Off the Cuff: September 2012

The outrageously fast news cycle of today's media has given way to controversy and playing to liberal causes over presenting fair-minded perspectives as winning strategy, and we're all suffering for it.

For almost all of my life, I’ve been involved with journalism–depending on newspapers and magazines for most of my information, delivered with an evenhanded view of what is going on in the world. Every journalist has a personal point of view, of course, but we once could rely on certain standards, where opposing views were at least given their due. But it now seems that even mainstream media impose a biased perspective on the news rather than reporting it objectively–without “fear or favor,” as New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs stated a century ago. Something important has been lost, and I no longer trust the way news is reported by most media in this country.

Recently, Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain, has been lambasted by some politicians because of his fervent and quite public views opposing gay marriage. The New York Times ran an editorial critical of politicians who would like to ban the company from their cities. But there was an odd omission: The Times mentioned “one Chicago alderman” critical of Chick-fil-A but left out Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had made pointed comments hammering Dan Cathy. Why would an alderman be referenced but someone as prominent as Emanuel not be named?

Rahm Emanuel, of course, was Barack Obama’s chief of staff, and I believe the Times’s coverage of the President has always been slanted: Positive stories get played up; negative stories are buried or not written at all. So it seems likely that the paper avoided criticizing Emanuel because of his Obama connection, and that is infuriating.

It would be nice to get both sides. And as far as conservative outlets, I’m exhausted by Fox News and the absurd blather of conservative talk radio. Probably our most down-the-middle newspaper of substance is the Wall Street Journal. Dominated by business and finance, the Journal would seem to naturally slant right of center. Yet recently the paper ran an op-ed by President Obama on the threat of cyber attacks. There’s nothing particularly odd about that. But these days, can you imagine the New York Times running an essay by Mitt Romney?

Most American media have favored liberal causes for a long time, of course, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. I’ve known scores of journalists over the years, and almost all of them seem to get into the business because they want to right the wrongs of the world.

That’s an admirable impulse; today, the problem lies in journalists coating themselves in the armor of truth when they’re really giving you their version of it. Worse yet, their obsessive embrace of political correctness prevents any honest discussion of the serious problems facing all of us.

The heyday of American journalism–the fervent idea of speaking truth to p­ower–emerged out of the Watergate scandal under Richard Nixon. But the romantic impulse of young journalists to right wrongs has been undermined by an outrageously fast news cycle in which creating controversy and playing to liberal causes trumps fair-minded perspective. No wonder most Americans have long believed that the mainstream press is biased.

So why does the New York Times still take the position of giving us “All the news that’s fit to print,” as the paper continues to brag in the upper left corner of page one? A century ago, the declaration of principles that Times publisher Adolph Ochs wrote for his paper was moving: “To give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.” Unfortunately, that was a long, long time ago.