Good stories, not political bias, drive most news reporters

It’s generally taken as gospel these days that the media are biased. To the left. We can’t turn on our radios (at least not on the AM dial) without hearing it. We can’t watch any cable news channels without hearing it. We can’t venture too far into cyberspace without reading it.

Nor can we have many political discussions with friends and neighbors without hearing it.

Knowing full well that I am in a very small minority, and at the risk of seeing an in-box full of less -than-pleasant e-mails next week, I’m going to posit that the left-leaning media bias is so much bunk.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” is a line of indefinite parentage. It’s been attributed to a variety of people.

Who said it isn’t important. What is important is it’s true.

It seems to me that finding a definitive study to once and for all prove the media are biased to the left or to the right is pointless. There are studies and statistics galore out there, all offering statistical proof of either a liberal media bias, a conservative media bias, or no bias at all. Pick your point of view and go get the numbers to back it up. They’re there.

I come at the argument from a different perspective. It’s unscientific and I have no data to back up anything. I arrive at my admittedly minority viewpoint by way of simply knowing — knowing very well —  a lot of the people who are supposedly feeding Americans a diet of liberal-laced information every day.

The news media have plenty of faults. There were days during my career when I was truly amazed we produced a product without more errors than it had.

Journalism is like any other business in some respects. There’s always too much to be done by too few people. Errors happen. It’s a human endeavor and human beings bring their life experiences and points of view to work with them every day. I won’t for a minute claim all reporters and editors can put aside everything that has made them who they are when they sit down to work on a story.

But they do try to do that. They try very, very hard. They do so because they know readers demand it.

Discerning readers understand that. They also understand the difference between the reporter who covers City Hall and the pundit who spouts opinion, although that distinction is getting more and more difficult to see in this age of the never-ending news cycle.

It’s often said in newsrooms, and not always in jest, that a story must have been fair because the reporter received complaints about bias from people on both sides of the issue. That sentiment, I think, goes to the heart of the media bias charge we hear so often. Too often those who make the charge don’t really mean to say the media are biased. What they really mean is that a story is being reported in a manner that is unflattering to the reader’s point of view. That may or may not make the story biased.

Reporters and editors by and large don’t care whether someone is liberal or conservative or Republican or Democrat. What they do care about is who is in power and holding them up to rigorous scrutiny.

I remember the early years of the George W. Bush presidency, when there was a particularly vicious charge about media bias coming from the right. The media were too critical of Bush, the charge went. They were out to destroy him because he was a conservative Republican.

What went unsaid then was that the reporters who were supposedly out to get Bush were the same reporters who just a couple of years before, according to the Clinton White House, had been out to run Bill Clinton from office.

It’s not ideology that drives reporters. It’s good stories, whether they’re about White House interns or phantom weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It’s the story, always the story.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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