Monday, March 22, 2004


I don't like to write about work, but it's that season again. The season when I pick up the phone at the office and the caller will immediately say something cryptic and snide. I've learned over the years to decipher these calls as meaning that we've aired a story that somehow offended this person. They invariably assume I automatically know what they're talking about, and without fail I never do. It usually takes several minutes for me to calm them down enough so they can explain what they heard and why they are upset about it. Almost always the gist of the situation is that they think we made their favorite political candidate look bad, or we made the candidate they hate look good.

Over the years I've often been accused of being an extremist. Depending on the caller I'm either an extreme liberal or an extreme conservative. I figure the calls usually balance out so I must be doing a fairly decent job of presenting equal viewpoints.

Yet, whenever I'm asked if the news media is biased my answer is, "Yes, of course."

I'm a member of the news media. I'm biased. I'd be biased if I were a trash collector, or a shoe salesman too. Journalists who claim they are unbiased are either robots or they're fooling themselves. Everything I write has to come from my perspective because as far as I know, and psychiatrists have checked, I'm the only one occupying my brain.

I'm a parent, a Christian, a taxpayer, a homeowner, a dog owner, and a Texan. All of these things, and many others, influence my writing. So yes, I'm biased.

What I try not to be is deceitful by injecting my opinions into news stories I write either overtly or by omission. I wish I could say the same for members of the media who are far higher up than me on the journalistic food chain, but I see it every day.

Last week ABC news ran results of a poll . For the most part, I refuse to run poll results as news stories because we're rarely given the methodology used or more importantly the wording of the questions asked. This particular survey was taken in Iraq in conjunction with the 1 year anniversary of the beginning of that nation's liberation. It asked Iraqis if they thought the U.S. military presence was still needed in their country. I forget the exact results, but the overall response without breaking the numbers down by geographic or religious associations showed 48 percent of Iraqis said yes, and 39 percent said no. I ran the story, but I had to edit it because the reporter framed the results - and I'm paraphrasing a bit - this way, " The responses show 48 percent of Iraqis are thankful for the U.S. military being in their country, with 39 percent disagreeing....hardly the overwhelming support U.S. military and White House officials would like the public to believe." I edited out that last part, since it seemed to me to be opinion, not fact or even analysis.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but it's not. When President Bush started his campaign in earnest a few weeks ago, ABC consistently referred to expectations that the President was going to start targeting John Kerry for criticism as "negative remarks in the President's stump speech" Yet, each day when I receive audio bites of John Kerry invariably there is one included where he is exhorting a crowd of supporters to chant, "Bring them on!". It's always a different city, a different crowed, but it's the same speech each time. Although that's exactly what it is, ABC has never framed it as Kerry's "stump speech."

Now, former White House counter terrorism advisor Richard Clarke is getting a lot of ink with his criticisms of the Bush administration. 60 Minutes ran a lengthy interview Sunday. ABC and the other networks dutifully tagged along today.

ABC radio couldn't run audio from 60 minutes (CBS), so it did what it apparently considered the next best thing. The network ran cuts of Wesley Clark, the former Democratic presidential candidate commenting on the allegations. This is the most unbiased person they could find. I couldn't stop laughing. I also couldn't air the audio.

Quite frankly, I'm hard pressed to call it journalism when news people put a microphone in front of someone so they can make "new allegations" which coincidentally are also being released in their book hitting store shelves that same day. I'd prefer we make these people buy commercial time to advertise their books instead, but I'm probably showing my bias as a capitalist. If so, I'm sure someone will call to berate me for it.