Truth Versus “Fair and Balanced”

January 1, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Dear Donald Rieck and the Center for Media and Public Affairs,
While interesting, I’m worried that your election study showing FOX to be the most “fair and balanced” in election coverage uses a conservative definition of the media.

Conservatives and FOX News would argue that to be “fair and balanced” means only giving equal time and equal positive and negative coverage to all respective candidates.

On the surface, this may seem fair and balanced. And in an election, it is important to provide coverage of each candidate’s position. But the more fundamental question is, is the role of the media simply to parrot back what each side says?

Consider an example. President Bush says that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and we should go to war. Democrats object and say that there’s not enough reason to go to war.

Should the media simply report what both sides say? The issue with this view is that any search for an objective truth is lost. In a conservative world, all that matters is that equal time is given to the Democratic and Republican side of an issue. The search to find out which is supported by facts is lost.

The preamble to the Society of Professional Journalists‘ Code of Ethics states:The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. In an election, the role of the media should be to help citizens determine which candidate would make the best President. Part of this responsibility should be to allow equal airtime to candidates to express their views. But that should be only a small part of the overall coverage.

The rest should be analysis. Think about if you were interviewing a candidate for a job. You’d want to know what that candidate has done in the past, you’d want references, you’d want to hear how they would respond to certain situations. Then, you would make an objective recommendation based on the issues that are most important to Americans.

This analysis has been all but neglected in recent years as conservatives have played the victim and claimed that the media is ignoring them. In response, reporters seem to have grown afraid to provide objective analysis and have merely been mouthing back what each side says.

There may be a reason, for example, that one candidate receives more negative coverage. Perhaps this candidate does not have the best resume to serve the public need.

If the media is simply going to transcribe what each side says, the public loses a valuable resource and cornerstone of our Democracy. Now I know that “truth” is subjective, but I would rather see a media that is searching for the truth and trying to serve the public, than a media that is simply going to write down whatever is said to them and then provide equal positive and negative remarks.