Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tonight, check your opinion at the door

On this election night, you'll be able to flip around the dial and find countless examples of why the public trust has been violated.

Oh, I'm not even talking about the results from the polls. I'm talking about media bias.

Slanted news coverage has never been worse in this country. It has always been around, with a rich history in the newspaper business. Funny how newspapers can "endorse" candidates but television news organizations aren't supposed to.

Since that isn't exactly fair, some TV news people take it upon themselves to slant coverage. Bias filters into coverage in many forms, from blatantly slanted coverage to bias by omission, in which important stories are simply not covered. It can be conveyed by body language, by simply appearing happy when one candidate wins while looking like someone ran over your dog when your guy loses. It can take the subtle form of lighting a candidate to look bad, using an unflattering still frame for an over-the-shoulder graphic, or using adjectives like "popular" or "embattled" to describe candidates you like or dislike.

And then there's the first inductee into the media bias hall of fame...taking something out of context.

It's one thing to host an opinion show and have a bias toward one party or another; it's a very different thing to be a journalist and show it.

Tonight, many of you will be working your first election night. It's easy to be swept up with excitement when the balloons fall at a winning campaign headquarters, or to be sad when a good candidate loses. It's hard to ask fair questions of someone you know to be a total sleazebag, easy to lob softballs at a candidate you like.

Tonight, we must set an example, and turn the tide of public opinion. Not about politicians, but about us.

We must be fair, objective, remain even keel in a winning or losing situation. The voters are speaking tonight, and it is their voices, not ours, that viewers want to hear.

The numbers speak for themselves. You can offer all the analysis you want, but please, leave your opinions out of any coverage.

If enough reporters and anchors did that, maybe the approval numbers for the media will be up the next time an election rolls around.



Forward said...

Thanks for this one. My plan is to avoid all political coverage ... but I know I'll fail. I long for the days when being a journalist really meant being objective and not subjective.

Kristine Rusch said...

Great post, Randy. Even though I'm no longer a reporter, I miss working election nights. It's hard to stay away from bias, but I think it essential. Working local election nights, I learned that there were candidates I adored as people (and whose feelings I didn't want to hurt) and candidates I didn't like at all. And nothing in my reaction to them as people had anything to do with their policies. It's hard to separate, particularly when you work hand-in-glove covering folks, but I think it necessary to maintain a balance that serves our readers/viewers.