There are times when I’m proud to be a member of the media and times when I’m not. Throwing politics aside for a minute (because some “journalists” and media members are incredibly biased and make no bones about it) the media by and large tries to remain impartial.
And that’s the mandate in journalism school – objectivity. You cannot remain objective if you are partial to one side or another or one idealism or another. No matter what, back up your writing with facts, remain unbiased and objective and allow everyone a chance to give their side.
Like many people I ingest a lot of media —newspapers (of course), magazines, television and radio. Unlike some, however, I realize that there is a vast difference in a member of the media and a journalist. A journalist practices those things I talked about earlier, while a media member uses their time on television or radio to show their lack of professionalism, their questionable humor or to pander to the lowest common denominator.
A pair of incidents over the past couple of weeks have me thinking about the media and, frankly, how disappointed I am. The first involves a not-so-serious “scandal” involving Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. It seems Mr. Jones may have been the victim of a blackmail attempt five years ago…or not. It’s hard to say because Jerry is spouting nothing but confusing lawyer-speak and remaining as vague as possible on the subject. What is that has Jerry tongue-tied? Photos were recently made public of him and various attractive young women in risqué poses.
While I expected Jerry to hem and haw on the subject I didn’t expect what amounted to a local media blackout on the subject. If you listen to sports radio every day like I do you know the hosts take a subject — even one without much teeth — and run it into the ground. I waited day after day to hear what they had to say on the subject but amazingly no one even broached it. You would almost think they were playing favorites with Jerry. I mean, they were talking about everything else in the sports world but that. And while every national host on satellite radio is discussing the photos even the local ESPN affiliate didn’t have a word about it online. Incredible.
Bias? It lives on, apparently.
And then there’s the tragic incident involving Tony Stewart, the Sprint Cup driver who ran over a fellow racer at a local dirt track race. The racer, Kevin Ward, Jr., had been run into a wall by Stewart and got out of his car to angrily confront Stewart. Two other cars passed him by but when Stewart’s car got to the enraged Ward the rear end suddenly stepped out, pulling the 20-year-old Ward underneath and spitting him out down the track. Ward died of his injuries.
The debate since has been, frankly, is Stewart a murderer? The backstory here is that Stewart has a long and ugly history of losing his temper with fans, media and other drivers. Was he angry at Ward for getting out of his car? Did he attempt to hit him? Did he mean to try and scare him? No one knows, though the sound of an engine revving just before Ward was hit can clearly be heard on the only video of the incident that is known to exist. If this were Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson we might not be having this discussion.
Over the past few days as this is written call-in shows all across the country have been hearing from fans, some of whom think Stewart is a murderer and some of whom think it wasn’t Stewart’s fault at all. This is where journalism should kick in, where an unbiased expert should be called upon to address the debate. Instead, we get Randy Lajoie, a former racer and car owner to address the subject. The only problem with this is that he is good friends with Stewart and the Stewart family and even texted a Bible verse to Stewart after it all went public. What was his take? Not surprisingly, Lajoie said Stewart is a good man and this is in no way his fault and instead blames it on the media.
We all have our built-in biases, but it takes a professional not to let them show through. We, the media, should be better than this.
Rodney Williams is the managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune, Van Alstyne Leader and Prosper Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.