|The Breed's Hill Gazette November 2009|
Fair and Balanced News?
By Daniel HT Shippey &
By Daniel HT Shippey &
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.
Thomas Jefferson 1807
Media bias is not new. In fact, the idea that news reporting could be unbiased is really the relatively new idea in the history of journalism. Wars between news writers and politicians, between news writers and individuals, and between news writers and other news writers is an American tradition. And mixing what we would call editorials with standard news reporting was the expected practice in our country’s founding years.
In the 1740’s & 50’s, when the United States was still the American
Colonies, competition for customers drove a war of wit between
Philadelphia printers. Three printers vying for readership were
William Bradford, Samuel Keimer and Titan Leeds. Unfortunately for
these three men, their opponent in this battle was Benjamin
Franklin. In the battle of wits these men were carrying swords;
Poor Titian Leeds was a publisher of
almanacs who found himself being ridiculed in Poor Richard’s
Almanac. Richard Saunders (Poor Richard) was another character from
During the Revolutionary War, Tory (British Loyalist) newspapers
often covered the same news as the Patriot newspapers, with a
completely different slant. The Loyalists would call any action by
the Patriots a “mob” or acts of
“the violent party.” One pamphlet even declared the reason
that the Continental Congress signed the Suffolk Resolves was
because they “came into this vote immediately after drinking
thirty-two bumpers of
Our early Presidents had trials with the press that would make some contemporary politicians run and hide under the Resolute desk. In the course of their political lives they were both great supporters of the free press and frustrated by its results. Here are two quotes from Thomas Jefferson:
“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
It’s easy to say that Jefferson changed his mind or was being
hypocritical, but you don’t have to be a revolutionary
What is really hard for us to imagine today is the level of
interrelationship that existed between the Government, the political
parties of the early Republic and the newspapers themselves. During
We cannot talk about early news
reporting without giving the Alien and Sedition Act serious
discussion. Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache,
printed his own paper The Philadelphia Aurora. In the paper he
published letters written by George Washington at
Bias starts the moment
one chooses which story to cover or where to point the camera. Our
national founders believed powerfully in
The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Those that work in journalism will always choose what is published, printed and reported, but we are a free people. It is our responsibility, as it ever was, to choose to whom and what we listen.
For past articles, click HERE