I am a journalist, and I have been called biased many times. When a stranger on the internet calls me this, it seems they believe that I will become overwhelmed with anxiety and jump at the chance to display my indifference. That is not what happens. I am biased, and so are all journalists, and that’s perfectly fine.
To say you are completely unbiased would be to say you are not human. Humans are creatures with opinions, and even if you don’t care about a topic that much, you always come to it with some preconceived notions and stances. The fact of the matter is that almost no journalist covers a topic they have no interest in, so it is much more likely they will have many opinions and strong feelings about whatever they cover. Any journalist who tells you they are unbiased should not be trusted or listened to, because they’re either lying or ignorant.
Saying every journalist should have no bias is kind of like saying everyone should be expected to love every single aspect of their job. It’s like saying if you don’t love every aspect of your job, then you are incapable of doing your job. This is obviously false. Just because I personally hate a certain politician or a certain law, that does not mean I cannot cover the topic in an unbiased fashion.
There have been countless times I’ve forced myself to include information about something I despise that makes the subject look better than I’d personally like to make them look. I have written about how a politician lied about something but then also included that the lie really isn’t that big of a deal for various reasons, for example. If my bias prevented me from including this information, then you could say there is a problem, but that is not the case. I believe it is not the case with most journalists, based on my experience.
There is a big difference between what a journalist wants to say based on their opinions and what ends up in an article. If a journalist is writing an opinion piece, then of course it will mostly include one side of the issue at hand, but they’ll typically be far more even-handed when they’re writing a report. Despite these seemingly obvious truths, I still constantly see journalists trying to pretend they’re not biased to save face.
I have seen multiple articles from the hyper-conservative website and magazine National Review lamenting bias in the media. I always laugh when I see these articles, because some of the explicit bias I’ve seen in National Review articles could be spotted by the most casual reader. However, in the spirit of fairness and presenting multiple sides, I’ll point out that opinion writer Jonah Goldberg wrote a decent op-ed for the National Review about media bias at the end of last year.
In the piece, Goldberg explains that most journalists are going to be biased, and they should simply be forthcoming about their bias. When this happens, people can be aware of it and decide if it has impacted their writing. “None of this means liberals — or conservatives — can’t be good reporters, but the idea that media bias is nonexistent is ludicrous,” he wrote. Goldberg is correct in this statement. Liberals and conservatives can be biased and good at their jobs, and personal bias is everywhere.
There was also a pervasive idea that presented itself throughout the campaign and since Donald Trump took office: the media is too hard on him. As a journalist, I feel qualified to explain the most important goal of journalism, which I think is to inform the public of dangers. There’s a reason the news covers crime, natural disasters and more. When a politician poses a unique risk to the safety of Americans, it is the job of the press to illuminate what the dangers are. If Trump is scapegoating Muslims and immigrants to gain power, which may put those groups in danger, the press is right to be critical of this. If he has a temperament that might lead us into an international disaster, that’s important to point out.
Furthermore, many of the people who think the press is too critical of Trump think the press was too easy on President Obama and too comfy with Hillary Clinton—despite the fact Clinton’s email problems and other flaws dominated many news cycles. This is an odd sort of cognitive dissonance that I have trouble understanding. Would it be preferable if the press went easy on Trump because you believe they were allegedly easy on Obama? I don’t think so. If the press was too easy on Obama, which is certainly debatable, the fact they’re now being the check on presidential power they’re always supposed to be is not a negative thing. It could actually be considered sort of refreshing.
Finally, it’s important to note that having some opinionated journalists out there can be rewarding for readers and other journalists. I know that there are certain writers out there I typically agree with like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi. Knowing where they stand and what they believe in is personally very enjoyable for me, because it means I know who to go to when I’m first approaching a new topic that I think I’m going to care about. I can read what they said, which I know is coming from a perspective that is similar to my own, and I can use it as a starting point for figuring out what I think of the issue. Sometimes I disagree with their perspectives, but I at least get where they’re coming from. From there I can go to other sources.
This is all to say that we will never kill bias in journalism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s always going to be there, and sometimes it’s actually a good thing. Does it annoy me when hacks at Infowars try to portray themselves as real journalists? Of course (and they’re not), but that’s not the main issue here. The main issue is that your average conservative or liberal journalist can do their jobs adequately if they’re working under decent editors and truly care about journalism.