To put us all on the same page, we need to work with the same definitions of the words. I chose to use the Oxford Dictionary, and all definitions are direct copies.
In accordance with rules or standards, legitimate
Just or appropriate: to be fair, the situation has special circumstances
Of a means or procedure: gentle or non-violent
Within the defined parameters: the ball was hit into fair territory
As an Adverb
Without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage
Keeping or showing a balance; arranged in equal proportions
Taking everything or opinion into account: a fair and balanced presentation
Prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person or group compared to another
A Verb (with an object)
To feel or show inclination for or against someone or something.
When talking about ideas, especially in today’s media, there is an enormous bias toward fair, which is detrimental to truth. Many of us hold that bias toward fairness as well. How often have you heard that there are “2 sides” to every story, or that the real story lies somewhere between what was said and what the truth is?
Holding a bias does not invalidate your ability to present a logical argument, but being fair at all costs can dramatically erode that valid argument. To expend energy in the inclusion of a specious argument is not presenting fairly, it presents those who may disagree an option to ignore fact over fallacy.
Let me cite an example:
In the early 15th century, the Europeans believed the world was flat. Yet, the Chinese knew from Zheng He that the world was round, as he was able to circumnavigate nearly a century earlier.
So, if Zheng were to agree with the Europeans, against the known fact of a round earth – Zheng looks like a moron.
That is a simple true or false issue. Not every issue that is encountered will be that simple. And perspectives on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of each issue will vary depending on the beliefs and experience of the person who hears them. Yet we expect the media to report on both sides of the issues – even when two sides do not exist. The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. And that holds true for media in the market. I do expect and believe that the national press is obligated to aspire to the central purpose, and strive to provide valid information to us, the people.
Which brings me to the initial question: Is fair and balanced without bias?
My answer is a simple one. No. But it can be. Presently you can find any number of stories in the national arena that mention the “argument” that a Corporation is a person. Not only is it wholly specious and arrogant, it is ridiculous. A corporation serves only to gain profit by providing a service, may be traded as an entity on the stock exchange, and has no ability to hold the door, make you dinner, or even watch your child. Corporations are run by and managed by and plundered by people, much like ships were plundered in the West Indies, but they do not qualify for personhood. Magellan didn’t fall off the edge of the earth, and it was “learned” the earth was round. I would venture a guess that few believed they could or would fall off after that became news. But, the national media, in a misguided use of bias feels it is valid to mention some movement that should be invalidated for ridiculous premise. To provide the facts that negate the argument, and point fingers at the troglodytes who are so foolish and self-important to believe that it should be possible. Instead, they present a sound or video clip for 15 of the 45 seconds allotted, and never discuss the other side. Don’t elucidate the myriad of issues that disprove the theory, and the multiple reasons why the movement is a bad one. And they do this to “be fair” to “show” the news without giving all of the information needed to make an informed decision.
But you can have bias and still be presenting fairly. You can even interject your own personal belief and thoughts into a discussion – if you are prefacing them as such, and if you are cognizant and careful about presenting facts and arguments. Morrow did it. Cronkite managed it as well. Hell – even Bill Moyers manages to present facts, opinion and dissent – and people can understand the 3 different components and then make their own decision.
But to present something as fact, without realizing your own bias, or denying the existence of a bias is not presenting a fact. It is parroting a belief. It is not journalism – it is Real Housewives of wherever the self-deluded reside.
I think it is most important that we all realize and recognize bias, good journalism, fairness, and how to determine a fact from an opinion. And then learn to present them all appropriately. As a blogger who will occasionally venture into the foray of the political, I am keenly aware of my biases and the often overwhelming need I have to show fairness, even to the point of losing the plot. More about my bias can be found in the About page.