Consumers like you and I love a good story so news outlets feed us articles that more often entertain than actually inform. And they do this all while adhering to a form of unbiased reporting — getting the story from both sides and giving each party a fair hearing — which is great, except when it isn’t. What happens when a news item doesn’t have two equivalent sides such that reporting on the story makes a reporter sound biased? Recent coverage of the federal government shutdown forced journalists to confront this question and the reporting that has resulted from this confrontation has led to something quite the opposite of unbiased and truthful reporting.
“One party (in fact, essentially one wing of the Republican party), seeking the elimination or delay of Obamacare, precipitated a government shutdown and threatened to force a default on U.S. debt. Period. There was no corresponding threat or demand on the Democratic or White House side; having gotten the Affordable Care Act into law three years ago, they are not in the situation of saying, “Pass Obamacare or we shut ‘er down.”
That’s the situation. To accurately describe it, as news coverage should, is not to endorse an ideology. It’s not to say that Obamacare is good or bad. It’s not to say that Republicans do or don’t have good reasons to oppose it. It’s not to say that Democrats have or haven’t sought political benefit in the aftermath. But it correctly places the impetus where it belongs.”
Or, as Bob Garfield from the Guardian put it: “Journalists should be unbiased, yes, but not brainless”
Perhaps some journalists need a refresher on the the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:
“Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.” (bold added for emphasis)
The terms “bias” or “both sides” (of a story) don’t even show up in the Code of Ethics. Journalists, in their pursuit of political correctness and constructing the two* sides of every issue, have lost sight of journalism’s core mission. Shutdown coverage illustrated just how far some journalists have swayed from it. And though many blame Congress for exacerbating stubborn partisanship and not facilitating a collaborative discussion about policy issues, people should also put some of that blame on journalists for not telling the story as is and, thus, hindering Americans from having an unadulterated understanding of the issue.