October 06, 2003
The Framing of the Question
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I am beginning to get very tired of the rather biased framing of questions concerning conservative scandals in the press. The idea of unbiased journalism is to not present one bias over another, to state the situation and possible considerations as evenly as possible.
We must be aware of the fact that a journalist's question on a topic can sway viewers. The question itself provides a sort of grounding of the issue, a statement which the audience often assigns as the common assumption which will be believed until a great enough case is presented to disprove it.
For example, if you were to ask about the allegations concerning Schwarzenegger and women, a balanced question would be: "Are these stories about Schwarzenegger a last-minute attempt to smear him, or are they a legitimate story that should raise concerns in the minds of voters about the candidate?" The question does not assume a side in the question, and presents both possibilities, as any responsible journalist should do. It does not make any assumptions, and keeps the issue open. Perhaps the question could be more evenly stated to include other possibilities, but you see my point here.
However, in the press recently, the question is slanted: "Are these stories about Schwarzenegger a last-minute attempt to smear him?" This version of the question takes a side, and ignores or devalues the other perspective. Yes, the question can be answered to clarify the issue, but the damage has been done: the journalist has given the audience the impression that the smear idea is the one that has the most credence, and will stand until a preponderance of evidence can be brought to show it is untrue. That is biased journalism.
And the conservative scandals have been getting this kind of journalistic bias quite a bit in recent days. Has Rush been the target of the liberal media? Are Democrats taking a minor political blunder and trying to politicize it into a new Watergate? These questions are unacceptable from anyone who presents themselves as an unbiased journalist.