In a somewhat stunning vindication of long-standing suspicions of a liberal bias in traditional news media, the public editor at The New York Times recently wrote a column openly stating that “the paper’s many departments … share a kind of political and cultural progressivism.” The editor further stated that “this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.”
Further, while disagreeing with her colleague’s assessment of the Times, the newspaper’s executive editor admitted that “in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base.” In other words, yes, The New York Times does have a liberal bias on some social and cultural issues, but this is because its customer base tends to be liberal.
Now I have to say that there is nothing wrong with having a preconceived political philosophy or worldview, or in catering to your customers’ political views … it is a free market, after all. Neither of those things means that someone can’t be objective (i.e. report the facts and be fair to the other side). Nor does either disqualify someone from doing good work to inform people about political or social issues. As someone who works in an openly conservative organization, I speak from experience, and indeed some try to dismiss anything Sutherland does because it is honest about its political philosophy. Usually these are people who disagree with that philosophy.
But there is something wrong with having a political philosophy or worldview – or catering to the particular philosophy or worldview of your customers – while being deceptive to both yourself and others by trying to hide that worldview behind a claim of objectivity, as if that worldview does not matter. Of course your philosophy and/or the worldview you’re catering to matters, and as human beings none of us (including journalists) are perfectly able to prevent those views from influencing what we do. And hiding/avoiding that fact only means you are blinding yourself to the possible ways in which your worldview is creating a bias in your approach to a given issue.
It is refreshing to see some in the news media show some honesty about their own thinking – even if it is only because a colleague forces their hand. Hopefully, others in the media will follow their lead and open up about their political beliefs and thinking and/or how they are catering to the political thinking of their customers. Then they will be able to see (and compensate for) how their chosen political philosophy naturally pushes them to be unfair to the other side … and there will be new opportunities for increasingly honest and open dialogue about political and social issues.