Media bias: good for whom?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

For years, journalists have subscribed to an objective view of their craft. Reporting the news is a trusted bond between the public and the journalist, one that the public expects the reporter to maintain by presenting the facts to the public and allowing the public to interpret the news of the day as best they can.

Unfortunately, MU professor emeritus George Kennedy seems to want to do away with that silly notion that the public is best suited to render interpretation of those facts. In an editorial that wasn't really as eye-opening as much as it was astounding for him to reveal, Kennedy not only admitted journalistic bias, but believed that it is the best for society.

Besides basically maligning conservatives as unquestioning religious dolts uninterested in anything besides easy money (I'm surprised he didn't find the word count to call conservatives racists, sexists, bigots, or homophobes), Kennedy promotes an activist journalism that seems to follow a Ron Fournier model. Unfamiliar with Fournier? He's the Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, who says that journalism should be more interpretation than simple reporting.

The folly with this activist journalism is not in being investigative. That is one of the hallmarks of good, solid reporting. The folly, rather, is in the notion that the press should be in the business of interspersing commentary with news.

Facts are facts, but interpretation of those facts are subject to the reader or listener. That's why the public used to place a trust in the news media. Journalists were the ones with the access, so the public trusted they would simply find the stories as best they could, and not abuse their positions by trying to influence their thinking on the issues. Today, we've seen respect for the media lowered to levels normally reserved for used-car salesmen.

At the same time, we have "solid investigative reporting" such as the style of Dan Rather (in Kennedy's mind, a puppet of the Bush administration) that saw pajama-clad bloggers do the investigative work that CBS News wouldn't do: exposing a fraudulent piece of work that was hailed as the proof that George W. Bush skipped out on his Air National Guard duty. We have Fox News insisting at the start of the 2008 race for the White House that Barack Obama attended a madrassa as a young boy. And we have The View doing the tough interviews on presidential candidates, and Saturday Night Live even mocking the media for the tone of the debates.

This, Professor Kennedy, is the danger of activist journalism. We can no longer trust the media to do simple things like their jobs.

Investigative journalism is one thing. What you advocate is holding the hands of the general public so that we won't be so stupid as to miss the complete obviousness of the decisions we should make. In other words, you advocate that the media stop being about "just the facts" and be more of a soapbox for those with privileged access to stump for their ideas and ideals.

You, Professor Kennedy - a man steeped in both journalism and the teaching of it - should know better. Instead, much as you seek to have journalists pursue, you are using your position to push for your own ideas. And, in doing so, you are discrediting a vital service that the public needs.

Nick Haynes is a student majoring in political science at the University of Missouri and the former president of the MU College Republicans.



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