As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
“Media bias” is a common pejorative term these days. The Banner, as a faith-based journalistic ministry, is not immune to such accusations of having a bias or an agenda. It is true that all of us have biases; we cannot be totally neutral or objective. Our human and limited perspectives and values influence and affect all that we do. As Christians, we do not deny that. In fact, as Reformed Christians especially, we want to insist that our faith-shaped values and perspectives should influence and affect all of our work and lives. Total neutrality, therefore, is a myth.
However, does that mean that all media is hopelessly biased and we can never trust journalism to tell the truth? No, because our human bias can be mitigated by unbiased, objective processes or methods.
Mainstream journalism can usually be trusted because journalists follow a method of finding and reporting stories that is time-tested and consistent, regardless of the reporter’s own feelings and thoughts on the story being reported. And if reporters or editors break faith by disregarding that objective method, or if they selectively apply those standards, then they are guilty of biased reporting and should face the consequences.
This is where retractions and corrections come into play. The very fact that mainstream news sources print retractions and corrections is a sign that they can be trusted. “Fake news” sources do not correct themselves. Why would they? Their entire purpose is to misinform readers. Only those news sources that care for the truth and for accuracy would care enough to correct themselves and to retract misreporting.
Reporters are trained to find credible sources for stories. Whenever possible, they seek quotes from all interested parties. And they check the accuracy of the quotes before using them. They are not required to share their stories with the sources because that gets too close to giving the sources input into or influence on the story, which creates another barrier to objective reporting because that can bias the story in the sources’ favor.
Consistent application of standards also helps mitigates bias. As editor, I look to precedence often as a guide to deciding on controversial news stories. The reason is not to legalistically follow some tradition. But consistency is one way to ensure objectivity. If we normally publish news stories of a certain kind, for instance, then, even if it pains me and I would rather not, I would still need to publish one of a similar kind to ensure that my bias is not in play. We follow the process regardless of our feelings or sympathies.
Let me say a word about “balance” in reporting. Our goal is to offer balanced reporting on a story, especially in presenting the views of all affected parties. But “balance” is not an absolute. We cannot possibly report all possible viewpoints on any particular issue, nor should we give equal weight to every possible viewpoint. Not all viewpoints are always equally valid in a particular story. When reporting on a church’s Easter service, for instance, we do not need to quote an atheist’s rejection of Christ’s resurrection for the sake of “balance.” When a story is about anti-racist work, do we need to present racist views for the sake of “balance”? No! Admittedly, not all stories have such clear lines, and we will need to make judgment calls. But a perceived lack of “balance” does not necessarily mean the reporting is deliberately biased.
Of course, none of these methods or practices can totally “bias-proof” anyone. It is true that most mainstream media outlets are politically biased, either to the left or to the right, but that does not mean mainstream media as a whole can no longer be trusted. Consider how much more biased “fringe” media, without using the normal reporting safeguards, will be. Lastly, keep in mind that, as already mentioned, we—readers and media alike—are all affected by our biases. If we dismiss every news story we disagree with as “fake news,” does that not betray our own bias?
So, is The Banner biased? I confess that our “bias” is for Christ, for God’s mission, and for the Reformed tradition.