Objectivity and bias in the media

Glancing through the local paper here at the University of Kansas, where I have taught politics for 40 years, I was immediately interested in, but ultimately distressed about, a story concerning the paper I had read growing up in Appleton.  Apparently, the Post-Crescent’s management is distraught that some of its employees have signed a petition calling for Governor Scott Walker’s recall, and was threatening sanctions against employees who exercised their political rights.

Of course, the media should be objective in its news coverage, but newspapers have always exercised freedom of the press to express the views of their publishers and staff in editorials.  I would be astonished if the Post-Crescent has not recently published editorials that compromised the “impartiality” that the executives of the Post-Crescent proclaim as crucial to its public service mission.

In a democracy, impartiality does not mean silence in the face of perceived grievances.  Nor does it mean presenting two opposing opinions as if they have equal scientific or moral merit. Impartially means full consideration of facts, evidence, and arguments (and particularly a refusal to distort such matters) when coming to reasonable interpretations and judgments on matters that are inherently controversial. No reasonable person would presume that the Post-Crescent’s impartiality is undermined by some of its employees signing a petition expressing their judgments, but they might well think its impartiality is in question if such judgments are suppressed.

It is a mystery to me why the publishers and editorial staff should have rights to express their views on the printed page while ordinary employees have no right to express their views by merely signing a petition.  From this distance, it appears that the Post-Crescent has the same aversion to the equal political rights of its employees as Governor Walker has exhibited in the closed procedures he has employed in pursuit of his anti-public employee agenda.