In the recent Republican Presidential debate, some candidates criticized the media and one candidate said “..the American people don’t trust the media.”
Do we trust the media? Can we expect the media to be honest and fair? Can we expect the media to be objective?
The objectivity of journalists is one of the ideas explored in my book, The Journalist’s Journey. The journalist of the title, Stan Maceo, considers himself a working man, a journalist in solidarity with the oppressed workers struggling against American capitalism. His love interest, Austin Hart, challenges his ideas. She has achieved a reputation for fairness in reporting to the business world, something that earns her the scorn of some journalism students.
Both Stan and Austin would reject the labels of left-wing journalist or right-wing journalist. Stan might consider himself center-left, or even left leaning, but he would never admit to being biased or an extremist. Austin’s personal politics are never revealed except that she rejects the automatic assumption that corporations are evil. Perhaps that makes her a right-wing journalist, but she would never consider herself that. People are human, and most of us don’t want to think that we are extremists. We want to get along with our friends, even the ones we disagree with, so we tend to avoid labeling ourselves into an ideological pigeon hole.
We should be more honest with ourselves. I admit that I am conservative. My position on immigration, legalization of marijuana, and abortion might put me at odds with my conservative friends, but if I honestly assess my attitudes and opinions, I usually come down on what I consider the conservative side. Still, I don’t consider myself a right-wing writer. I might consider myself a Christian writer who has a high regard for traditions, but I am also reluctant to think of myself as an ideologue.
No one wants to admit to their own biases, but we all have them. Do we trust the media? We probably only trust the media to the extent that what they say conforms to our biases. Can we expect the media to be honest and fair? Honesty alone will not prevent bias; a biased human still has to decide what news is reported. Can we expect the media to be objective? As long as biased humans decide what to report and how to report it, we can expect biased reporting. If we understand our own biases, we can better judge the biases of what we see, hear, and read in the media. Objective reporting is an ideal. Ideally, reporters are aware of their biases and try to modify their reporting accordingly; but journalists are under enormous pressure to write quickly, and quick writing will bring the temptation to play to biases.
My advice; don’t expect objectivity. Expect journalists to be human.