I’ve been buried under reading for my classes, and grading student papers, but I have been keeping at least one eye on the media. One night last week, I had to triple-task between the debates, the Yankees, and a stack of papers.
Last week, Daniel Okrent, the Times Public Editor, addressed the question of whether or not the Times is biased toward one campaign or another. I generally tend to agree with his assessment, that no, it’s not particularly biased. But then, I also have to admit my liberal tendencies–an admission which may undermine my following argument, but then I don’t know what to do about that, except to ask for the reader’s trust.
This week, Okrent invited two guest columnists to fill his column. Of course, neither of these columnists agreed with Okrent, which was both predictable, and Okrent’s point. Todd Gitlin, a sociologist and journalism professor at Columbia, took the liberal approach, using the argument that being overly “balanced” tipped things in Bush’s direction.
Bob Kohn wrote from the Right. He wrote that while the Times may make a good effort to accurately portray Bush’s approach to policy, the paper undercuts that evenness by running articles about political issues that fall solidly on the side Bush is not on.
My response to both arguments is the same, and one I have expressed in this space before. One side of an issue can actually be the wrong side of the issue, and mere stenography–which is what Gitlin is accusing the Times of committing–does a disservice to the public. I agree with this, but I direct Gitlin toward Kohn’s point. The Times may be committing stenography when it covers what Bush says, but in its surrounding coverage, that error is mitigated. The man, after all, is technically President of the United States, and what he says deserves to be heard, whether or not it is agreed with.
In two other notes, the Times Magazine this week ran what I had thought until today was the most important non-covered story of the Presidential election, which is the full story, so much as anyone can access it, of Bush’s faith and its effect on government policy. Frank Rich writes about the Bush administration’s closed-door press policy, and does so much better than I could, so I leave the story to him.