Tag Archives: bias

Bias: We all have it

One word I have tried like the dickens to avoid using on critics of things I write and say is “bias.”

Why is that? Because we all have it!

I am biased. You are biased. The folks next door have bias. So does the dude down the street. Or the lady in church. They’re all biased.

So when I hear someone accuse someone else of being “biased,” well … I cringe just a little. The term “bias” falls into that category of epithets one shouldn’t use unless you can claim purity. Where it regards that word, I cannot make such a claim.

I have engaged in countless discussions with readers of commentary I have written over this issue. They call to bitch at me for something that appears under my name in a newspaper column. “Oh, you’re just biased,” they tell me, often in a loud voice. “And you’re not biased?” I might answer. “Not on this,” comes the response. To which I just plain laugh.

To accuse someone of bias is to ignore one’s own weakness … which is that everyone has bias. Indeed, the only people who accuse anyone else of being biased always — without fail — happen to be on the opposite side of the issue under discussion.

So if you want to accuse me of bias, spare yourself the breath. You can say I’m wrong, or that I am mistaken, or that I don’t have my facts straight.

As for bias … forget about it. I won’t hear you.


In defense of newspapers

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Every so often I find myself answering the same question and I have refined my answer to a level I can explain with relative ease.

It came to me again this morning right here in Princeton, Texas. A young dental hygienist asked me what I did for a living. I told her I am retired but was a journalist for nearly four decades. I reported for newspapers, I told her, and then gravitated to opinion writing and editing.

She gave me the obligatory “I like holding a newspaper in my hands” while reading it and then asked: Do you think the reporting is unbiased?

Hmm. It is, I told her. I mentioned that many newspapers around the world — large, small and all sizes in between — continue to do first-rate reporting. They get to the facts, report them fairly and accurately.

What has changed, I told my new friend, is the audience. Consumers of news now seem to want more opinion, I said. I encourage her to look carefully at how large newspapers are covering events of the day.

I didn’t get a sense of her bias, although I reminded her that in my years working as a journalist I learned that “bias inherently is in the eyes of the consumer.” People ascribe bias to solid news reporting when it doesn’t comport with their own world view. Thus, the audience has changed its outlook.

Newspapers continue to do good work. The big folks — Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, you name ’em — keep churning out good work for readers to consume. Some newspaper publishers do look for ways to cover stories intending to embarrass certain people in high places. I have learned to look the other way when I see the names of certain news organizations plastered on stories that have that ring of sensationalism.

I admit freely — and I have done so repeatedly over the years — that I do not disguise my own bias. I have it. You have it. We all have our bias. However, I am able to disseminate hard, cold facts from what I call “advocacy journalism.”

Believe me, there remains plenty of great reporting of just the facts out there.

Age-old dilemma plays out to this day

Politicians have been waging this struggle probably since the beginning of politics as we’ve come to know it.

Do we treat politicians on our side with the same critical look as we do those on other side of the political divide?

Probably not.

I wrote about this dilemma in July 2014. I want to share it again.

Do we ignore our guys’ missteps?

I’ll admit to my own bias on this regard. I figure it’s a natural reaction. It’s likely better, though, for us to react more vigorously when our guys mess up than when those on the other side do. Don’t we expect our guys to behave properly at all times? We ought to demand it of them and when they fail to deliver we should drop-kick them squarely in the backside.

Sadly, we don’t.

Look around us at this moment. The president keeps demonstrating his crassness. Those in his own party dismiss the criticism. Those in the other party become apoplectic. Shouldn’t the president’s fellow Republicans be as outraged as Democrats? Just wondering, man.

Do we ignore our guys’ missteps?

A friend of mine passed on a bit of wisdom this morning at the Amarillo Town Club that I’d like to share here.

All this give-and-take on social media — particularly Facebook — he says, makes him think about whether he is looking critically enough at his “guys'” missteps, mistakes, goofs and blunders.

He was speaking about some of the Facebook threads that have developed among people of differing political points of view. I’m happy to report that some of the threads to which he refers is in response to posts that appear on this blog.

I’ve given some thought to what he said and his wisdom makes sense.

We all have our own bias. I tilt to the left and I recognize my bias there. Many of my friends in the Texas Panhandle tilt the other way — no surprise there, right? I like sharing ideas with them, even though I recognize they’re always wrong and I’m always right.

OK, back to the seriousness. My pal, a well-educated man who works in the public sector, takes note of the need to assess whether we’re being as analytical as we can be when assessing some of these issues.

Some of the social media posts do twist off in irrational directions. Barack Obama is seen by many on the right and far right as a traitor who intentionally seeks to degrade America’s ability to defend itself. I try to restrain myself when I see that kind of opinion tossed into cyberspace. My friends on the left and far left are equally perverse, suggesting for example that George W. Bush actually sanctioned the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to get us into a war with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I also restrain myself on that nonsense as well.

The vast middle ground between those extremes is where we need to focus our attention.

I’m willing to talk sensibly with anyone. I’m also willing to acknowledge that I tend to look differently when my guys mess up than when the guys on the other side mess up. I’m not going to apologize for that. It’s my bias and I’m entitled to wear it on my sleeve, just as the other side is entitled to display its own bias.

My friend’s point about taking care to look critically at my side, though, holds up.

I hereby pledge to seek to do so — even if it produces the same response.

Show me some bias, too

Critics of my work over the years have accused me of many things, called me many bad names.

I’ve been called inaccurate, misinformed, misguided, lazy, arrogant, elitist … all kinds of pejorative terms. I take that criticism seriously.

The one label I refuse to take seriously is “biased.” Yes, I’ve been called that as well.

Since leaving the world of daily print journalism in August 2012, I’ve continued to spew my thoughts into the blogosphere with this blog. I tell friends, acquaintances and family members the same thing: I am having so much fun that if I were any better I’d be twins.

Some of the recipients of my blog have deigned to accuse me of bias.

Such an interesting word, don’t you think? The dictionary describes it this way: “a preference or inclination that inhibits impartiality; prejudice.”

Why is that a non-serious criticism? Because we all have it.

The problem with bias is that we don’t see it in ourselves as readily as we see it in others, particularly those who espouse views at odds with our own.

“Oh, you’re so damn biased,” people will tell me. Oh, really? How do you know that? “Because you’ve got it all wrong on this particular issue.” And you’ve got it right? Does that make your view, well, unbiased?

We have it all contained within ourselves. The bias we see in others infects us as well. We might have precisely same type of bias, but we have.

I have it. I’ve been known to admit freely. I recognize it in commentators I watch on TV or hear on the radio. Yes, even those with whom I agree. It’s just that when I hear bias from sources with whom I share a particular view it doesn’t seem as grating as it does when I read or hear something from those with whom I disagree.

I continue to subscribe to the notion put forth many years ago by the late, great David Brinkley, who once said objectivity in journalism is an impossible goal. The best a journalist can hope to be, he said, is “fair.” That means you give credence to what all sides are saying in a debate or discussion. Opinion journalists then can draw their own conclusions, but only after they’ve given fair consideration to what the folks on the other side have to say.

When someone throws out the “you’re biased” canard, think of what Jesus said in John’s Gospel to those who wanted to stone an adulteress: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone …”