COLUMN: The search for ulterior motives

Some claim the mainstream media has an obvious left-wing bias. Others say newsrooms put a strong right-wing spin on their coverage.

Pete used to be one of the most well-informed people I knew.

He kept the radio in his truck tuned to a news station. He subscribed to the daily paper in the city where he lived. And almost every evening, he’d sit down in front of the television and watch the national news, first on one network and then on another.

I enjoyed talking with Pete about news and current events. He didn’t just follow the news; he also took the time to think about what was going on around him and throughout the world.

That was in the early 1990s, when the former Soviet Union had collapsed and when the former Yugoslavia was breaking down. He would talk about how these changes were affecting the global balance of power.

Sometimes he’d mention a missing fact or a reporter’s phrase he didn’t like, but most of the time, his comments were about the news events themselves.

A decade later, Pete had changed.

He no longer talked about national and global events. Instead, he now told me news outlets were all lying and deliberately misleading the public.

A man who once cared deeply about being informed now distrusted all news sources.

News media outlets, including this one, are not infallible. There are times we will get a story wrong, for any number of reasons. However, when a mistake is pointed out, we will do our best to correct the facts as quickly as possible.

In our online coverage, the story itself will be corrected, while in our print edition, a correction will be published in the next issue.

At the time, I thought Pete’s suspicion of the news media was an anomaly, but in the years following, I’ve met others like him.

Some claim the mainstream media has an obvious left-wing bias. Others say newsrooms put a strong right-wing spin on their coverage of local, provincial, federal or international politics.

Those who make such claims are no longer taking issue with the facts in the story. Rather, they are making judgements about the reporter, the editor, the news outlet or the entire news media.

When the messenger’s motives are scrutinized in this way, the message is ignored or discarded.

Anyone working in the news media needs to care about accuracy and fairness. As reporters we do our best to present the facts without a bias and without spin.

If a statement is inaccurate or if there are facts missing, we need to know so we can make the necessary corrections.

In my journalism career, I have never had an editor or publisher request a specific spin on a story, nor have I heard of such a request from any of my colleagues over the years.

However, the allegations of bias continue and the results are predictable.

When people cannot agree on the presentation of facts, and when there are questions about ulterior motives on the part of the reporter, it is impossible to have reasonable discussions about news and current events.

Polarization replaces dialogue.

Skepticism and reasoned analysis are rejected as cynicism flourishes.

I miss the discussions I used to enjoy with Pete and others like him. I want to hear what others think of the stories in the news.

And I appreciate responses in the form of letters to the editor, posts a comment on a story online or notes about something in the paper.

Your feedback helps me as I strive to provide you with fair and accurate news coverage.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.