"Fair" is the absolute grail of most legitimate news reporters (a group that doesn't include Bill O'Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, most TV anchors and Nancy Grace, among others.) Good reporters have feelings, but they've learned to step back from their lesser beliefs to serve a greater belief: Fairness. A good reporter wants you, the Reader, to be able to make up your own mind. Why would I risk my credibility to win you over to my politics? Your politics simply don't matter that much to me.
And here's the reality: People don't want "unbiased" reporting. Instead, they want reporting with THEIR biases already built in (which is why almost every good story looks "biased" to about half the populace.) Ask yourself next time you read an account of a political squabble: Is it "unbiased" because My Guy looks better than Their Guy? Or is it "biased" because My Guy looks bad?
In a column headlined "When the 'facts' collide, honest debate is elusive," Pulitzer-winner Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald had an outstanding view of the issue today.
"It's increasingly the case that there's no such thing as the truth. Rather, we have truths, separate but equal. We choose the one we need, based on which best validates our preferred worldview. We get these truths from radio talk shows and Internet forums that manufacture them according to our political alliances and warn in dire tones against trusting truth that comes from ideologically impure sources.
"So extreme conservatives shun the 'liberal media' and extreme liberals shun the 'mainstream media.' And neither seems to get the joke that they're both shunning the same media for supposedly favoring the other side. Seems obvious to me that when opposing extremists each accuse you of supporting the other, you're probably hitting pretty close to the truth.
"... Once upon a time, we all drew upon a common pool of facts. You might interpret them differently than I, but we could have an honest disagreement because the facts themselves were not in contention. Now we have designer facts, facts that aren't facts but that gain currency because somebody wanted to believe them. The thing is, facts that really are facts, truth that really is true, doesn't always validate your beliefs. Sometimes it challenges and confounds them. That's probably the problem."
We support liars when they are Our Liars, yet suddenly become righteously indignant when it's Your Liars. We're comfortable -- even defensive -- with the lies Our Side tells, yet hypersensitive to any hint of inconsistency on the Your Side. We zealously believe every spam that says Your Guy is a pedophiliac monkey-rubber; we rise up against the obvious and destructive "lies" that Our Guy once double-parked near an old folks' home.
Does it come from a legal system where two professional liars test every stupid theory and expect the truth to be somehow discerned? Do we live in a world of competing expert witnesses/paid punditry? Are we watching too much Court TV?
America says it wants the truth, but as Jack Nicholson said (and Pitts quotes) .... we can't stand the truth. We love our lies.