Journalism

There's No Such Thing as Unbiased Journalism, So Stop Pretending

Shock a former political operative was less than honest about his relationship with his former bosses

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If you're an intellectually curious person—and if you're a journalist, let's assume that you are—you are likely to have embraced a number of notions about how the world works, how it should work and who should be running it. This is natural. It's inevitable, then, that most journalists have formed some opinions about partisan politics.

It's unrealistic to expect that even the most conscientious journalist can wholly divorce his or her professional work from his or her philosophical positions. And even if that person were to put forth the sincerest effort possible, biases are likely to manifest in the focus and tone of his or her work. And this doesn't even take into account editors and headline writers, often the worst culprits in one-sided political coverage.

So though we have many fine political journalists, we have only a handful of truly unbiased ones in the country.

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos is surely not one of them. When The Washington Free Beacon broke the news that This Week and Good Morning America host Stephanopoulos had contributed $50,000 (now $75,000) to the Clinton Foundation, it did not hide its ideological motivations. But bias isn't tantamount to dishonesty. It just speaks to purpose.

Brent Bozell, president of the conservative watchdog group Media Research Center, says Stephanopoulos displayed "an inexcusable lack of journalistic ethics." He's right. Stephanopoulos failed to disclose his contribution before his on-air grilling of Peter Schweizer, author of "Clinton Cash," about the Clinton Foundation's difficulties. Questioning another journalist's work when you're directly involved in a scandal—one you're pretending not to have an opinion on—is in every sense unethical, and not because the former Clinton aide is a partisan. There is little doubt he hid his donation to preserve the pretense of dispassionate coverage. The real scandal is that anyone thought he could provide unbiased coverage even before this revelation.

If Stephanopoulos would have disclosed his charitable giving beforehand, rather than press Schweizer on his past partisanship, he could have asked him: "Listen, I gave money to this foundation, too. I'm a huge fan of the work it does on AIDS and deforestation and working with corrupt Middle Eastern regimes, and I think the entire mission is simply fantastic. What proof do you have that there was a quid pro quo by me or anyone else?"

That would be far more compelling and informative television. Questions are questions, after all. And your outlook doesn't change their legitimacy.

Pointing out bias is fair game, but running from bias is bad form. Bozell also says Republicans should avoid ABC News. After the scandal broke, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz claimed that "debates should not be moderated by partisan Democrats who are actively supporting one of the candidates." And Rand Paul said: "It's impossible to divorce yourself from that, even if you try. I just think it's really, really hard because he's been there, so close to them, that there would be a conflict of interest if he tried to be a moderator of any sort."

This is all true. And so what?

Stephanopoulos is a partisan by the purest definition of the word. He's never been a journalist. He's going to ask Republicans the sorts of questions they should be asked—the sorts of questions they should have answers for. Moreover, no one has to be confused about the questioner's intentions.

CNN's Candy Crowley, on the other hand, is purportedly an unbiased journalist, and she still couldn't help but correct Mitt Romney when he accused President Barack Obama of refusing to refer to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as a "terrorist act" in a 2012 debate. Well, she didn't exactly "correct" Romney. The Republican, it turned out, had it right. But most of the voters watching, people who don't follow politics as closely as you do, never knew she was mistaken. Her job was to mediate. She interceded. Might as well have openly antagonistic journalists asking questions that matter. In the best of worlds, two antagonist journalists would be asking both candidates questions.

And candidates should have nothing to fear, unless they're insecure in their own beliefs. Whether a communist or an objectivist grilled me about my positions, they would not change. Sometimes your answers can give context or challenge the premise. Paul, for example, responded to a gotcha question on abortion with the sort of feistiness that's often necessary when dealing with adversaries.

When Todd Akin—or whoever the next Todd Akin is—says something stupid, it's because he believes something stupid. Let's not blame the press. When Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace—one of the few who is equally tenacious with conservatives and liberals—attempted to get an answer out of Marco Rubio about Iraq, he couldn't because the candidate has no good answer.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. “He’s going to ask Republicans the sorts of questions they should be asked?the sorts of questions they should have answers for”

    What, questions like “Are you OK with a state banning birth control?” You know, questions that have zero relevance (who exactly was pushing for a birth control ban?) and only exist to push a narrative. (Republican war on women! See, Mitts has no problem with you not having access to birth control!)

    1. And I suspect very strongly that Snuffalufagus was primed to ask that question, after learning that the Dems would press the “War on Women” narrative.

      “OK, George, we won’t mention abortion, that puts *us* on the defensive, we’ll mention birth control and how we’re all that stands between the women of American and The Handmaid’s Tale. Give ’em hell, George!”

  2. f you’re an intellectually curious person?and if you’re a journalist, let’s assume that you are?

    I see no reason to make that assumption.

  3. “It’s unrealistic, writes David Harsanyi, to expect that even the most conscientious journalist can wholly divorce his or her professional work from his or her philosophical positions.”

    OK, now that we’ve rebutted the numerous people who think a journalist can be *totally* impartial, let’s discuss whether it’s a good thing for a journalist to *strive* for impartiality.

    1. An alternative is for journalists to disclose their biases. By that I mean taking truth serum, hooked to a lie detector and being asked questions on their story.

    2. “let’s discuss whether it’s a good thing for a journalist to *strive* for impartiality.”

      Surely that’s a decision for those who employ the journalists. If the owners of the press want impartial journalists, they will take the measures they see fit to make this happen.

    3. I could see both sides of the argument. Personally, I think reporters admitting to a bias would lead to stronger fact checking in order to remain relevant. An openly partisan news organization that wanted to be treated seriously, and not just as a partisan rag, would have a stronger incentive to fact check their stories.

      That doesn’t mean there won’t be some BS news websites that peddle whatever their target audience wants, but we already have those. (Learn these 11 simple tricks to getting clicks that the MSM doesn’t want you to know.)

  4. Well, there’s biased, then there’s guy who is part of the political machine. I’m just thinking maybe the credibility of such people is a smidgen lower.

    I know people have their biases, but people who are supposed to be providing me the service of delivering facts aren’t providing me with much service if they twist those facts to help their TEAM.

    1. I remember back in the 90s some journalism heavyweight was interviewed on NPR about bias. He said that the media wasn’t biased, it was just journalism’s job to speak truth to and investigate those who are in power.

      He concluded that because Republicans had all the money and power it was natural that they would get the most scrutiny. So that’s why they were screaming louder than Democrats about media bias.

      1. And that was clearly a lie, because they do no such thing when the Democrats are in power.

      2. “Look, we’re not biased, the Republicans really *are* the minions of the Antichrist, it’s an established scientific fact!”

        1. That was pretty much it. He telegraphed eight metric tons of bias in his denial that he was biased.

          And Pro L, he was speaking broadly. He wasn’t even talking about Republicans or Democrats in washington, he seemed to suggest that Republicans were in control of all “institutions of power” within the country.

          It was a very strange interview. But it was NPR. So you just shake your head and say, “Oh you!”

        2. “Look, we’re not biased, the Republicans really *are* the minions of the Antichrist, it’s an established scientific fact!”

          “There’s a consensus among Democrats that Republicans are the antichrist! The science is settled, people!! CONSENSUS!!!”

          /prog

    2. agreed.
      Hiring and using George as a hard news reporter/ anchor was wholly inappropriate for any news organization that claims to be unbiased when it was so obvious from his previous occupation that he was a Democratic/Clinton operative. However, the entire mainstream media has been completely in the tank for the democrats for decades.

      1. ^ this.

  5. Look, here’s an idea: The Republicans will agree to have their primary debates hosted by George Snuffalufagus if the Democrats agree to have their primary debates hosted by Rush Limbaugh.

    1. As for tough questions: Have the candidates ask questions of each other – now, *there* you’ll see some tough questions.

      1. Don’t be insane, the Lincoln-Douglas debates never would have worked without a moderator.

        1. Look, pepples, it’s pretty simple, really. Lots of pepples has become familiar with media bias. The solution is to tap into a source of TRULY unbiased reporters? Those who have served as Federal Judges! Federal judges, we KNOW that they are un-biased, because they have TOLD us so! So if we want less bias in the media, we need to persuade federal judges to serve in, or take over, the media! Problems solved! Yer welcome!!!

          1. Well OK, Federal Judges have so much real POWAH, they are hard to persuade to “step down” and become a media person. So? Alternate “fix” here, or, re-statement:
            We ***KNOW*** that Federal Judges are un-biased, since they have been able to persuade Congress of their un-biasedness. Then simply this: In order to get your media credentials, you must first persuade Congress, that you are unbiased! FIXED it for ya!!!!

        2. With today’s politicians, a debate without a moderator would simply consist of the most arrogant and selfish ass talking all day, with the more polite and humble candidate saying next to nothing? In which case I would vote for whoever spoke the least. I am not sure that enough of my fellow voters would feel the same way as I do, sad to say.

        3. Not to mention Scopes!

          1. “Don’t be insane, the Lincoln-Douglas debates never would have worked without a moderator.”

            Where my response was supposed to go…

    2. that I would have to watch ….. Rush asking Hillary pointed questions about her failures, Bills unchecked libido, her “plan” for America’s future. Doubt any Democrats would watch though – they would put their heads in the sand as always – can’t have the truth interfere with having the “First Female President”

    3. Even better, Ann Coulter. Now THAT would be pure entertainment. Though not so much for the democrats.

  6. The market for truly unbiased journalism is small. I don’t think people want dry, C-SPAN like reporting.

  7. “If you’re an intellectually curious person?and if you’re a journalist, let’s assume that you are[…]”

    David! Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back!

  8. The fiction that “journalists” are somehow divinely neutral recorders of the human drama is the kind of bushwa only the Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive establishment could sell. it’s absurd on it’s face, and contradicts just about all history of news reporting.

    Go read Mencken’s Newspaper Days; he’s quite up front about it. The papers he worked for had a point of view, and everybody in Baltimore who was smart enough to be allowed out of doors without a minder knew it.

    I have listened to Conservative (and often also Libertarian) whining about “Bias in the Media” pretty much my entire adult life. I’m sick of it. The problem with the New York Times isn’t that it is biased. The problem is that it is stupid, mendacious, and dull.

    The problem with Stephanopoulos isn’t that he’s biased. The problem is that he’s a talent-proof imbecile.

    1. The problem with the New York Times isn’t that it is biased. The problem is that it is stupid, mendacious, and dull.

      The problem is they tell you they’re not.

      1. The problem is they tell you they’re not.

        ^This^

        The fact that the networks and the papers of a few big cities have managed to create an aura of unbiasedness about themselves is precisely the problem In Menken’s day, there was little if any pretense of unbiasedness. The very notion of an unbiased press is really nothing more than a marketing ploy by the Hearsts and Pulitzers of the world to create a competitive advantage for their papers. Prior to that, newspapers were published by political parties themselves. If Stephanopolos or Candy Crawley were regarded as Democratic journalists the way Welch or Balko are labeled libertarian journalists, there’d be a lot less to complain about.

      2. I EXPECT a newspaper, channel, or what-have-you to maintain its position. I think that Fox shouldn’t have said “We report, you decide” but “We tell you the truth”.

        OK, “This is OUR side” would be ethically superior, but reporting is a sleazy business. Always was. The best accounts of great reporters (Daymon Runyan, anyone?) make it clear that this is half the attraction.

        1. I EXPECT a newspaper, channel, or what-have-you to maintain its position. I think that Fox shouldn’t have said “We report, you decide” but “We tell you the truth”.

          Fox’s tagline is profoundly awful. But it was, alas, selling itself to an audience frustrated by 90s media bias that was suddenly in sharp relief after 12 years of Reagan/Bush.

      3. The problem is that stupid people are allowed to vote to steal your property and infringe on your liberties.

    2. OK, but I think it’s *possible* to keep one’s biases withing certain bounds, if that’s what the reader wants.

      If the reader wants bias, he can certainly get it!

      1. In short, label your media outlet correctly –

        yeah, we believe in certain principles [list them]

        OR

        we try to be as impartial as the fallen condition of humanity will permit.

    3. Go read Mencken’s Newspaper Days; he’s quite up front about it. The papers he worked for had a point of view, and everybody in Baltimore who was smart enough to be allowed out of doors without a minder knew it.

      This is true. Up until recently newspapers were openly regarded as mouthpieces of their editors and whatever political affiliations they had. After all newspapers really grew out of 18th and 17th century pamphlets which would have been openly political. When did this notion of “unbiased” reporters start?

      1. The second great myth is that there was, once upon a time, enough business in most cities to support two major papers, one for each party. Mencken makes it clear that, at least by his day, outside of a very few exceptional markets (New York), most cities could support ONE successful newspaper, which was the paper of the current top party and therefore got the government printing contractss. The other was customarily supported by an opposition hopeful with political ambitions.

      2. I believe it was right after the phrase “yellow journalism” came into popular use and people got so sick of the bullshit going on in the press at the time.

        1. Horsepucky. The “yellow journalism” narrative was pushed HARD by the intellectuals, but the best newspaper writing that ever happened – the stuff you find collected as having literary merit – happened in that era. The LIRP. Nitwits who took over the Journalism schools rode that pony and helped create the myth of “unbiased” journalism.

          1. The LIRP
            Pisa International Airport?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…..al_Airport

            Nitwits who took over the Journalism schools rode that pony and helped create the myth of “unbiased” journalism.

            When was that? 20s? 30s? 40s? 50s?

            1. It took them several decades. The rot was begun while Mencken was still a reporter, though the college boys were considered odd. By the end of WWII the process was well alomg. The Hearstpapers (which were anti-Liberal) were dying, and doing so oddly. Some VERY weird stuff got published by Hearst in the ’50’s and ’60’s. And Hearst’s weird bias made the spreading LIRP (Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive) bias look more reasonable.

              Half, hell more than half, of the LIRPs media problems stem from the fact that the at least half believe that they AREN’T biased.

    4. The problem with Stephanopoulos isn’t that he’s biased. The problem is that he’s a talent-proof imbecile.

      Bingo. I don’t care about personal bias. I care about accuracy, relevancy, and importance.

      For example, the “wifi internet may be hurting people” story. If that’s what they want to share with me, then they’re stupid, I have no time for their bullshit, and I don’t give a rat’s ass how unbiased they might be about it.

      Who the heck comes up with these people, anyway? You pipes up at the network TV meeting and says, “Who know who America really wants reading their news to them? George Stephanopoulos, that’s who!” That’s right up there with, “You know who really needs a talk show? Mike Huckabee!” Who the hell are the wizards of infotainment who come up with this? And exactly how boring are they, personally? I hope I never find out.

      1. God, I suck. Three more beers and I’m going to bed.

      2. One day the Fox executives got plastered and had this really weird idea of a libertarian talk show….

  9. It’s not the bias that the problem, it’s the hypocrisy!

    Got I would give Warty’s left nut to find that Web 1.0 article I read back in the 90s about journalism bias.

  10. Oh I don’t know, Stephanopopolous is pretty good at his job of being a political operative. He moderated a GOP primary debate last election and the only things he asked of the candidates was shit like “Mr. Romney, you recently said that Mr Santorum is a shit eating weasel. Care to elaborate?” “Mr Santorum, Romney said mean things about you. How do you respond?”

    Then in the afterbirth of that debate he bemoaned that the entire Republican field of candidates were too busy attacking each other to debate the real issues people cared about. Stephanopopolous acted as though this weren’t entirely his objective. It one was one of those moments where I started throwing heavy objects at my tv.

    1. I’ve hung a safety net in front our tv.

  11. Interesting article.
    NPR is always great at picking both sides of a story. In their coverage of Fergusson, they analyzed the underlying causes of the riots, why the pent-up anger exploded even though the officer couldn’t be charged. The slant of these stories was obviously to illustrate a rational reason behind the riots, almost justifying them. But then they ran an interview with an officer, following the NYC choke-hold debacle, explaining the chaos and danger police regularly face, ie, police officers regularly have people yelling I Can’t Breath, regularly have people threatening them. Justified the riots, justified police aggression.
    Journalism isn’t always objective, and depending where you get your news, it might rarely be objective. But if you listen to MSNBC pulling apart Republicans, and then listen to Fox News pulling apart Democrats, then you might develop yourself an objective, reality-based perspective.

  12. This needed to be said. Kind of funny though that no one has yet pointed out that Stephanopolousisopolous was a Clinton toady on his payroll before there even was a President Clinton.

  13. This is natural. It’s inevitable, then, that most journalists have formed some opinions about partisan politics.

    But should it not matter somewhat that these opinions are almost uniformly on the center-left?

  14. A great headline for schmucks that haven’t heard of independent media.

  15. I tend to disagree with the idea that impartial journalism cannot be entertaining. Our local news broadcast is run by I’m pretty sure a bunch of liberals, as most media outlets are, but they do try really hard to be unbiased. Sure, it comes out every once in a while by their tone of voice in the questions they ask, but you almost have to be looking for the bias to notice it. Either way, they are excellent in what they do and I tune in almost every night, despite never watching cable for pretty much any other reason.

  16. ABC hired Gorgeous George BECAUSE of his bias. The guy was involved in scandal, enriched himself off government service, and has displayed his willingness to buy and be bought. A VERY useful idiot. He’s one of the reasons Fox News has done so well.

    1. agreed

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  18. Why do people still think journalists are necessary? They rank below sitcoms on my hierarchy of forms of entertainment. These days if you’re not irredeemably lazy you can get pretty raw information yourself on the internet. Journalism is obsolete, except for people who are so stupid they’re opinions would be asinine regardless of whether they had journalists to tell them what to think.

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  23. Libertarianism is a joke….you all ought to go live someplace where there are not police, fire services or army to protect you…then come back and tell us about the wonders of not having big government get in your way. ABC if anything is biased towards big business.

  24. Uneducated Idiots…….. commonly mistake LIBERTARIANISM with ANARCHY. Neither of which is actually synonymous with disorder. No one living in a more advanced Libertarian or even an An-Cap society would have to deal with a lack of essential services that people value,and are willing to pay for. These services will just be much,much cheaper and of higher quality. And outside the simple legal confines of the NAP and mutually beneficial contracts, you will be free to enjoy and even actually live your life as you please, minus the 10,000 lb steamroller of parasitic fascism so many of you slaver types seem to have a hard on for these days. Oh the Horror!!!

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