The advantage of bias

The advantage of bias

: Getting ready to go on Brian Lehrer’s show, I was thinking about the advantage of bias.

We’re always painting a refusal to admit bias as an underhanded secret, a lie of omission, as I’ve called it lately.

Well, partly that’s because “bias” is loaded; it’s a perjorative. So let’s call it “perspective” instead.

I’ve been saying that transparency about your perspective is a good thing. Hell, I said it yesterday about FoxNews on FoxNews. It’s a refrain I’ve sung in this blog often but it was fun to blurt it out on Fox: Not to suck up to the air on which I’m appearing, I said, but FoxNews is No. 1 because it has a perspective — label it what you want — and the audience wants to see that perspective, to know what it is and judge what is said accordingly.

Perspective is context.

This morning I thought of another example: A few days ago, I praised Ira Glass’ This American Life on NPR (PRI) for a surprising show about the Republican Party as the party of the big tent.

Now I don’t know that Glass is liberal. But I think it’s a safe assumption he is. And even if he’s a closet McCain supporter, you can bet that a lot of his NPR (PRI) coworkers are blue-staters.

So that’s what makes the story they did praising the Republicans’ efforts to open their tent — and criticizing the PC Democrats for closing theirs — all the more noteworthy. If I heard Bill O’Reilly talking about the GOP tent, I’d discount it. But hearing Glass go on about it, I said: Wow, there’s a real story here. This is something I should pay attention to; this perception (or reality) is why the Republicans are winning right now. Thus this is something the Democrats listening to certainly pay attention to.

My point is that Glass’/NPR’s perspective (bias) added a lot to that report. I judged what they said in that context and it helped the story; it gave it more credence and importance.

My colleagues in journalism mostly act deathly allergic to the notion of revealing their own perspective. I say they shouldn’t be. Being transparent about your perspective, when you have one, adds to the trust and credibility of what you say; it respects the audience and gives them more information to let them judge what you say. It’s about telling the truth. And isn’t that supposed to be what journalism is supposed to be about?

Are you listening, Dan Rather?