Why Bias is Inevitable

Walter Russel Mead, in his usual long-but-worth-your-time style, explains the obvious:

 At bottom press bias is the consequence of honest efforts to report the real news by sincere and thoughtful people.

There is a lot going on in our busy world these days, and every reporter and every editor has be selective. They have to scan the vast flow of events and select a relative handful of stories that seem more important than the rest. To do this, you have to have a view of the world. In putting together the international news section, you can only run a few stories a day. Do you write about a cabinet change in Austria, a provincial election in India, a political show trial in Russia, a trade dispute at the WTO, ethnic conflict in Burma, a troubled vaccination campaign in Nigeria, a corporate merger in Italy, a lèse majesté case in Thailand, an anti-American demonstration in Pakistan, a statement on Iran from an Israeli opposition leader, the coca harvest in Bolivia, a central bank scandal in Malaysia, a budget crisis in Ukraine or a debate over the euro in Germany? And these would be just a few of the events that you might be looking at every day of the week.

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? How do you sift out less than one tenth of one percent of all the events that happen in any given 24 hours and put them in your paper?

Unless you use the dartboard method, you have to make conscious choices about what is important and what your audience will likely want to read about. These decisions inevitably reflect your sense of where the world is headed, what the driving forces of history really are, and how important different issues and different regions in the world are to your readers.

In other words, you must exercise your bias to function as a journalist. There is simply no other way to do it—and the more information at your disposal, the greater the flow of news, the more important your bias becomes.

So the media has never been and can never be objective. Which is fine. If you consider a news item to be a product – and really, there’s no other way to look at it and be honest – then each news item reflects the people who produce it. This is not a crime against Journalism, it is human nature, as natural as breathing.

All we ask is that they own their worldviews.


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