With the pronounced partisanship and overwhelming Democratic victory in the recent election, the media has once again come under fire for being biased. To counter this perception of a liberal bias, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell has suggested that newspapers use a political litmus test when hiring reporters. The editorial board of The Miami Student believes this measure would not be effective in addressing the purported problem.
A balanced newsroom is not a solution to bias in the media. To begin with, it assumes that journalists’ personal biases intrude into their stories. Journalists are trained to probe and pry and ultimately to get the story. Whatever their political leanings, journalists’ goal is to learn as much information as possible in pursuit of the truth.
Furthermore, the majority of reporting is not always political. Because newspapers cover all aspects of society, it makes little sense to base a hiring decision on the political views of the applicant. Does it matter if the police beat reporter is conservative or liberal?
Even in political stories, bias is not simply black and white. The dominant bias in the media is neither liberal nor conservative. Rather, the media is biased in favor of conflict since these stories attract a large audience. Moreover, rarely are there only two contending sides to a story. Although it easy to comprehend a story when presented with two opposing stances, issues are often much more nuanced. It is not the two extremes, but the middle ground between the two that suffers from lack of attention.
With all this considered, we also believe that the recent move by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine in an attempt to break the conservative dominance in talk radio is misguided. The legislation would be costly, forcing the media to spend both time and resources to ensure that both sides have equal time to voice their opinions. Balance does not necessarily equate to fairness. When a majority agrees, presenting the minority opinion as having equal weight can be deceiving. It distorts reality and leads the public farther from the truth.
We feel that these efforts to try to affect fairness and reduce bias in a top-down manner would be ineffective and are unnecessary.