NY Times Publishes Surprising Take on Media Bias

Last weekend the NY Times published a “Sunday dialogue” which included a letter to the editor by a Connecticut bookseller and some responses. The topic was media bias. Both the letter–and some of the responses to it–present a perspective on media bias one might not expect to find in the NY Times.

Here’s a portion of the initial letter by Mark Godburn:

Relying on one source, or even on several sources with the same bias, will leave you with only part of the story.

That’s why the much maligned right-wing media is just as important as
the so-called mainstream press. Fox News and others on the right
certainly have a deeply embedded conservative bias, but the liberal bias
on the other side is just as pervasive. Taken together, they roughly
fill each other’s omissions.

[…]

Fairness in journalism requires not that every story or point of view
receive equal weight but that every valid position receive equal
respect. Thus the pro-life position should be treated with the same
validity as pro-choice; small-government conservatives with the same
respect as tax-and-spend liberals; Republicans as more compassionate
than they sound and Democrats as less omniscient than they think.

But since journalists and news organizations are partisan at heart, one
must sift through the best reporting and punditry from each side of the
journalistic divide and take all the biases and agendas into account to
arrive at an informed understanding of any story.

It’s unclear where Godburn himself comes down politically, but his defense of the right and Fox News was too much for some readers. Steve Nelson responded, “When one perspective is true and the other is propaganda, they should not be presented as equally valid.” Naturally, the one he finds to be true is the one presented by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

There is also an interesting response from Christopher Daly, a professor of journalism at Boston University. Daly sets up his letter as if he is rebutting what Godburn wrote but, in fact, he only seems to confirm it:

In his lament about bias in the news media, Mr. Godburn assumes that
unbiased journalism is possible and desirable. History suggests
otherwise.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, American journalism was highly
political, often polemical and openly biased. That was the kind of
journalism in which the likes of Sam Adams and Thomas Paine gloriously
argued for liberty, and it was the form of journalism that was on the
founders’ minds when they enshrined the doctrine of a free press in the
First Amendment.

Did Godburn assume unbiased journalism is possible? He actually said the opposite. Godburn said so himself in a response:

Professor Daly’s claim that I assume unbiased journalism is possible and
desirable may have been a good lead-in for his journalistic history
lesson, but that’s not what I said. The problem is not that journalists
are biased — it’s that they claim they aren’t.

Well said. One wonders what the Times’ editors think of this advice.


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