Covering all the biases
There has been a lot of loose talk lately about bias in the media. I’m a proud member of the fourth estate — have been for nearly half a century. And I have plenty of biases, great and small.
I like puppies. Cats not so much. I prefer ice hockey to field hockey, asparagus to okra, and just on and on. But I try my best to keep my predilections from creeping into my reporting—as opposed to my opinion pieces, rants like this one where it’s “Katie, bar the door!”
I must confess, however, that I am not perfect. Neither, by the way, are you, dear readers.
Readers have biases, too, and some of you, like some editors and reporters, are lazy. I started my journalism career editing a weekly newspaper and 48 years later I am still editing a weekly newspaper, albeit not the same one. As an editor and freelance writer I have encountered biases and significant sloth on both the giving and receiving end of published news.
Let’s start with me. I am an abominable and lazy orthographer. In an early opus I spelled prune this way in a sentence: “The ladies of the garden club met in the cemetery to proon the shrubbery.” In my defense, prune does rhyme with swoon, which the garden clubbers did after reading my story. This was prior to spell check, which doesn’t always help either, of course.
Recently, I wrote a photo caption stating that the chamber of commerce president was bestowing “a plague” on a local businessman. I meant plaque, of course, but both are bona fide English words so spell check did not ride to the rescue. In my defense, I was only off by one letter.
Now, it’s your turn, dear readers. Just the other month I was editing a letter to the editor (me) of the East Haddam News —a relatively new print weekly, and doing quite well, thank you very much —and I found several assertions in it that I suspected were patently false. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.” And I did. I proceeded to point out the inaccuracies to the author (they were on the order of two plus two equals seven), then asked him if he would like to revise his letter based on these revelations. He didn’t question my research; he simply responded lazily, “No, I’m good.”
Well, I wasn’t good with it, and appended a brief editor’s note to his missive. I’m not running Facebook or Twitter here. A good newspaper is a curated source of reliable fare, not a bunch of people throwing fists full of undercooked spaghetti at the wall to see if any of it sticks.
Another letter writer insisted that a recent cabinet nominee of our new president should be rejected for disseminating an offensive Tweet. I was pretty sure that the gentleman had the right Tweet but the wrong Tweeter, so I asked him to provide me with evidence of his assertion. No need for that, he insisted, he knew what he knew, was totally confident about it, end of story.
I sent him a link that showed his complaint applied, chapter and verse, to another person, and not to the one he was maligning. I never heard from him again.
Being accurate and getting things right —not to mention being unbiased— is hard, and you and I are fond of short cuts. We don’t read books, newspapers and magazines like our parents and grandparents did. We watch a lot of television, even use it to babysit our children. We elected a man to lead us in 2016 who watched a lot of TV while on the job. How many of you get to watch TV at work?
When we’re not watching TV our noses are buried in our phones. Being intellectually lazy, we frequent websites and information sources that confirm our biases. We have started to hang out with like-minded people.
Listening and considering new information or points of view is so doggone hard. Like the letter-writer above, we know what we know and that’s all we need to know. No other information need apply.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.
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