Sunday, February 18, 2007

Op-Ed: Give Me Opinions or Give Me Death

By Justin Lane-Briggs

"Fair and balanced"? You know that's a laugh. Fox News has been its own punch line for years. But maybe the joke's on us.

At the very least, Fox's slogan has captured our imaginations and left us swooning to the ridiculous notion that journalism actually can be objective. Have we always been so gullible?

In these troubled, mud-slinging times, pundits and talking heads accuse each other of being biased, editors worry about too much editorializing the news, and the conservative watchdog group Accuracy in Media (AIM) has been specifically monitoring PBS programs for a "liberal bias" and "anti-American" sentiments. Even Tony Snow has been slammed for selling a slanted point of view from his White House podium. Come on, people, it's the White House! Of course the story's gonna come out skewed!

Lack of objectivity in the news is hardly newsworthy. Journalists have been making headlines for their pointed commentaries for as long as there have been headlines to make.

"Newspaper reporters and readers of the 1890s were much less concerned with distinguishing among fact-based reporting, opinion and literature," noted news historian Michael Robertson, in David Nasaw's biography *The Chief: William Randolph Hearst* of that preeminent paragon of publishing. Hearst himself is rumored to have helped start wars in foreign lands in order
to criticize the government's response to them in his newspapers.

At one time, papers proudly declared their political allegiances; Democratic readers knew to read reports in a Republican rag a little warily. But it's harder to fool a man who knows you're trying. Maybe that's why everyone's accusing each other of having opinions -- they're hoping to draw attention away from their own.

Now I'll admit, we still have magazines with an open and unapologetic approach to their editorial bent, like *The Nation* and *The Economist*, but these are relatively extreme examples. It's only a matter of time before they come with warning labels on the covers, reminding potential perusers that this literature MAY CONTAIN IDEAS AND OPINIONS.

With all this worry over who's telling us the whole truth and nothing but, we're forgetting the trick to reading what other people wrote: you gotta think about it afterwords. Perhaps I overestimate most people's ability to do that, but with all this concern about keeping opinions out of our press, it seems to me that readers of today must be even lazier than they were yesterday (if that's possible).

So let's get some exercise for a change. Try this. Next time you read an article, no matter how biased it might seem, take a moment, do some breathing, and ask yourself, "What do I make of this?" Now that you have your own opinion, does it really still bother you that the writer had one, too?

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