Monday, November 7, 2016

Charles Lewis: Unbiased and ethical journalists exist.

By Charles Lewis

I attended the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition 2016 Symposium in Windsor, ON., recently. I am writing this to address something that deeply concerns me about what I heard, over and over, about the media.

Speaker after speaker blamed the media for much of the misinformation about euthanasia and a general hostility towards our cause.

The media is not perfect. But nor is any profession perfect. We all have encountered bad dentists, indifferent doctors, inept lawyers and lax government officials. Though the difference is most of us do not condemn the entire profession.

I will go as far to say that there are journalists whose biases get in the way of their reporting. I think this is especially true of the CBC.

I worked at the National Post for 15 years. I was an editor for half that time I was an editor and the rest I reported on religion. Many people saw my bias as a conservative Catholic come through, though I always tried to balance my pieces. But my audience, mainly conservative Canadians, applauded my point of view. In other words they did not mind my bias because it fit with their world outlook but they might condemn someone else with a liberal bias.

At the Windsor Symposium I stood up at one point to try to make the point that some of the country’s most prominent columnists — Margaret Wente of the Globe, Rosie DiManno of the Star, and Rex Murphy and Andrew Coyne of the National Post all raised serious questions about euthanasia.

But I soon realized that many in the audience had never heard of these fine journalists. Which made me wonder how anyone can judge the media when they are not aware of some of the prominent people in the profession.

I think something else needs to be explained — and this especially applies to print journalists. Over the past 15 years most newspapers have seen their newsroom staff gutted. Meaning for those left behind there is more work to do.

Even in good times putting out a newspaper is a monumental task. Every day there is a firm deadline. I wrote several thousand stories in my career. Some were features in which I had a week or several days to write. But most stories are done in a single day. More often still they are done in a matter of hours.

An editor will turn to a reporter at 2 p.m., four hours before deadline, and say she needs 800 words on something that just took place. That means that the reporter must get interviews lined up at lightening speed. If the reporter is luck, he finds the best people. If not he finds whom he can. In newspapers there is no arguing with the clock.

But here is the important point. No one should read a newspaper story as being definitive. A story should be read for the information it contains. If the story is about conscience rights for doctors, for example, what is important is what is new in the story: Did a court just rule against conscience rights? Is there a proposal to limit those rights?

At that point readers who really care about the issue need to do their own research. That is the beauty of the Internet. You can plug in key words and get a raft of information, much of it provided by conservative and religious sites. In other words, let the newspaper article, or the item on radio or a televised newscast, be your starting point.

Finally, and this applies mainly to newspapers, editorials and news are separate spheres. Editorial boards are supposed to reflect the views of the owners. For the most part reporters and editors, who produce what fills the rest of the paper, are not guided by editorials.

Let me now give you a list of some great websites where you will find great information that conforms more to what most of us see as the truth. However, one caveat: It is a big mistake to read only what you agree with. First off, by never reading the other point of view you will have no idea of the arguments they use. And if you do not know, how can you combat it? Also, even in those articles and editorials that seem to oppose us, there is often something that indicate the doubts of the writer. This could be an opening for dialogue.

Most writers like getting emails. The key is to be polite and not start off with accusations. Treat these people with the same dignity we afford each other.

So here are some sites to bookmark on your computer. Many of these will send you daily newsletters. They have good information and go through a process of rigorous editing — something important to make sure writers tell the truth or at least do not stretch it beyond all credibility.

Here they are: The National Review, National Catholic Register, Christianity Today, The Rebel Media, The Acton Institute, Catholic Civil Rights League, The Atlantic (at times) and Mercator Net, and The Wall Street Journal. This is partial list. Find your own sites and share them.

Finally, two of my favourite columnists work for the dreaded New York Times: David Brooks and Ross Douthat. These are highly ethical and conservative men and can be read for free. You would be wise to read them.

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