Is It Possible to be Objective Covering Politics?

Dear Stumped:

As a journalism major at Temple University, I am troubled by the lack of objectivity in much of the election news coverage this campaign season. Is it possible to be completely objective when covering politics? At my liberal campus, none of my classmates even realize they aren't being objective. I defend Republicans just because no one is representing them. It makes me sad. What do you think?

Manuel Agurto

Dear Manuel:

No one is truly objective, but it is possible to cover an election objectively, even if you as an individual reporter have a point of view.

It's likely that a majority of mainstream media reporters and editors will vote Democratic today. As Michael Kinsley and others have noted, journalism tends to attract more liberals - reflecting the political leanings of their circulation areas. But those who strive for objectivity in their work (which I, as an opinion journalist, do not) may actually be tougher on the parties and candidates they prefer in their personal life -- partly because they are overcompensating for their beliefs, and partly because it is easier to be disappointed, and even annoyed, at your own "team" when it falters or doesn't do what you want it to do. No one is harsher in criticizing the Pittsburgh Steelers, my team, as I am when they mess up. The media's brutal coverage of the early days of the Clinton White House in the early '90s may prove a similar point.

That said, you are right that an increasing number of media outlets are no longer trying to practice "old school" objective journalism. The media audience is increasingly fragmented, with consumers obtaining news and information from sources that tend to reaffirm their point of view. Partisan blogs are the best example of this trend, but the 2008 election cycle will also be remembered as the election that exacerbated this trend in television.

Fox News has long been the model for successful, opinionated TV news coverage, and this year MSNBC, a long-struggling channel, embraced the model from the other end of the spectrum, naming leftist pundits to anchor primetime news shows -- much to the dismay of traditionalists within the larger NBC News family. Agree with the move or not, MSNBC has become a more relevant player this election cycle, boasting higher ratings as a result of its newfound liberal bias. And to further undermine the thesis that identity necessarily determines bias in media, bear in mind that many of the top General Electric executives signing off on MSNBC's business strategy are probably Republicans.

Dear Stumped:

How can the media claim to be un-biased toward either candidate when coverage toward McCain is 60-70 percent negative and coverage toward Obama is 20-30 percent negative? The only exception seems to be Fox News, which had 40 percent negative coverage of both candidates. Maybe Fox really is fair and balanced?

Larry Anderson

Dear Larry:

Good related question. But I have to disagree with your premise that in a world of objective news coverage each candidate would receive the same dosage of "positive" and "negative" coverage. Bias can be perceived when two similarly situated candidates are treated differently, or when a double standard is applied to analogous situations. But when one team plays better than the other, it makes no sense to expect both candidates to be treated the same. I'm sure if you studied last year's national coverage of the NFL, my Steelers, who made it to the playoffs, received more "positive" coverage than the Miami Dolphins, who won only managed to win one game all season. That's not because the sports media is biased against the Dolphins. The coverage simply reflects the team's performance.

In this election cycle, Barack Obama's campaign has been the more impressive operation, in terms of the consistency of its message, the candidate's equanimity under pressure, its fundraising prowess and so on. John McCain's campaign, meanwhile, has been sloppy in both branding its candidate and executing on any kind of consistent strategy. Stories about McCain's marginal vetting of Sarah Palin are a good case in point. And given the mismatch we've seen, it would be odd if media coverage consisted of an equal ratio of "positive" to "negative" stories for both campaigns.

Dear Stumped:

As a high school student in Los Angeles, I unfortunately can't vote today, but I'm wondering if you have noticed a shift, whereby more people are making their choice of presidential candidates based on issues of character rather than just acting on the traditional red-state, blue-state divide?

Faith Harding

Dear Faith:

According to Gallup surveys, perhaps a quarter to a third of the electorate votes for a particular party based on policies and partisan leanings, without comparing the characters of the two candidates for president. But an equally large slice of the electorate (they tend to be people less engaged in politics on a regular basis) try to sum up the character of candidates, and make their decisions accordingly. The way this assessment is described shifts over time -- in 1980 voters were drawn to Ronald Reagan's "optimism" and the sense that he was "comfortable in his own skin"; in 2000 George Bush was the candidate voters most wanted to have a beer with. But Americans' interest in electing someone who is not only capable, but genuine, is consistent. And despite the red and blue divide on display in recent elections, I predict that in years when one candidate is deemed a clear winner on individual character traits, we will see a return to more lopsided election returns.

By Andres Martinez |  November 4, 2008; 12:00 AM ET
Previous: Why Can People Without ID's, and Ted Stevens, Vote? | Next: The Next Next President


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Gee, what a surprise that the liberal writer of this blog told that reader that members of his class can be objective while being liberal.

Posted by: kingsbridge77 | November 4, 2008 10:55 PM

I didn't realize watching Fox News made me non-thinking! Silly me, all this time I've considered myself well-informed, but really I was just being brain-washed! Oh the horror! Go figure, a 40/40 split in negative coverage=an anti-Obama bias!! Now this is left-wing math for you. Next time use a thesaurus and find a synonym for 'inherent' genius.

Posted by: burbworks | November 4, 2008 8:15 PM

Dear Stumped:

As a person who looks at the sky, I'm bothered by the fact that the sky is sometimes light and sometimes dark, but that it's light somewhat longer than it's dark. Shouldn't it stay dark half the time and light half the time? My friends talk about the sky without even noticing this discrepancy, which makes me sad. Even the local weatherman seems to favor the light, making a big deal out of the high temperatures and giving short shrift to the evening lows. I sure wish there was a weatherman that gave equal time to day and night. That would make me feel better, I think.

What do you think, Stumped? I can't think this through at all. I really need someone to guide me through really, really tough questions like "Is there a difference between choosing to be objective and not doing so?" or "Is bias properly expressed as a percentage" or "Do issues or character matter more to voters?"

Thank the heavens above for this column.

Posted by: afking | November 4, 2008 5:01 PM

My colleagues in academia have long held that journalism students are among the least intelligent university students. Separate journalism programs only exist because these people could not cut it in traditional writing or lit programs. For most of history, journalism was not even considered a skilled occupation. Patience, a lack of scruples, and the minimal ability to form complete sentences was and is all that is required.

It is useless to even argue about the objectivity or lack of it with regard to our society's intellectual rednecks.

These people do provide some service to society by listening to police scanners, chasing ambulances around, and schmoozing with government and industry officials at happy hours, because information does not flow freely. However, all that is required is to move little bits of information around into a "story" so that intelligent people--not they--can form their own opinions. I would be happy with a brainstorm of facts just to avoid the terrible, terrible writing.

Posted by: josiahSchmoe | November 4, 2008 4:43 PM

Someone's view of a reporters objectivity is inherently going to be subjective. Clearly, many of the people posting on this board think that when they watch Fox News they are getting everything unfiltered and clear of bias, but it's anything of the sort. Likewise with MSNBC in contrast. CNN has been somewhat up the middle and I think they've most accurately captured the pulse of the American people who are, as polls suggest, leaning towards Obama. When news has a requirement of being entertaining (why else would you tune into CNN for longer than an hour for instance?), that's where the need for the drama that is inherent to bias comes from.

The "liberal mainstream media" is a construct of the GOP and the Christian Conservative movement that has indoctrinated their followers with the dogmatic view that everything is tilted to the left. This creates a non-listening, dare I say, non-thinking mass of a voter block that will inherently distrust anything that has no come from the lips of Hannity or Limbaugh (the most impartial of "reporters", right?). The point is that the perception of bias is going to be biased itself.

Posted by: SteadyState | November 4, 2008 4:35 PM

There is no such thing as "impartial objectivity." Every idea, belief, and fact we hold are a result of whatever group we belong to creating them to suit the group. It would be much better if we all acknowledged that no group is impartial, that facts do not exist out somewhere as little chunks of knowledge, that our thinking is governed by the group we identify with, and that the best we can do is find some common agreement with other groups instead of arguing.

The big lie of objectivity, impartiality, and logic are why we have such a huge schism in politics and other social questions. Every group sees the world in its own way. Every group uses language as it sees fit. Words do not have pristine meanings; they have associated values with them.

Quit worrying about impartiality. Spend more time understanding how your group sees the world, and how other groups do not.

Posted by: mitchald1 | November 4, 2008 4:23 PM

MDDem1 wrote:
Wow. What a crock! ID the bias and then defend it because Fox News Election night coverage may lean to the right? Stumped must have gotten into his parents medicine cabinet! None of the Main Stream Media outlets brought up Aires, Wright, Fannie Mae, Resko, or Obama's "missing years". A total kneel and bob job applied to the Messiah by the press. (Hey..get a napkin, Stumped. You missed a bit there at the corner of your mouth.) Bottom line: I don't believe you.

Every Mainstream Media Station spent a great deal of time on these items. Perhaps you missed it, but as I recall this stuff was on for a WHILE during the primaries and then brought up AGAIN during the regular election as if somehow we hadn't heard of them before. Almost all of those items were fully vetted and factchecked to death. Just because they did not find him in the wrong does not mean they didn't cover it fully... clearly now you're showing your bias.

Posted by: SteadyState | November 4, 2008 4:22 PM

I think journalists should strive to be objective -- to me "opinion journalism" is a contradiction in terms, like "jumbo shrimp."

But some readers (and some journalists) don't seem to understand what objectivity means. It doesn't mean presenting an equal number of positive and negative stories about each of two candidates who are running for the presidency. It means presenting the facts about each, whether those facts are positive or negative. That McCain only met Palin once before choosing her as his running mate is a fact, for example. That fact may strike some people as reflecting badly on McCain's judgment, but what matters from a journalistic standpoint is that it is a fact, not its political implications. And reporting that fact does not automatically create the need to "balance" the reporting by coming up with a story about Biden that reflects badly on the Democratic ticket. Just the facts, please.


It is a fact that Obama took a $200,000 discount on his property from lobbyist and convicted criminal Antoin Rezko, who defrauded the Teachers Pension System and the Illinois Health Board. It is a fact that Rezko got a $3.5 million wire transfer during the same period from Nadhmi Auchi, the former arms dealer for Saddam Hussein.

Would you like to discuss these facts at length

How about the fact that Joe Biden's son was a millionaire lobbyist until shortly before the presidential campaign. Let's discuss these facts a little more.

Posted by: ttj1 | November 4, 2008 4:17 PM

Andres--at least you admit you are biased in favor of Obama. That, of course, invalidates your evaluation of McCain's campaign, but that is another matter. Also, your point about a change in media formats is a compelling argument.

All that aside, let's consider some things:

McCain was absolved in congress from any wrongdoing in the Keating affair.

Obama is an admitted former cocaine user (It's in his book). Some said he lied about that to "impress" fellow members of the black community, but a) either he is a user or b) he is a liar. He can't have it both ways.

Obama took a $200,000 discount on his house from a now convicted former fundraiser who cheated the Teachers Pension System and the Illinois Health Board. He admitted he got the house at a bargain rate.

Obama took a lot of campaign money from non-eligible sources.

Obama launched his career with a former terrorist, Bill Ayers, who actually bombed the U.S. capitol and the pentagon. No, he didn't talk about bombing like G. Gordon Liddy. Ayers actually did the bombing and said later he regretted not doing more.

Obama has less than one term of experience in Congress. McCain has six terms of experience.

When Obama did vote in the Illinois legislature, he often voted "present" to avoid taking a side on issues.

Palin was absolved of wrongdoing in the so-called "Troopergate Scandal."

McCain did not run to extend Bush's platform...McCain ran against Bush in the last election.

The major news outlets avoided discussing any of the above points at length. They effectively pushed Obama even knowing the flaws of his background.

You get what you vote for. Good luck to voters in the next four years.

Posted by: ttj1 | November 4, 2008 4:02 PM

Just the facts, please!We do need media suppression or want it, we just want lots of information from both sides.
I do like to read from those who have some background in what they are talking about, it seems to me todays journalists poise as know- it- alls! How about some reporting and less what the press thinks.
Below- I hope this still does not happen in the US!
My Aunt worked for the county in Jackson Mo. for many years and was required to pay the elected boss (Sermon) & (Pendergast) part of her wages to work there! The question she would never answer was why all the folk in the cemeteries of Mo Ill. vote Democrat? She did say that they were very determined voters!

Posted by: quamby | November 4, 2008 3:53 PM

Wow. What a crock! ID the bias and then defend it because Fox News Election night coverage may lean to the right? Stumped must have gotten into his parents medicine cabinet! None of the Main Stream Media outlets brought up Aires, Wright, Fannie Mae, Resko, or Obama's "missing years". A total kneel and bob job applied to the Messiah by the press. (Hey..get a napkin, Stumped. You missed a bit there at the corner of your mouth.) Bottom line: I don't believe you.

Posted by: MDDem1 | November 4, 2008 3:42 PM

"In this election cycle, Barack Obama's campaign has been the more impressive operation, in terms of the consistency of its message, the candidate's equanimity under pressure, its fundraising prowess and so on."

Hahahaha---this is how you justify bias? With more bias? You've seriously got to be kidding.

Posted by: _virginian_ | November 4, 2008 3:38 PM

Wow, what a condescending way to justify blatant bias. Calling McCain 1-15 and Obama a playoff team at least is, of course, inherently partial, notice the attempt to disarm with a contrite football analogy, sophomoric but largely effective.

The truth is the vast majority of tv and print media have been transparent Obama campaigners throughout this election.
We did we get from media? An unexplainable obsession over Palin’s wardrobe value, diminishment of voter fraud activities, (oh sorry, it was just registration fraud), as well as a hands off policy toward Obama’s shady past and questionable financial promises.

But sure, since McCain is a 1-15 dolt, it’s fine, in fact, Stumped & Co. are just telling it like it is.

Posted by: burbworks | November 4, 2008 3:21 PM

Manuel, et al,
Your answers have the wrong slant/emphasis. You focus on individual persons (e.g., reporters) being objective. Individual reporters can no more be objective than individual scientists, though both may attempt to be so. Objectivity is based on looking at some thing from various standpoints using various tools and techniques. That means objectivity is something a network of actors has or doesn't have, not individual actors within the network. An objective network provides alternative checks and validations. Which leads to more and better substantiated knowledge and understanding. No individual, no matter how much s/he wants to or how "broad minded" s/he is can ever do this.

Posted by: kenzimmerman | November 4, 2008 2:46 PM

Everything you read or see on TV is biased I just dopn't think we are aware enough to know how so. All of this liberal media talk is really a misdirection. The real bias is towards the pocketbooks of the owners of the television station. If they make money saying things that fire up the right they will - if the opposite is true that's where they'll be. Think about those fiancial investment shows. Every single person who appears is making a reccomendation to benefit themselves not you. The real problem is a public who is not self aware enough to be cynical towards these profit driven entities.

Posted by: bob29 | November 4, 2008 1:44 PM

To all those who have difficulty determining what is news, I can only suggest that you read up on what constitutes news and what constitutes propaganda. America is awash in propaganda.

News reports what is happening. Propaganda directs your attention to where someone with an agenda wants you to go.

As intelligent people, engaged in the task of self-governance, you're presumed to know the difference.

Posted by: Doubtom | November 4, 2008 1:35 PM

I think journalists should strive to be objective -- to me "opinion journalism" is a contradiction in terms, like "jumbo shrimp."

But some readers (and some journalists) don't seem to understand what objectivity means. It doesn't mean presenting an equal number of positive and negative stories about each of two candidates who are running for the presidency. It means presenting the facts about each, whether those facts are positive or negative. That McCain only met Palin once before choosing her as his running mate is a fact, for example. That fact may strike some people as reflecting badly on McCain's judgment, but what matters from a journalistic standpoint is that it is a fact, not its political implications. And reporting that fact does not automatically create the need to "balance" the reporting by coming up with a story about Biden that reflects badly on the Democratic ticket. Just the facts, please.

Posted by: | November 4, 2008 1:13 PM

With most reporters liberal... I keep hearing about the need for diversity in newsrooms. Asians, Latinos, blacks, lesbians and the left handed. Then why not some political diversity?

Posted by: WilliamColley | November 4, 2008 12:59 PM

I think it is very simple to be objective - if you're willing to offend everyone!

The key is to address the situation and not the people :
1. Where we are and where we want to go.
2. Agree on both these (which is what could be impossible).
3. Find out how to get there.

If you analyse all your discussions on the elections - you'll see that essentially these are the things you have been arguing on. ( Is America popular abroad ? Is distribution of wealth the goal or is equality of opportunity the goal ? What is legitimate pay for legitimate work ? etc.)

Being objective is easy. Being unpopular is hard. Getting everyone to agree on where to go is almost impossible.

Posted by: AbhijitDutta | November 4, 2008 12:36 PM

What a waste of ink & space. This guy should be a sportcaster which seems to be his field of authority

Posted by: mct1 | November 4, 2008 12:10 PM

once you identified yourself as a Steelers fan, i knew to stop reading. it's common knowledge that there isn't a single Steelers fan that has passed the 4th grade.

Posted by: Squatty_HJ | November 4, 2008 11:53 AM

I very much preferred the "old school" of journalism, where objectivity was a prime goal and opinions were limited to editorials. However, between the right wing radio personalities and Fox news, there was just too much twisted propaganda being thrown out there on too large a scale. I was extremely relieved to see MSNBC start fighting back. It was completely necessary.

I might say that the most disappointed I have ever been in the media was during the lead up to the Iraq war. They failed completely to be objective, and expose that madness for what it was. All I could do was to fire off e-mails to to object to the coming invasion. The watchdog of democracy was sleeping during the most critical time in recent history.

Posted by: Arjuna9 | November 4, 2008 11:52 AM

It's telling that the response here to the question as to positive and negative stories about the respective campaigns dwells exclusively on campaign mechanics: Sen. Obama's campaign run smoothly, he has lots of money, he stays on-message, so he gets positive stories, while Sen. McCain's inferior "branding" produces negative stories.

What does this have to do with how well either man would do if actually elected President? This is the point. Most journalists writing about the campaign do not know and do not care. It isn't their job. Their job is to cover the campaign. One might as well ask a sportswriter in Pittsburgh to explain why it should matter if the Steelers win.

This specialization within the media has some perverse consequences for the media itself. Not to pick on the Democratic ticket, but Sen. Biden has been kept well away from any setting in which he might be asked questions by reporters for a good two months. The press should be furious, not only because any Vice Presidential candidate should have to answer questions but also because Biden is good copy.

But keeping Biden tightly scripted keeps the Obama campaign on-message, so the media covering the campaign is fine with it. Not only do campaign journalists no object to being manipulated, they judge campaigns on how effectively the manipulation is done. Each journalist for media outlets like the Washington Post might as well be saying to the campaigns, "manipulate me! manipulate me!" -- a fact that goes far to explain how the permanent campaign operation in George Bush's White House has been able to manage the media so easily for most of the last eight years.

Just imagine what Richard Nixon could get away with if he were able to deal with today's campaign-oriented press corps.

Posted by: jbritt3 | November 4, 2008 11:30 AM

You have either missed the point out of sheer ignorance or by design. The thing that makes my blood boil is that, in the mainstream media, every issue is presented from the Democrat party's point of view. You may report the Republicans view, but the premise of every article is that the Democrat view is orthodoxy. That is NOT objectivity! That is not being a neutral reporter of the facts. Stop and think about this the next time you read a news article and you will see that I am right. This is not a new phenomenon, it started with Ed Murrow. He put forth the premise that every argument should not have two equal and opposing views and he reported accordingly. It has been worsening ever since. I truly believe that this has contributed to the polarization that we are experiencing in the country right now. I, like many conservatives, no longer can rely on the mainstream media for news. I served in Korea with Bob Edwards, formerly of National Public Radio. He is an excellent journalist and I used to listen to him regularly. NPR canned him some six ago and replaced him with two partisan hacks to give Morning Edition an “edge”. It has become the Democrat party's answer to Rush Limbaugh with government funding. In a time of diminishing readership, what sense does it make to alienate half of your potential audience?

Posted by: VastRightWingConspirator | November 4, 2008 11:29 AM

By and large the media is not so liberal or conservative but pretty much down the middle, likes of Fox and MSNBC notwithstanding. Liberal media is a myth perpetuated by some of right wing strategist over the years and they will even admit to the myth on occasion. The media are somewhat progressive and politically correct and they sound very liberal. They must have a bleeding heart approach to every issue because it looks better to the audience as if they really care. As to Larry, if your perception is that McCain/Palin have gotten more negative press, 60/70%, it may be that they have been more negative and they made the more gaffes and blunders. Also Mr. Agurto, college campus being liberal, younger generation being liberal, that’s not a surprise is it? I dont mind people having a tilt, biggest concern is the lack of critical thinking pervasive in our society in all demographics. People tend to believe things because that is what they think they are expected to believe. What happened to healthy amount of skepticism of all institutions? We are a satiated complacent lot.

Posted by: gatsu | November 4, 2008 10:50 AM

I prefer CNN for news and PBS and NPR for analyses. Other networks are more reactionary. I want information to make up my own mind and not be led by newscaster bias.

Posted by: nr18313attnet | November 4, 2008 10:40 AM

What gets covered in the news media, biased or not, is not as important as what does not get covered in the news media. Never a mention of how the spike in oil prices was so obviously a conspiracy by someone. Never a mention of how the Israelis are again bashing the Palestinians on the West Bank. Never a mention of how much overlap and duplication of effort there is among the agencies within our Federal government. No one wants to mention these and other things. Why?

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | November 4, 2008 10:35 AM

Larry's concerned because he states that "...coverage toward McCain is 60-70 percent negative and coverage toward Obama is 20-30 percent negative..."

Well, Larry, that would be because McCain has consistently been carrying out negative activities. Condemning the agents of intolerance, than snuggling up with Falwell, stating he's for change, then bragging he's voted 90% of the time with Bush, claiming experience is important, then picking the spectacularly-unqualified Palin, calling the economy sound, when it's not, claiming to suspend his campaign, which he didn't, rushing to D.C. to solve the financial crisis, which he didn't, vowing to skip the debate, which he didn't, and on and on ad nauseum.
On the other hand, Obama has been steady, unwavering, and showing the world he will not be hot-headed and engage in poorly-thought-out behavior, as McCain has demonstrated a strong proclivity for.

In short, Obama's lower negative numbers simply reflect the facts: he has hardly messed up at all, while McCain is all over the map, demonstrating his instability.

Larry continues, "...The only exception seems to be Fox News, which had 40 percent negative coverage of both candidates. Maybe Fox really is fair and balanced?”

Hmmm, ya think so, Larry? Really?

Jeez, about 10 days ago they were trying to link the stock market tanking to investor fears of the Democratic party in power. They kept that up for a couple of days at least. I’d say Faux Noise gets those numbers by not mentioning 25% of the McGaffes and exaggerating 15% of Obama actions into faux outrage, all sound and fury, but signifying nothing.


Posted by: osmor | November 4, 2008 10:11 AM

skeptonomist's post shows have the media has molded the conventional wisdom. Strip away the blather and the post is simply saying that conservatives are simple-minded and uninformed. That bias has been subtly implanted in the minds of readers/viewers/bloggers because most people think of Fox news, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter when the word conservative is used.

The vast majority of voters are in the center of the bell curve in terms of views. A person can be right of center and hold intellectually valid points of view on certain issues that are significantly different that someone who is just left of center.

Then there are people like myself who can argue a conservative point of view on some issues and then hold a radically liberal point of view on other issues. That comes from the stereotypical caricature created by the media so that they can oversimplify complex issues in their reporting. Most people cannot be pigeon-holed as neatly as the media would have you believe.

Posted by: thuff7 | November 4, 2008 10:03 AM

Think about why reporters tend to be liberal, despite the fact that media owners and advertisers tend to be conservative. Reporters are probably more literate and better-informed than the average citizen - for one thing, it's their job to be informed. Perhaps they are more idealistic, or at least were to begin with. I doubt if many reporters start out with the intention of being hacks. So where are all the idealistic conservative reporters - have they all been hired away by Fox and NR? Does Fox actually have any good reporters? Could it be that literate conservatives find it more profitable to be in positions of direct service of business interests than to try to be reporters?

Posted by: skeptonomist | November 4, 2008 9:43 AM

"in 2000 George Bush was the candidate voters most wanted to have a beer with."

There is a nuanced bias that creeps into stories whether they are positive or negative. For example, the pollsters who asked this question completely ignored the fact that President Bush does not drink. That is part of his character, but with a subtle twist of a poll question, he loses that quality. Instead of being known as someone who overcame an addiction and went on to make a positive change in the world, he is known as a guy sitting at a bar swilling suds.

These ubiquitous subconscious messages slip into the public's conventional knowledge and can never be changed.

Posted by: thuff7 | November 4, 2008 9:31 AM


Why are you choosing to defend Republicans instead of Libertarians or Greens? Maybe you aren't being objective?

Posted by: squier13 | November 4, 2008 9:30 AM

Martinez adopts the current WaPo line that a newspaper must be "objective", which they think means that the paper gives equal space to competing views, no matter what the truth of the views (see Deborah Howell's column). In practice this means that the paper becomes a mouthpiece for those in power.

The true function of a free press is to question power, to always be an adversary. The Post seemed to take this approach during the Clinton administration, as Martinez himself says. Will the Post's philosophy change again with a Democrat in the White House?

Reporters are mostly liberal, but the media are mostly owned by those who in practice have pro-business, conservative views. The media cannot afford to antagonize advertisers.

How about some surveys on the views of advertisers and media owners, who really control what appears in the media?

Posted by: skeptonomist | November 4, 2008 9:23 AM

I'm sorry, but this debate over fairness and objectivity has gotten completely absurd. Who measures negativity? Using what set of criteria? And, given the problems the nation faces, how can a positive spin be put on some of these stories? How can there by a "fair and balanced" approach to some of this?

More important, can someone, anyone make a cogent argument explaining why these corporations would allow this "liberal bias" to exist in what we've been told is a center-right electorate? Shouldn't ratings, page hits, etc be an indicator of the citizenry's unhappiness with the supposed slant to the left? Aren't these companies trying to make money? If so, are they making money by being biased? Or losing money? Please, someone stop and think before simply screaming about bias.

It's gotten to the point where I personally would prefer that all media outlets actually have a clear, stated bias so that I can then compare them to each other. That actually might be the only way to get this silly conversation to stop.

Posted by: teamn | November 4, 2008 9:18 AM

I fail to see the concern about a "liberal bias" in the media. Since the fairness doctrine became history, and most corporate media are owned by Republicans, the pressure has been on to favor the Right rather consistently. Look at the run up to the Iraq war, when virtually the entire broadcast and print media went to bed with the Bush administration, only to find out after it was too late that they were being manipulated by right-wing propaganda. Look at the dominance on radio of the Rush Limbaughs and the Lars Larsons -- hardly left wing. Look at the number of media outlets owned by Rupert Murdach -- the king of the Right. For the entire first year of this campaign season, John McCain was so favored by journalists that he referred to them as "his base." The only reason the Right is becoming uncomfortable with the media is because the media learned its lesson by being lead into the slaughter house by right wing propaganda, and because John McCain started making really dumb decisions -- like Sarah Palin, an evaluation which is not Left wing, since it is shared by most of the Right wing intellectuals. After all, the only thing Sarah has between her ears is hairspray.

Posted by: hortonhermit | November 4, 2008 8:40 AM

I have found that the local news is still objective and fair. They report the facts. They report the reactions of local citizens. They do not inject their own adjectives into their reporting. National that's a joke. I hope they go home with their tails tucked between their legs tomorrow. Shameless!!

Posted by: forgetthis | November 4, 2008 8:29 AM

I am a 1980 Journalism graduate from the University of Maryland. Growing up, I read the Washington Post daily and marveled at how journalists even in the 1970s were not objective in their straight news reporting. I often asked, why don't the editors mark these stories as "News Analysis"? I never received an answer.

Part of the problem is news outlets are competing for ratings and with the Internet. Today's journalists (not all, but a good portion) tend to be 20-something bloggers who do not leave their computers or conduct real interviews. Their sources are the Internet, and thus tend to perpetuate myths and half-truths found there. Their goal is to get the next big headline, regardless of the facts.

What journalists today need to understand is good, objective reporting takes time, research, experience (life and professional) and a clear dose of wisdom and perspective. Twenty-somethings do not have that life or professional experience, yet news outlets (read CNN as a prime example) hire these young people, who have talent no doubt, but are really at this point in their careers just pretty faces geared to boosting ratings.

I noted in the article and in the comments no mention of CNN, which to me also is very opinionated and has worked diligently this election cycle to promote Democrats. Wolf Blitzer used to be a terrific reporter; he is now just tabloid journalism at its worst. I am very sad about this, because I used to admire him greatly.

I encourage all journalists to step back and rethink their approach to their profession, to realize that media outlets should not be used as propaganda machines (Democrat, Republican, Libertarian - whatever) and that all opinions should be clearly marked as such. Journalists need to reclaim their independence and show it by being objective, hard nosed and fair - that is - going after the story no matter where it goes. But also be ethical and careful in their reporting. Don't go after headlines for the sake of headlines and realize that news stories can hurt people and destroy lives unnecessarily. Editors need to be seasoned journalists who have an abundance of life and professional experience and NO agendas.

Okay - that's my 2 cents from a journalists that has watched with sadness the decline of a profession that once stood as the watchdog of our republic but is sadly now becoming as you say a propaganda machine. It's not too late to stop, and I hope journalists will change their ways.

Posted by: bjspanos | November 4, 2008 8:22 AM

Same15259 said "That is ''Why " Socialism that lead to Marxism (org. Socialism )failed since Marx's ruining the world .
You kind wants to bring back to life though "Your Boy" Obama !, and a bit more in response to my two-liner comment, in which I said nothing about socialism, capitalism, Marx, or Obama. It sounds like your mind is quite closed as far as I'm concerned. Too bad for you. Marx ruined the world? We should all go desecrate his tomb, and maybe that will fix it. I know the definition of conservatism, and I also know how politicians play it to promote the fear that the other side is ruining your way of life. In the meantime, the politicians only care about removing any regulations that inhibit their ability to get richer, thereby destroying my environment and ruining my way of life. Ever wonder if there is some middle ground between capitalism and socialism? Ever wonder if both are equally destructive in their applications? I have, but I tend to be open-minded in my thoughts; liberal, you might say. Peace!

Posted by: halifar59 | November 4, 2008 8:05 AM

There used to be journalists who I thought of as objective, or trying to be objective. I'm sorry that that has become unfashionable, and as a result I don't pay much attention to TV journalism, at least. In this particular thread, it appears that many of those worried about objectivity are saying that journalism isn't objective because their side is losing.

It is stark raving clear to me that most conservative as well as liberal commentators are far from objective. There are some exceptions, however. I like David Brooks of the New York Times, for example. I also respect other NY Times writers, but he particularly stands out. The last place I would look for objectivity would be on Fox News or MSNBC.

Posted by: geneven | November 4, 2008 8:01 AM

That kids are still majoring in journalism is a great leap of faith, if not delusion.

For one thing, The Post,the New York Times, etc. will be gone within a few years ... (this is probably their last presidential election.)

For another, the mainstream media stopped practicing anything like traditional journalism over a year ago.

Posted by: gitarre | November 4, 2008 7:51 AM

Objective???? Who are you kidding? Objectivity in the US media means watching a political entity loot $5 trillion from our nation's Treasury and pretending that it represents a philosophy of governing.

Eight years ago this nation made the staggering mistake of electing a Republican President, compounded by handing the GOP complete control of the government two years later. Since that time, we have saddled our children with trillions more in debt, much of it to finance huge tax cuts for the rich. Our standing in the world has plummeted. Anti-government zealotry has devastated our financial system. The great environmental crisis of our time has been ridiculed and ignored, and our public lands have been handed to industry.

Bob Herbert notes today that 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the wealth. I'm thrilled we are electing Obama. But I am conscious of living in a failed democracy. We do not have two real political parties. We have moderate Democrats constrained by an ignorant public and a wretched media that doesnt dare question the gluttony of the rich. And we have a criminal regime: today's GOP leadership.

Turn on 60 Minutes and you see aggressive, well-funded reporters. As they savage some fourth-rate con man. No more of that exposing Republican crimes for CBS. A truly "objective" media would have run the Republican leadership out of this city years ago.

Posted by: davidscott1 | November 4, 2008 7:46 AM

Objectivity is reporting the truth; of course everyone has his or her own perception. The difference between knowledge and belief is perception.
Maybe all reporters are just reporting what they think is the truth but for the life of me I don't know why anyone would want the republicans to continue to lead because of the vile state they have put us in.
w will probably slink away to his compound in South America never to be heard from again. He and all of his fellow "criminals" should be tried and convicted of the "grandest theft" ever perpetrated on our country

Posted by: tomkat1 | November 4, 2008 7:33 AM

Too halifar59
Want objectivity? Don't watch TV, read, and be objective. Keep in mind that conservatism means having a closed mind, and keeping things the same whether they are broken, or not.

Your COMMENT is totally Moronic about Conservatism but normal for mindless Socialist .
''Liberals and Socialist " use totally
un-though out Feeling and Emotions rather than facts or ""Conquainces " .
You kind can't understand when you drop a small rock in a large body of water its wave can cary for miles away with totally unintended puroposes .
That is ''Why " Socialism that lead to Marxism (org. Socialism )failed since Marx's ruining the world .
You kind wants to bring back to life though "Your Boy" Obama !
American Capitalism is about the Individualism and Personal Responsibility not the Collective herd mentalllity ! duh !

Posted by: same15259 | November 4, 2008 7:32 AM

Want objectivity? Don't watch TV, read, and be objective. Keep in mind that conservatism means having a closed mind, and keeping things the same whether they are broken, or not.

Posted by: halifar59 | November 4, 2008 7:14 AM

Nice job, Andres! Indeed, the issue of objectivity is more relevant today than ever before, primarily because of the proliferation of opinion outlets inhabiting radio, broadcast TV, cable TV, newspapers & magazines, & of course, the internet with its myriad of opinion blogs.
One outlet was truly the trailblazer in putting opinions on the media radar screen. It was founded by Republican political operatives. Their explicit purpose was to provide a voice to promote Republican candidates & conservative causes. The idea of objectivity would have provoked cackles of laughter from its founders. And today they still rank as the #1 source of conservative Republican propaganda on the planet.
Yes, indeed ... the Fox Propaganda Network is the only network so concerned about the public relations damage risked by its own biases that it felt the need to make its slogan "Fair & Balanced."
Just like when the Bush crew called legislation that relaxed rules for polluters the "Clear Skies Act",the bias innately hard-wired into The Fixed News Network makes even Orwell's "1984" look like a paragon of straight talk.

Posted by: DoctorB | November 4, 2008 7:01 AM

Republicans have a war with the facts, and they blame the media. If something is wrong, it doesn't make the other side liberal. When a Republican breaks the law, blaming the liberal media for reporting it is just a ruse. As long as Republicans keep defending crimes and wrongdoing as if they were defending their policies, they will never have any credibility.

Republicans blame the media, they blame the Democrats, they blame the gays, they blame anyone except themselves for the mess we're in right now despite the fact that they were running the country for the last eight years.

Posted by: GeorgeSimian | November 4, 2008 6:59 AM

Fox ''Compared "" to the rest of the media is FAR more Fair and Balanced.
The media watch dog polls say those that watch Fox .
38 % tend to be RePubs and Conservatives while 34 % tend to be a Few Dems since there are few left and the rest are Liberals and Socialist with the rest as ??? voters .
The main stream media is 1000001 % in the tank for OBAMA !
In truth the Main Stream Media no Longer Matters all done by their own shallow stupidity .Their total Blinded Bias is boring .
Two kinds of College grads ... those that want to charge the world(liberal /socialist ) Journalist and those that want to make a living (Capitalist ... Conservatives who pay taxes )
The American Media has become no more than Pravada of the old Soviet Union under Stalin and the KGB marching orders . You see something on Obama's web site or the daily KOS and Move . org and within 30 minutes it is facts in the main stream media and on CNN !
Comrades ... Kathy Curic , Charles Gibson , Brian Williams and the Obama lovers as are CNN , PBS AND MSNBC AS WELL .
The NY TIMES , WASH POST , LA TIMES ,Boston CHICAGO Tribune , Atlanta Cont, Miami Harold ,Phila Inq. Baltimore Sun are no better .
Fox has 37 Conservative and RePub talking heads and 32 Liberal talking heads .
Fox in order to ""Steal "" viewing audience left the hard right sadly but they were smart sinking CNN AND CSNBC MSNBC dead in the water . NBC AND MSNBC HAS RUINED JOURNALISM I AM AFRAID FOREVER .

Posted by: same15259 | November 4, 2008 6:47 AM

In my opinion the issue of reportorial objectivity falls apart alone a wholly different previously unmentioned fault line. On this day of a Presidential election our dear Country stands at a precipice: we are in the midst of an unprovoked, mismanaged sinkhole of a war,there are increasing foci of instability and terrorism across the globe, the long term accepted standards of Constitutionally protected behavior (privacy, habeus corpus, and limits on Presidential power) have been shattered, and we are in the midst of a horrible economic crisis (citizens are loosing their homes, their jobs, their savings in revolutionary numbers.) The candidates as well as journalism and punditry have more or less touched on these issues but as a whole they have all shied away from truly diagnosing the root causes, identifying any locus of responsibility, and discussing insightful alternative paths away from the disasters soon to come. All in the name of "fair and balanced" or "objectivity," or political expediency. How can we all work together to solve these problems if we don't thrash out in the public square their real causes and possible real solutions?

Posted by: paradocs2 | November 4, 2008 6:13 AM

real journalists would leave their politics at home and just report the facts...
based on your answers to these letters, because you have an opinion, you have to apply it to everything you do...
with that in mind, I hope you know wapo and other liberal media will be responsable for any policy decisions obama makes that screws up...
how will you know when the American people are mad...
they will stop buying your paper and change the channel...
your candidate, your agenda, your choice...

Posted by: DwightCollins | November 4, 2008 6:06 AM

Is FOX News Fair and Balanced ?

Well, ANY station that has to put up crawls, banners or have their "talking heads" remind the viewers every few minutes, 24-hours a day how "FAIR AND BALANCED" they are, OBVIOUSLY aren't.

It's either that or they are appealing to a segment audience with little education, seemingly unable to determine if they are or they are not for themselves ior a focus group that must be talked down to or talked at rather than informed of facts and let themn draw their own conclusions.

I sense a few, albiet very few at FOX that are in it for the money and are quite uncomfortable at having to remind their audience every few minutes how "FAIR AND BALANCED" they are.

Then their are the Hannity's and Gibson's who are a disgrace to the journalism and electronic media profession. They basically wallow in their own perceived self importance and opinionated extreme right wing nonsense.

Posted by: truth1011 | November 4, 2008 5:40 AM

Great questions and good answers too!

Posted by: youngj1 | November 4, 2008 4:41 AM

"Objectivity" is a shakey concept at best. It assume you step outside of your own background, class, race, gender, education... all the things that combine to make you a "subject" - and all the very things that allow you to "understand" anything. "Objectivity" and "understanding" may be mutually exclusive terms.

But if "objectivity" isn't the goal, accuracy is. A journalist can strive for accuracy. It clearly can't be the case that only people who honestly don't care WHO gets elected can be journalists.

Lastly, why do people seem to think that "balance" is best for all stories? Is it "subjective" and "biased" for a newspaper to run nothing but negative stories about Charles Manson? Are they required to run an equal number of "positive" Manson stories? Did half of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky stories need to be "pro-Clinton" to avoid a charge of "bias"?

Posted by: stan3 | November 4, 2008 2:33 AM

So voter suppression isn't enough to keep you guys in business, now we need media suppression? Just what is so precious about your half of the dialog? Or should I say your 35%? Conservative love for democracy runs about one micron deep. Their respect for the Constitution of the United States likewise. They sure do like to wrap themselves in the flag, though.

Posted by: fzdybel | November 4, 2008 2:13 AM

Dear Manuel and Larry,

I presume you've heard about how Obama palled around with Ayers.

But did you know that McCain sat at table as the invited speaker a virulently anti-gay group while the leader praised a domestic terrorist Rachelle Shannon. McCain was not only not offended, the speaker was later in his RNC convenetion delegation. If the media is so liberal, how come you didn't know McCain had been palling around with terrorist sympathizers.

Did you know that McCain's pal G. Gordon Liddy, convicted Watergate felon, had among his crimes conspiracy to murder two journalists and to firebomb the Brookings Institution (over the Pentagon Papers). (though he didn't actually do the murders or the firebombing). Imagine for a minute that Liddy was Obama's friend, not McCAins and see how fair you think the media has been about it.

Did you know that McCain sat on the board of "freedom organization" wth strong links to Nazis and other "anticommunists"? He says he resigned in the 80's - after funding the contras.

Why didn't you know these things? Is it because the "left leaning" media only covered the anti-Obama stories and not the anti-McCain stories?

I'm sure you heard in all that criticism of Sarah Palin that her husband belongs to a secessionist party. But that's her, not her husband, you say. Did you know that she recorded a welcome for their meeting in the spring of 2008? If it had been Obama who had recorded a greeting for a group whose founder said that when govt agents came for him they should wear red so they'd be better targets, what would have happened?

Try reversing all the gaffes of both candidates and think about how quickly Obama would have been toast if he'd not known the difference between Sunni and Shia, called Spain terrorists, or picked a VP candidate who sat silently in the pew while the preacher said the violence in Israel was divine retribution.

McCain has gotten kid glove treatment. If I were you I'd be careful what I asked for - else McCain might actually be subjected to the same scrutiny as Obama.

Posted by: patriot16 | November 4, 2008 1:52 AM

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