ZACHARY: Truth is we are all biased

By Jim Zachary 

We all bring biases to everything we do in life. 

None of us are completely unbiased. 

That does not mean we resign ourselves to being self-centered, self-promoting, selfish and self-interested.

It is simply an acknowledgement that we are all products of our environment, upbringing, education, circle of friends, faith or a myriad of other influences. 

Having biases does not mean we must be unfair, unjust or unkind. 

Recognizing our biases can go a long way toward making us more fair, just and accepting of others. 

Journalists are challenged to write from a place of principle rather than politics.

It is a bit of a misnomer when we speak of a totally unbiased press. 

Biases factor into which stories we cover, what stories make in on the front page, the size of the headline and even how long or short the story is and what elements we include in our writing. 

If we do our jobs well, we will not be biased toward a political party, newspaper allies, big business or particular government or community leaders. 

We will treat everyone equally and fairly. 

We will not manipulate facts or try to alter truth. 

Still, there are things about which journalists should be very biased.

We must have a bias for free speech. 

We must have a bias for public expression. 

We must have a bias for the First Amendment. 

Not everyone values, or believes in, the power of the press, the importance of free speech and the need for a robust marketplace of ideas, but the press must be bent toward all those things. 

So yes, we have a real bias when it comes to protecting and upholding the First Amendment. 

When it comes to extolling the importance of the freedom of speech and of the press, there is no reason any journalist should ever apologize for those biases.

Government transparency and our First Amendment freedoms are first cousins. Journalists should always be very biased when it comes to open government.

The three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — are supposed to provide checks and balances on each other but our toxic two-party system has all but destroyed that system of checks and balances with lawmakers who either blindly support the executive branch or oppose everything that comes out of the executive branch and judges who are beholden to whichever party placed them on the bench. 

That leaves the Fourth Estate — an open, free and unfettered press — as the only true check on government.

Journalists must have a bias against government corruption at all levels, regardless of whether our governors are conservative or progressive. 

Some biases are good. 

Other biases, such as racism and misogyny, are inherently and absolutely wrong. 

There is no justification, whatsoever, for those types of bias. 

Being bent toward the truth and biased for fact-based reporting, however, is something for which none of us should be apologetic, but sometimes when reporters report the truth and it does not align with someone’s politics the reporter is unjustly accused of having a political bias. 

While all bias is not bad, journalists work everyday to avoid political bias.

It is not possible to be completely free of bias, but it is both possible and necessary to be honest and fair when reporting the news. 

Day in and day out that is exactly what the vast majority of journalists do. 

 

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is the editor The Valdosta Daily Times and Tifton Gazette. 

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