CBS News: We Report From the Middle, No Bias Here

When CBS launched their blog Public Eye in Sept. of 2005 they claimed it would give us "the journalists who make the important editorial decisions at CBS News and CBSNews.com" and that those journalists "will now be asked to explain and answer questions about those decisions in a public forum."

While the jury might be out on the success of their task, we can certainly wonder at their ability to step away from themselves to render balanced judgment. Especially in the case of their recent story, "Biased In Both Directions", where they declare that the MSM is reporting "in the middle" where it concerns stories about Iraq.

Viewers from the left and right might occasionally be annoyed by the tenor of the coverage, but they gravitated to the evening newscasts anyway, since ... they remained more or less in the middle...
The Public Eye posting from which the above came, addresses the bias perceived by the public being employed by the MSM in their reportage on Iraq (the AP/Capt. Hussein controversy being a perfect example). They cite a recent poll that tracks 61 percent of the respondents claiming that the news about Iraq is presented as worse than it really is there, while 36 percent said the news reports it as being better than it actually is.

While CBS's Public Eye acknowledges that the reporting on Iraq is strained and unreliable -- and that admission is admirable -- it lays the problem at the feet of the "obstacles to good reporting" prevalent in Iraq as opposed to any neglect by the MSM.

But ideology, in the end, isn't the problem. Talk to reporters who have spent time in Iraq and they'll tell you about obstacles to good reporting -- the limitations in their ability to move around the country, for example -- that provide the real impediments to bring an accurate picture to the folks back home.
All should agree that reporters would tell you it is difficult to get out and about in Iraq. But few ever really try to do so in the first place. Mostly they sit in safety zones, protected by US troops while getting their stories by employing unreliable "stringers" to get their news for them. Stringers are Iraqi citizens who make a fast buck by bringing "news" stories to western reporters who never leave their safety zones. This is an inherently flawed system as it completely eliminates the ability of the western media to substantiate the truth of the reports the stringers bring back to them.

Sadly, in the rush to publish, no western media service seems too interested in making sure that any of their stories on Iraq are, in fact, true before publishing them. And therein lies a problem. But, this is a technical, or procedural problem in the end.

An even more vexing issue, the one CBS tried its best to ignore or explain away, is that of ideology. Currently, the MSM's attempts to report the situation in Iraq is not bad just for its reliance on unsure and unsubstantiated sources, but because of the fact that those unreliable sources are bringing exactly the sorts of stories that the MSM wants to hear. And what they want to hear is all bad news.

As each stringer brings back more and more bad news, the glee with which the MSM publishes that "news" makes the lie to their claims of being "in the middle". And, their convenient pleading that it is just so darn hard to report the real news in Iraq seems rather more of a cover to hide their disinterest in anything that might subvert their deep seated desire to report nothing but negative stories about Iraq.

It is, perhaps, not fair to expect reporters to put their lives at risk just to get a story. But there is a long tradition of it, none-the-less, and intrepid reporters who do should be admired for their efforts. But, does the danger of it all make an excuse for the MSM to report stories that have been made up by parties unknown to the reader and parties that have an anti-American agenda, one that would prevent them from ever reporting a story from "the middle"?

Does the difficulty of getting at the truth of a story absolve the MSM for printing ones they know could easily be false?

Journalists are usually taught in journalism school not to rely on single sources and that having a second confirmation of the central facts of a story is a must to assure reliability. This is only a logical practice.

But, in the case of the Middle East, the MSM rarely seems to indulge in such logical practices seeming to willfully violate the principle and it is hard to believe, given the constantly negative tenor of their coverage, that no ideological bias undermines their claims of "reporting from the middle".

The fact that 61 percent of their customers feel they are failing in their duty to report the news fairly and with reliability should cause them to re-think their processes. Unfortunately, it seems not to have made a dent in their self-satisfaction and assumptions of reporting "in the middle" as Public Eye sadly demonstrates.