Perplexing perceptions

Those that feel the paper is displaying a blatant bias toward Mitt Romney are rivaled by those who feel we bend over backwards for Barack Obama.

By
August 9, 2012 21:20
4 minute read.
MAN reads a copy of ‘The Jerusalem Post’

MAN reads a copy of ‘The Jerusalem Post’. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

 
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One of my favorite passages in American pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman’s insightfully hilarious collection of essays, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, deals with his time as a staffer at a Midwest daily newspaper.

Klosterman recounts how the situation once arose whereby some readers were outraged about the lack of coverage over a particular municipal issue and assumed that the paper’s editors were expressing their support of the incumbent mayor by intentionally ignoring the story.

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However, Klosterman revealed that the real reason the story never appeared had nothing to do with editorial bias or any other sordid conspiracy theory. It was because of a youth soccer game. The reporter assigned to the story had not received the required comments from all parties he felt necessary to file his story, and he had promised his son he would attend his team’s soccer game that began at 6 p.m.

By the time his sources called him back with the necessary reactions, the reporter was on the field watching goals being scored with his cellphone turned off. So, the non-appearance of the story was misconstrued by some readers as a deliberate whitewash.

I’m reminded of that progression of events whenever, due to a particular headline or the placement – or non-placement – of a news story in The Jerusalem Post, we receive complaints from readers about our perceived rightwing or left-wing bias.

I can just picture the scenario they’re thinking of – a room similar to the military censor’s office in Robin Williams’ film, Good Morning, Vietnam, where button-down type editorial automatons peruse every story with a fine tooth comb and decide how to give it that just-so-subtle slant that will promote the unanimous viewpoints of the staff editors and reporters.

Of course, the problem with that scenario is that, like a cross section of any work place (unless it’s a political party headquarters), we all don’t have the same views. I reckon that the voting spectrum among our editorial staff represents the wide range offered by the Knesset parties.

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I assume, because I don’t know. It’s just not relevant in the realm of our working relationships at the paper. And if political or ideological affiliation were indeed elements that determined who worked at any newspaper purporting to be objective, then something’s gone terribly wrong within that editorial department.

Some journalists take the idea of objectivity to the extreme. One colleague does not vote – and will continue to not vote in elections for the Knesset – as long as he remains an active reporter, lest word gets out whom he voted for and his work is compromised.

Such self-deprivation is not really required to fulfill a journalist’s responsibility to provide the information that he and his editors think the reader should be made aware of. After all, journalists are citizens and residents of the country too, and can’t be expected to have no opinions outside the workplace.

On the other hand, unlike certain media organizations, I’m proud to report that at the Post, those opinions are shielded from the reader as much as possible. Of course, there is no such thing as complete objectivity; every editor and reporter has built-in biases and character traits that seep into his work.

But it’s a fallacy that there is any kind of “agenda” that dictates how we choose the stories we publish and where they’re placed in the paper. During my tenure at the Post, I’ve worked under six editors, ranging from self-stated right-wingers like David Bar-Illan and Bret Stephens to left-wingers like Jeff Barak and David Makovsky.

However, despite their divergent views, I can barely think of an instance, when working as news or night editor, that I was told, cajoled, requested or ordered to play a story in a particular place in the paper.

And if it did happen, it was based on news judgment, not on political or ideological affiliation. And there’s the rub – judgment. We’ve all got our own ideas of what is news, and one editor’s idea of a front-page story is another’s bottom of page 6 filler. That’s why there’s a constant process of checks and balances taking place every day and every night to achieve a consensus of how the news of the day is ultimately presented.

But despite those lofty intentions of providing an unslanted cross-section of news that we feel readers need to know to be informed about the the community, city, country and world around them, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. And those that feel the paper is displaying a blatant bias toward Mitt Romney are rivaled by those who feel we bend over backwards to appear on Barack Obama’s side. Of course, neither claim is true, as evidenced by the fact that we get accused by both sides. So we must be doing something right.

The next time you see something odd in the paper – whether it be a questionably headlined story, or a story conspicuous by its absence – don’t jump to the conclusion that we’re lining up on one side of an issue. It could be that one of us had to run out to our kid’s soccer game.

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