Your Thoughts on Truth-Telling and Bias

  • Susan Greene is a reporter, editor and coach for the Colorado News Collaborative (COLab). She was editor and executive director of The Colorado Independent before it merged with COLab and a longtime reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. She was selected as a 2020-2021 Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, and is the inaugural recipient of the Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal Grant for Mental Health Investigative Journalism.

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Dear reader,

Wow. We asked for your thoughts last week on the test the Trump administration has posed to journalists seeking to be “objective” while adhering to the obligation to tell the truth.

Where, I asked, do you, readers and watchers and listeners of news, draw a line between truth-telling and a perceived agenda in news coverage, between holding power to account and bias? What do you see in coverage of the current administration that dismays you? Where have journalists utterly failed or risen to the occasion?

You answered — in droves. Here are some of the responses:

“We all, including all careers, have a responsibility to speak the truth. This country now sits in a place where it is not okay to sit on the fence and be neutral. If one isn’t working for resolution and change for the good then they are also part of the problem. Truth seekers appreciate the raw truth. … Lies stand when the truth is silent.” — Michael Quintana

“Your not a journalist. Your an activist. Your the problem.” — Donald Mitrani

“Unfortunately, the diseases of false equivalency and bothsideism are everywhere, and they could easily contribute to the election of Trump again if our journalists are not careful.” — Cynthia Kemper

“The truth is always non-partisan. Calling out lies is the mission of journalism. Do that.” — Tustin Amole

“The whole point of journalism is to make public something, or a series of somethings, that someone in a position of responsibility would like to keep unknown to the public. That is precisely what Trump and his sycophants don’t like. Speak up, Susan.” — Ray Schoch

“I’m suddenly recalling that AIDS-era sticker: Silence = Death. Blind obedience to professional mores in the face of an epic crisis fracturing the very foundations of our society, with basic rights and human lives at stake from so many assaults? What could possibly justify this?” — Carah Aviva Wertheimer

“He makes outrageous statements, the press covers them, he gets free publicity. That’s how he “financed” his entire 2016 campaign. You all spent your time on the presumptive winner and let him fly under the radar. Every time he made an outrageous claim, YOU repeated it for him, for free. You’re still doing that. Stop.” — Gene Jacobson

“Your letter was one of the most laughable things you have ever written. You are shocked that President Trump is upset about the treatment he has received from the supposed press for the entire 4 years of his presidency! I have a friend that just posted on Facebook the definition of confirmation bias. 

‘Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. It is an important type of cognitive bias that has a significant effect on the proper functioning of society by distorting evidence-based decision-making.’

“I think you are suffering from the above because you are oblivious to the most horrendous excuse for Journalism in this country I have ever seen. CNN is totally fake (well-deserved coined by President Trump) news and is the largest race war baiting station I have ever seen. MSNBC is right in there with them. There are very few unbiased news programs. Fox news tends to go the other direction and yet they are more honorable than the lies that spew from these agenda driven supposed news stations.” — Cindy Adams

“By objectively calling out injustice, inequity, dishonesty, deceit, fraud, prejudice, fraud, (the list goes on) you obviate the need to express your own bias.” — Susan Lasswell

“Be the beacon that lets us see through the fog!” — Eugene Delay

We’re in a time like no other, a time that calls for courage and clarity and reflection about who we are as journalists and as Americans. I want to leave you with a link to a recent Jay Rosen piece. Rosen, an NYU professor, has been beating the drum against bothsidesism and the state of political journalism for years now. This is his prescription for journalists in our time:

“Recently someone else asked me for three or four changes in political journalism that might begin to right this ship. (Emphasis on begin to…) To wind this up, here is what I told him:

  • Defense of democracy seen as basic to the job.
  • Symmetrical accounts of asymmetrical realities seen as malpractice.
  • “Politics as strategic game” frame seen as low quality, downmarket, amateurish, silly— and overmatched.
  • Bad actors with a history of misinforming the public seen as unsuitable sources and unwelcome guests.”

Thank you all for weighing in. Thank you for caring as much as you do — about journalism, about democracy, and about each other.


A version of this post originally appeared in a letter to readers on Friday, October 2. Get our newsletter delivered straight to your email box by signing up here.