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Is it even possible to seem unbiased when mentioning politics?

Is it even possible to seem unbiased when mentioning politics?

Picture of Neil Versel

barack obama, neil versel, reporting on health

Is it even possible anymore to seem unbiased when reporting on politics or the workings of government? As hard as I try sometimes, there's always someone who thinks I'm taking a particular side.

The latest example came today in a story I wrote for InformationWeek about the Obama administration's new White House Rural Council. Created by executive order last week, the council "will focus on actions to better coordinate and streamline federal program efforts in rural America, and to better leverage federal investments," according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, chair of the council.

That's obviously the Obama administration's line. Yet within a couple of hours of the story being posted, someone offered this comment:

Okay, let me see if I got the right? The government is spending more money than ever before, the economy is lagging, and a recession is hanging over our heads and won't go away. What would the most intelligent man in the world do about this? Spend more money to take better heathcare to rural areas. Wow, were is the logic is this? This whole thing smells fishy, it doesn't pass the smell test to me.

Thanks for the ‘I love Obama' speech buddy, but I ain't buyin' it. Let's see how many do come November.

Huh? How is a news story an "I love Obama" speech? All I did was report what the administration said, and included a short, unspecific comment from one of the few interest groups, the National Rural Health Association, that has said anything at all related to the healthcare aspects of this executive order. I don't see any editorializing there.

Take issue with the administration's plan all you want, though at least get your facts right. The White House has been pretty vague about the council to this point, but nobody has said anything about spending more money beyond what's already been allocated for other programs. But don't call a straightforward, fairly bare-bones news story an "‘I love Obama' speech."

I think it's fair to say that some news organizations are thinly veiled cheering sections for certain political viewpoints. InformationWeek is not one of them. Has our political culture become so poisoned that it's impossible to come off as objective anymore?

This was originally posted on

Editor's note: Check out Neil Versel's great tips for covering electronic health records.

Photo credit: Marc Nozell via Wikimedia Commons



Picture of Jaclyn Cosgrove

Neil, I think you raised an interesting point.
Oftentimes during interviews, people will bring up what the comments will be beneath the story online.
Before working at Oklahoma Watch, I worked at a community newspaper in a city of about 18,000. Whenever I would interview the assistant police chief, he would often say, "I know the online commentators won't like this, but ..."
Although I didn't enjoy the conspiracy theorists as much (i.e. You're writing this story because you love the mayor, etc), I did enjoy the people who came to our website, read our stories and asked questions or maybe raised points that weren't raised in the story. At times, our website became a thoughtful place for public dialogue. Other times, it did get a little crazy, with people attacking each other or my credibility.
I haven't researched it thoroughly, but I sometimes wonder what the online activity is like at media outlets that allow journalists to respond. I sometimes responded at the community newspaper if someone brought up something that I didn't include, sometimes to explain why it wasn't in the story, other times to thank them for raising the point. I wouldn't necessarily suggest responding to "ITJoe," but I would be interested in hearing whether you think journalists should respond to certain types of comments.
I have heard the theory used that, in the world of online media sites, there's a difference between "comments" and "commentary." Newspapers want commentary -- the thoughtful discussions about how the story represents an issue in the community -- but instead get a lot of comments i.e. what you experienced today.

Picture of Kate  Benson

I have noticed that when editors think a topic will draw controversial commentary they simply close the article to comments. While this excludes the "you love Obama" type comments it also defeats the purpose of commentary. Both the blessing and the scourge of the democratic process is that anyone can chime in.

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I think it is very hard to remain unbiased when reporting political news. In the case of your situation, people are going to see and hear what they want to. Many already have their minds made up on how they feel about political leaders.


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