I'm not a journalist. I have no formal training as a journalist, or any experience to speak of. Like a lot of people who become bloggers, I am a news junkie who wants to call attention to, and occasionally comment on, stories I think are important.
One of the things I like most about blogs is that biases are typically front and center. Good posts almost always embody a point of view, often strongly expressed, with links to corroborating sources. It's this ability to say, "Here's what I think, and I invite you to review the source material that informs that opinion," that differentiates blogging from conventional journalism.
Real journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but human nature makes that impossible. Bias in reporting and/or story selection is nearly always a factor. Liberals and conservatives both believe the press is biased, and as it happens I consider the analyses on both sides to be justified for different reasons.
Conservative media critics charge that media personalities like Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Katie Couric hide their liberal views under a mask of supposed impartiality, but their bias is evident in everything from the questions they ask (or don't ask) to their attitudes towards issues and guests. One of the standard-bearers for the conservative critique of media bias has of late been Bernard Goldberg, a veteran CBS journalist and self-identified liberal. In his books "Bias" and "Arrogance", he charges that journalists, who are based primarily in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, unconscously consider their own liberal views to be mainstream:
They marginalize conservatives...mainly by identifying every conservative who's in a story because -- and I think rightly -- the audience needs to know that these people are conservatives, that their views are conservative views and we should know, as they say, where they're coming from. But the very fact that we rarely identify liberals tells you, at least it tells me, that journalists very often think that these liberal views aren't liberal at all, but really mainstream, civilized, reasonable views. And that's the problem, I think.
Again, it's important to stress this is not a conspiracy at alll; based on data from a number of surveys, journalists hold largely liberal views. Thus, the reasoning goes that they do not recognize their own liberal bias. Conservative media critics argue that at least in the case of conservative bias, it's all out in the open. Right-wing commentators are always identified as such, and in any case are up front about their conservative viewpoint.
The counterpoint from the left is offered Eric Alterman, columnist for The Nation, who responds forcefully to Goldberg's charges in his book "What Liberal Media?" that the notion of the so-called "liberal media" is a myth that conservatives use to dominate the airwaves with their opinions:
Take a look at the Sunday talk shows, the cable chat fests, the op-ed pages and opinion magazines, and the radio talk shows. It can be painful, I know, but try it. Across virtually the entire television punditocracy, unabashed conservatives dominate, leaving lone liberals to be beaten up by gangs of marauding right-wingers, most of whom voice views much further toward their end of the spectrum than any regularly televised liberals do toward the left. Grover Norquist, the right's brilliant political organizer, explains his team's advantage by virtue of the mindset of modern conservatism. "The conservative press is self-consciously conservative and self-consciously part of the team," he notes. "The liberal press is much larger, but at the same time it sees itself as the establishment press. So it's conflicted. Sometimes it thinks it needs to be critical of both sides."
Liberal media critics emphasize additionally that most media outlets are corporate-owned, and that mere fact results in an insidious form of self-censorship, in which news organizations are afraid to take on corporate interests or offend advertisers. Moreover, because the mainstream media is charged with being impartial, they often bend over backwards to accommodate conservative viewpoints. And since right-leaning media like Fox News and talk radio are continuing to gain audience share, pandering to the conservative mindset sure doesn't hurt ratings!
In my view, these analyses are not necessarily mutually exclusive because they call attention to different phenomena. Goldberg notes the way liberal assumptions unconsciously creep into ostensibly objective reporting, on everything from the economy to AIDS to the War on Terror. Alterman focuses primarily on the pundits and opinion-mongers who dominate cable news, talk radio and even appear on the editorial pages of the liberal New York Times. He also notes that right-wing commentators are often much more forceful in delivering their arguments, while there are few authentically left-wing voices appearing on the airwaves to offer a counterweight to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan.
So I will not even pretend I'm objective and impartial here. Instead I will attempt to put my biases out where everyone can see them. I am writing opinion, not reporting. I will try to make it clear when I'm presenting what I consider a fact, and if possible corroborate it via one or more authoritative sources. I will not knowingly or willfully hide one side of an argument, or information that contradicts my viewpoint. I will instead try to make a case why that viewpoint is either not pertinent to the issue, or not persuasive. And if additional facts, sources or points of view are brought to light, I will at least give them a fair hearing and indicate whether my position shifts as a result of the new information. I will point out sources and points of view that I do not necessarily agree with, either to contrast them with my own, or to provide balance. While I may point out statements I consider ludicrous or wrongheaded, I will not caricature a responsible position by focusing exclusively on straw men that are easy to ridicule. I will not shill for one party or another. And of course give credit where credit is due.
I'm hoping you care about these issues as much as I do and will at least consider the points of view expressed here and refer back to the original sources. I also expect people will seldom take what I say at face value. Not only will they fact-check my ass from one end of the blogosphere to the other but if it turns out I got the basic facts wrong, they will likely come back and whack me over the head with a very large cluebat. It works that way on the Web...as many mainstream journalists have found out.