Thursday, June 29, 2017

BIAS BY OMISSION: "IF WE DON'T COVER IT, IT DIDN'T REALLY HAPPEN"

So I'm watching the James Comey hearings like many Americans and hoping for some new details when he drops the bombshell that Loretta Lynch told him to call the Hillary Clinton investigation a "matter."

I sat up straight and yelled, "Oh my gosh!" (Okay, I actually yelled two words, the first being "Holy" but I'll be polite.)

Now, in any other universe, this is a slam dunk lead story. The most important thing to come out of the hearing, even surpassing the news that Trump was not being investigated. An Attorney General basically covering for a Presidential candidate.

In other words, here's your lead: Trump was not interfering with the election, but Hillary's husband was. Suddenly that "obstruction of justice" thing points at someone else.

And then the Republicans on the panel basically dropped the ball after having this incredible gift dropped in their laps. You see, politicians are like many reporters. They're waiting to speak rather than listening to what was just said. Instead of pounding Comey on this information, they basically went back to their scripted questions because they love the sound of their own voices and need to make a point.

But what most of the media did was worse. They simply ignored it.

This was one of the most blatant examples of "bias by omission" I've seen in quite awhile. 

Comey had previously mentioned that the tarmac meeting between Bill Clinton & Loretta Lynch bothered him. But to some members of the media, the meeting went like this:

Clinton: "Hey, Loretta, I wanted to stop your plane before you took off and delay everyone in the airport to tell you how cute Chelsea's kid is."

Lynch: "Glad you stopped by. I was hoping you could share come golf tips with me. I'm having a problem using my sand wedge."

Of course, no one, even the most ardent Clinton supporter, thought the former President held up a plane so the two could actually talk for a half hour about golf and grandkids. But if you watch certain networks, it's yet another "nothingburger."

Nothing to see here.

The most blatant example I ever personally witnessed was a morning meeting in which we had serious dirt on a Presidential candidate. We even had an employee who witnessed it. But the powers that be killed the story, resulting in a huge newsroom argument. (That candidate didn't win, thankfully.) I remember going home that night truly disgusted that we buried a national story because one management person liked the candidate.

Now if you're a reporter you're always going to end up covering people you really like and people you can't stand. But if the person you like says something stupid or the person you hate says something wonderful, you can't just use the bias by omission "get out of jail free" card and ignore it.

This is why people not in the news business have often asked me, "How do we know what to believe?"

The answer is complicated, since the credibility of journalists has reached, as a network executive once told me, a level that is "lower than whale droppings." (He also used a different word, but again, I'm being polite.)

If you work at a baised network, you've done it to yourself.

How these people can look in the mirror every day and call themselves journalists when they ignore major stories is beyond me. But it doesn't have to be that way for everyone.

Be fair and objective. Put your personal and political feelings aside. It's tough sometimes, since we're all human. But that's your job.

And here's a wild concept: if you don't have script approval in your newsroom (and every newsroom should) then run your copy by someone who has different views than yours. Ask if you're being fair.

As reporters we all get assignments and have to pick and choose the best soundbites, b-roll, and nat sound. We have to write a script that ties everything together. We have a lot of flexibility as ten different reporters would tell the same story ten different ways. But truly objective reporters would have the same basic facts in the story without interjecting opinion or letting their views cloud what does or does not go into the story.

If you're simply throwing away a story that needs to be told, you're not a true journalist and don't deserve to work in this business. You either need to stop doing that or get out.





 

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