Big Blow to WaPo’s Appearance of Objectivity

Eyebrow-raising move that the Washington Post just took. They’re asking readers – not their paid journalists – to help them comb through 24,000 e-mails pertaining to the governorship of Sarah Palin. Seems unprecedented. Obviously they’re looking for dirt. Which is in their prerogative.

But something tells me they’ve never done such a move vis-a-vis a prominent Democrat, let alone an important piece of legislation such as last year’s 2,000-page health care bill. And I doubt they ever will do something like that vis-a-vis a Democrat. Would hope to be proven wrong of course, but am not crossing my fingers on that one.

What they’re doing is legit in the sense that, as a news organization it’s their job to dig up dirt. But to beg unknown, untested, non-journalist strangers to do it for them, unpaid? Not only are they advertising to the world that they’re way short staffed and underfunded – and thus potentially damaging to their image as a prominent news organization (late-night comedians could get some mileage out of it) – but it’s treading on dicey territory; you never know what nutcases they may elicit help from. I suppose if the editors thoroughly cross-check the results, it may work.

But the fact that they probably will never do anything like that regarding someone on the left reinforces the perception that the Post is biased in favor of the left.

To be biased in favor of the left is in their prerogative, too. It simply means that fewer and fewer people on the right will purchase their product. That’s probably one of the factors contributing to the Post’s declining sales.

(What would be illigit is if the Post became government subsidized and still maintained its leftward bias, as is currently the case with PBS and NPR. FYI there have been proposals to provide government subsidies and/or tax subsidies to newspapers, given their declining fortunes.)

Note that the New York Times is having a similar dirt-dig, but the belief that they’re biased in favor of the left is so widespread that such a move by them probably is expected. While the Washington Post is known for leaning left, it’s also perceived as being less partisan than the New York Times. This latest move damages that perception.

The episode is also instructive because it illustrates that to dig up dirt on someone, the digger should be someone philosophically opposed to that person. If the digger is friendly to that person, he or she may disregard potentially negative information on that person – and when soliciting the help of unknown readers, the Post wouldn’t want that to happen. Also note that that’s probably why whenever there’s a special prosecutor for, say, a president, the special prosecutor comes from the opposing political party.

I submitted the Post’s online “application” form for the job of digging up dirt on Palin, but I did mention that I lean conservative, and that if that disqualifies me on the spot, to keep me in mind for any similar project they may have vis-a-vis a prominent Democrat. (Not that I actually think they’ll have a project like that in the future, which is exactly my point.)

So, I’ll bet virtually all of the 100 people they choose to do the digging will be strong critics of Palin for reasons explained above. If they (1) ever did have a project like that vis-a-vis a Democrat, would they (2) just keep it to strong critics of that person, and thus righties? Probably a moot point because (1) would never happen in the first place.

This episode is instructive in another way because our newspapers are supposed to try to dig up legitimate dirt on politicians of both main political ideologies. But with some 95 percent of reporters having a leftward ideology, wouldn’t they have a hard time bringing themselves to expose dirt on their ideological soul mates? They therefore probably often avoid targeting them in the first place, and if and when they do, they may disregard potentially negative information on that person. It’s like putting the chicken in charge of the chicken coop.

To help guard against that, they really should make more of an effort to put more righties on staff.

But I doubt that will ever happen. Even when they created a new position to report on what’s going on among those right-of-center, they hired a hard leftie for that.

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