What media bias?

Frank Yonkof

About two weeks ago, I logged onto KentNewsNet.com to catch up on campus news only to be surprised that people were still commenting on my very first column, “Rise of the radical right” (Sept. 4).

“While we are speaking of bias, I see quite a bit of that in your article. You are in the right profession, you will go far,” said the commenter only known as “mimi.”

“Have you contributed anything to the Stater that hasn’t been a biased smear piece against conservative thought?” said another commenter named “Observant.”

Now, any anonymous person can write a 400-word diatribe from the safety of their home computer, so I generally don’t put much thought into commenters who criticize my columns. Everyone is entitled to share his or her own opinion on the site.

But I find myself surprised, along with many other people in the newsroom, that college students (and presumably older adults) do not have a clear understanding of what the forum page actually is. Former Stater editor Tim Magaw even listed this as No. 3 on his bulleted list of pet peeves last semester.

Like almost every newspaper across the country, the Stater’s forum page gives columnists (like me) a chance to express their own opinions. How a columnist can be objective when their job is to discuss their own opinion is beyond me.

Truth be told, the forum page is intended to work as a two-way forum. So all of those critics are free to write in and “set the record straight” with either a letter or guest column. Better yet, you can even apply to be a columnist yourself next semester. Just e-mail me if you are interested and I’ll make sure you get an application when it comes out.

While it is easy to claim that a columnist is not objective, the deeper issue at heart is how often people will use “media bias” as a defense to an actual news source they don’t like.

Everyone knows that Fox News and MSNBC are a journalistic joke, and columns must certainly never be considered “news.” But the legitimate sources of news – CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS – are all constantly under fire from people who claim bias.

A classic example this week was the Associated Press’ fact-check on Sarah Palin’s new book, “Going Rogue.”

“Amazingly, but not surprisingly, the AP somehow nabbed a copy of the book before it was released,” wrote the former Alaska governor on her Facebook page. “They’re now erroneously reporting on the book’s contents and are repeating many of the same things they spewed during the campaign and afterwards. We’ve heard 11 writers are engaged in this opposition research, er, ‘fact checking’ research!”

Personal thoughts aside, Sarah Palin wrote a book, which can basically be described as a tell-all memoir. So those in the media have the right, if not the obligation, to fact-check statements she made in that book. They do the same thing every time Michael Moore comes out with a new movie, and he gets mad, too.

Reading both the CNN and AP fact checks, I can assure you that the journalists actually did their jobs. When someone like Sarah Palin comes along and skews facts, quotes and events, it is a journalist’s responsibility to ask questions and inform people of those misrepresentations.

Remember when the United States first invaded Iraq back in 2003, and practically no reporter did a fact-check on the Bush administration’s weapons of mass destruction claim? Many people later saw this as one of journalism’s biggest failures.

“One of the most frustrating things about this Bush administration is that every time a reporter asked a question they didn’t like, they called the reporter a fool,” said Sheppard Smith, the only remaining Fox News anchor with an ounce of journalistic integrity.

Unfortunately, these media critics have a set way of thinking, and anything that goes against that mindset must obviously be biased and untrue. If more people had a better understanding of the media, then perhaps they would realize that most bias claims are false.

Frank Yonkof is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].