The Facebook post seemed innocent enough.
“Remember back in the day when facts were just facts and people didn’t argue them because they were facts?” it read. “That was pretty cool.”
I was inclined to agree, so I clicked the like button, and then someone else did and someone else, and before you knew it, the likes on that post had reached double digits.
Then came a comment.
“Yes and I even remember when news was just the facts/news – and you formed your own opinion!!” the post read. “Good times. I miss Walter Cronkite.”
I felt my profession under attack, and I struggled over how to respond. Or whether to respond at all.
I see far too many people these days labeling the news media as biased.
Part of the problem is social media. Lots of things get shared on the various platforms, and it’s not always obvious what is news and what is opinion.
Now and then someone responds to my column by accusing me of taking sides, and I have to shake my head.
“I’m a columnist,” I say. “Taking sides is what columnists do.”
And let’s be honest. No one is truly unbiased. We’re all human beings, and we all have opinions.
The best any journalist can do in pursuing a news story is to set any opinions aside and examine the story from multiple points of view.
Cable news is part of the problem. The news itself is generally pretty straight forward. Reporters usually do a pretty good job of laying out the facts without taking sides.
But then the talking heads step in, and the line between commentary and news begins to blur. The hosts offer their own take, and then they bring in a panel of experts to provide analysis on the news of the day. Many of those experts have their own agendas, and even the journalists who reported the story find themselves in the middle of a partisan discussion.
We could all likely do with a little bit less of that.
And then, of course, there’s the adversarial role of the news media. A journalist’s job is to ask questions the people in power don’t necessarily want to answer. And when a politician dodges a question, good reporters will ask the question again. And again.
Sometimes journalists asking tough questions might come off looking biased, but that bias generally is in favor of the taxpayer, the voter, the person that public servant ultimately works for.
And journalists ask those questions every day. They do it not just in the White House and the halls of Congress, but at police stations and at city council meetings and at lots of other places in communities large and small across the country.
Sometimes, the stories those journalists produce are pretty simple. Other times they involve lots of digging and countless interviews.
In the good old days when Walter Cronkite was giving us the evening news, the kind of in-depth reporting our democracy relies on came a little easier than it does today. Newspapers had bigger staffs, and lots of communities had more than one newspaper.
Now, some communities have no newspaper at all. Print circulation is declining, and more and more people are convinced the news should be free.
It’s a tough time to be a journalist, and the work often goes unappreciated.
There’s no question consumers should choose their news sources carefully. I feel obligated to point out, though, that facts are still facts, and we all still have the ability to form our own opinions. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is playing politics.
And that’s a fact.