biased even when they are not, for more psychological reasons. She stated, “When partisans (say, a liberal and a conservative) read the exact same news story that was structured to be neutral, they will both read it as hostile to their ideological point of view.” In her opinion, it is easy for politicians to place their views into objective writing in order to make it biased.

A more specific example Rohrkaste noted concerns the public view of political parties due to the press. He said, “Most people don’t realize that over 90% of the bills that are passed in the assembly are done so with bipartisan votes. I mean that shocked me. But if you read the papers, you would think that we constantly hate each other and we don’t work together on anything, and that’s just so far from the truth.”

In contrast, Culver noted that political articles in specific tend to be less biased. “A political reporter can fairly easily suss out his or her political leanings and try to minimize them in reporting. But the implications of things like race and class when we’re reporting on the economy or crime can be harder to address,” she said.

Depending on certain viewpoints, different conclusions can be drawn about the press as a whole. There are undoubtedly some truly objective journalists out there, but others have failed to document the truth. In the words of Mike Rohrkaste, “Don’t always assume that what you’re hearing or reading in the press is completely accurate, because it’s not, or they don’t tell the whole story.” Also, be sure to consider Kathleen Culver’s advice, “It’s important to be open minded and flexible when trying to serve the public interest through journalism.”

While these are just some conflicting opinions, allow us to propose another option. While the concept of objectivity is heavily rooted in journalism, in the words of Sam Freedman, professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, “If you’ve been told a journalist is supposed to be objective, forget that. Human beings are subjective.” Consider this as you navigate the ever expanding and evolving world of media and politicians; we all have personal bias and prejudices that we carry with us everyday. To not be affected by the world is to not be alive. To remain neutral is to not feel. If the role of being a journalist is to be objective but humans themselves have feelings and biases by simply being alive, then how do we find the truth? In our opinion, the answer is found between the lines. While a journalist is subjective by nature, a good journalist recognizes their bias and overcomes it to present what the public has the right to know. They put their prejudices aside in order to do the role of journalism: to explain the world to itself. 

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