There are many subtle, and some not so subtle, messages conveyed daily in the many forms of communication we call” the media”. Most pretend to be conveyors of truth and only report what they have seen or heard without necessarily forming and releasing an opinion via the report. If you analyze them carefully you see this is not the end result. For example, take a look at some of the “reporting” of the New York Times. The editorial opinions are graphically slanted which is their prerogative; however, an article not on the editorial page should fit the mold of a news report. Let’s look at a typical article reported in the New York Times and see if there is any slant creeping into the “report” By the way, a report is defined as “ to give a spoken or written account of something one has observed, heard , done or investigated”.
Take the following “report” from the New York Times. “The Search for Illegal Immigrants Stops at the Workplace” March 5, 2006. Here is a quote from the article. “It may seem that the United States government has declared all-out war against illegal immigration. During the last decade, the budget dedicated to enforcement of immigration laws has grown by leaps and bounds. The Border Patrol has about three times as many agents as it did in the early 1990’s, and the southern border has been laced with high-tech surveillance gadgetry. Yet a closer look reveals a very different portrait of immigration policy. It seems designed for failure.” This last statement wasn’t observed or heard or even investigated. It is an opinion. What is a successful immigration policy? Does it consist of total control of immigration or does it consist of accommodation for working illegal immigrants or does it simply mean that legal immigration is the ideal? Before the success of a policy can be gauged, there must be some delineation of what the benchmark is. And if this benchmark is defined by an elected government official, it may be wrong but it is still the benchmark by which success or failure is to be determined. Evaluation of this policy belongs on the editorial page. Reporting of the policy should be reported without an evaluation. No leading in the report should be evident. Further in this same “ report” we find the following: “Most experts agree that a vast majority of illegal immigrants who make it across the border every year are seeking work. But the workplace is the one spot that is virtually unpoliced.” This again is leading to the implied conclusion that total control by the state is the standard for illegal immigration policy but the reporter never explicitly states that this would be what constitutes the administration’s ideal. It is simply inferred that anything less than complete total control is a “design for failure”. Further it points to the private sector as a villain not doing its part to reach this unattainable goal. By this standard, which is an impossible ideal, failure would have to be the result. And from that we can infer the reporter is attacking the administration for designing a policy that is absolutely foolproof.
The editor that approved this story evidently didn’t think the report was sufficiently explicit to warrant a revision. The publisher who hired the editor evidently didn’t think the editor should have rejected the article submitted as a report. And the academic teaching journalism and reading the New York Times evidently didn’t think it was an issue that he as a journalism teacher should consider significant. Is this an honest way to look at what is to be considered news?
If a journalism teacher received this report in class would it be granted a high grade? Or in the class room would the professor point out that strictly speaking these additions and conclusions are not strictly reporting but editorializing. If he did not mark down for this, just what would he be teaching? And if he knowingly overlooked this misleading reporting, what could he claim for his professionalism and honesty?
This is one small sample of distortion that many feel, but do not quite know what is wrong. They simply know it isn’t right and they are quite correct. This is what has led to a cry of media bias. It was not just the open editorializing which is fine. As long as it is declared to be an evaluation or an opinion it holds no factual weight. But when these “opinions” are sneaked into the reports under the auspices of factual findings, it becomes a dishonest attempt to publish what the reporter ( or his editor) would like to see instead of what has been observed. A reporter’s job is to report. Editorialists have the job of interpreting, evaluating and offering their opinions about the news. A simple delineation of job responsibilities that should not overlap. Editors that want to see substantiation of their preconceived notions in print submitted by reporters whose work they are charged with approving have a solemn judicial responsibility to honestly evaluate the submitted report for objectivity. Otherwise there is no need for either of the two jobs. If news is not true and editors are not judicious, what good will it do to read fish wrap?
It is a natural thing for writers to want to portray things that will lead to the kind of world they want to live in. But first there must be an identification and a reporting of the world as it is. This is the benchmark that we can point to for improvement. We cannot point to pie in the sky projections as things that exist and need remedy. And this is why agendas and honesty must meld in such a way that the news is not compromised. For otherwise the news is simply the equivalent of idle chatter at the corner cafe. Some truth, some opinion and a difficulty determining which is which.