Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Biased — not inaccurate — journalists should be fired

In his editorial Inaccuracy — not bias — is the scourge of the media David Dickson appears to imply that, since human nature is imperfect, asking for objectivity calls for too much in the first place.

"The real crime is not bias in itself," he says. "Indeed, it would be naïve to pretend that a journalist can (or should even pretend to) remain totally objective about the issues he or she is covering, and a passionate interest can often inspire high-quality reporting."

These statements are just true enough to appear truthful. But they are not. In actuality, biased journalists who pretend to be objective should be fired. They are not inherently objective, but they are at least expected to try.

We are then invited to consider that a systematic, intentional misrepresentation of the state of the world might be naughty, but it pales in comparison to a far greater sin.

"In contrast," Dickson says, "the worst distortions come when facts are reported inaccurately. The wrong facts can never become the basis of good decisions, and truthfulness (whether in reporting or campaigning) is essential in a way that objectivity is not."

It is quite obvious that decisions based on the notion that two plus two equals five will often be deeply flawed. By the same token, journalists who rely on this non-equation will find their reporting to be 'inaccurate'.

But it is a far different thing to attempt to persuade readers to conclude that two plus two is five, and get them to interpret their world in light of that conclusion.

It is one thing to be wrong, and it is another thing to be intentionally wrong. It is one thing to be inaccurate, and it is another thing to be intentionally inaccurate. It is one thing to be human, and it is another thing entirely to abandon the aspirations for objectivity that should typify the honest journalist.

Having been a journalist, I can say for myself that I'd rather be accused of inaccuracy than bias. An inaccuracy can be fixed with a retraction. A bias is a fundamental personal flaw that cries out for a career change. Like joining Greenpeace.

Andrew Apel was formerly editor of Ag Biotech Reporter.