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home : most recent : statewide implications October 18, 2018

9/24/2018 5:22:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Facing up to the charge of bias

Kelly Hawes, Pharos-Tribune CNHI News Indiana Columnist

My claim last week that media bashing had hit a new low drew some reaction.

One reader argued it was the mainstream media that had reached a new low.

"Their excessive negative coverage, story selection and description has created a chasm that will take years to erase," he said. "Your so-called journalists have abandoned their roles and entered into the area of pundits. Experts they are not. They should report the news, unbiased, and let us ignorant citizens determine how we want to view the importance of it." 

He has a point. Reporters appearing on news shows often move from observers to commentators, and the shift makes it difficult for viewers to see them as objective.

Another reader said the most significant line in my column involved regaining the public trust.

"We don't trust you, and reporters that reinforce that sense of distrust do exist," he wrote. "They exist in The New York Times as well."

I asked for examples, and he mentioned Jayson Blair, a reporter who left The Times in 2003 after being caught making up some stories and plagiarizing others.

"That was a dark moment in the history of The Times, but it underlines my point," I said. "People who make up stories get fired, and they become infamous for their transgressions."

He was unimpressed.

"I'm sure in your 'superior,' self-serving opinion you believe you have defended your journalistic integrity," he wrote. "What you have done is solidify my opinion of what I and many believe are out-of-touch, self-appointed protectors of society."

Another reader objected to my use of the word "venerable" to describe The Times. "Venerable," he reminded me, means "worthy of respect."

"I think millions upon millions of Americans do not believe the news media in general is worthy of respect," he wrote. "Too much distorting stories, fake news."

He mentioned an internet meme of CNN's Anderson Cooper in waist-deep water as his cameraman stood in the foreground on comparatively dry ground. The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had been among those sharing that photo on Twitter.

"It's a shame that CNN's ratings are down 41%," Trump Jr.'s tweet read. "What's worse is there's a simple solution that they refuse to accept. Stop Lying to try to make @realDonaldTrump look bad."

Cooper fired back, noting that the image was 10 years old, having been captured in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

"I don't expect the president's son to ever admit that he was wrong or one of the president's advisers or frankly anyone else who's retweeted any of these pictures," Cooper said. "But I at least thought that they and you should know the truth." 

Trump Jr. did not disappoint. He said the tweet, fired off in the midst of CNN's storm coverage, wasn't really about the storm. It was about the network's dwindling ratings.

"You guys can't even fact check a meme," he tweeted. "The illusion created by the pic is illustrative of the bs you sell!"

And yet it really wasn't. In his response, Cooper replayed the segment in which he had pointed out the varying depths of water. His whole point, he said, had been to warn viewers that water could go from inches deep to feet deep in just a short distance.

In responding to the reader, I acknowledged that broadcast journalists do sometimes look silly wading into floodwaters or standing in a driving rain. Still, I said, the meme was just plain wrong.

After some back and forth, the reader conceded I might be right.

"I think both sides, at times, want a certain narrative out there (and forget about those pesky facts)," he wrote.

I'll take that as progress.

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