A few weeks ago, an acquaintance told me why she was voting for Barack Obama. “The New York Times said John McCain wouldn’t live very long because he’s had skin cancer five times.”
“The New York Times has a liberal leaning,”I reminded her.
Here’s her verbatim reply: “There might be some bias in their Op/Ed page, but the news is just the news.”
My jaw dropped. “The news is just the news.” Was she really that naive?
“Journalism is dead,” a scholar friend of mine announced recently. He meant the cherished principles of journalism to present information objectively have been supplanted by political agendas. Journalists are humans and they have points of view. That’s their prerogative, but it’s not journalism. It’s sneaky.
Years ago I took a fiction writing class at Georgetown University with a reporter from the Washington Post. One evening he shared with us how reporters slant their articles without looking like they do. “It’s all in what you choose to include,” he said, “what context you put it in, and what you decide to leave out.”
Even the Freshmen in my college writing classes learn this from a project called “Reporting Information.” After they had each researched and written an informational brochure, one of the students reflected, “I’m amazed at how much you can influence your audience even when you’re supposedly only ‘presenting information’.”
I tried explaining this to my friend (the one who said “the news is just the news”), but I don’t think she heard me.
As readers, it takes a discerning eye and analytical curiosity to ask, where is the author leading me here, and why? Is it one sided? What information is missing? The obfuscation can be subtle, insidious, and in my opinion, dangerous.
“The New York Times used to be the paper of record,” a research librarian said to me. “I don’t know what it is now.”
Until we find out - - Buyer Beware.
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