Obama, Muslim misunderstanding and media bias

August 23, 2010

The Baltimore Sun correctly laments that 20 percent of Americans think Obama is a Muslim ("Our secret Muslim president," Editorial, Aug. 22). For the record, I'm not one of them.

I am, however, part of the 75 percent of Americans that according to a Gallup poll released last week have neither "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers and television news.

This isn't the same thing as saying we don't like your editorials, or we don't like your anchorman, or we don't like your commentators. This is saying "we don't believe what you tell us is happening in the world is happening the way that you say it is."

It's an absolutely abysmal number.

And it's resulted in exactly the type of internet fueled rumors and unregulated fringe websites The Sun's editorial board complains about.

If The Sun is truly distressed about the misinformation being tossed around internet servers worldwide, how about this: try telling the truth and accurately reporting the news. Don't tell just the news you like, and ignore the news you don't like. Don't favor one political party over the other.

Strive for diversity of thought and opinion in the newsroom, because personal opinions always filter into the news as it's reported. If the mainstream media can reclaim its credibility and believability, internet-fueled rumors would die much more quickly and have much less staying power.

People lose confidence in the media when they read news stories that are clearly fabricated or leading. One recent Baltimore Sun gem was titled "Maryland to save $829 million under national health care reform". Now, before anyone read word one, the vast majority of readers (backed up by a Sun online poll) didn't believe the headline. If The Sun had simply changed the title to "Some experts Say Maryland to save $829 million under national health care reform" then added a subtitle like "Instead, Marylanders will foot the bill with their Federal Tax Dollars" then credibility would have been restored and everyone would have been happy. Of course, then it would have been a non-story, which I assume is why it wasn't titled that way in the first place. The Sun did have the propriety to print a letter from one informed reader pointing out the flaws in the article, but that's not good enough. The Sun and the rest of the mainstream media must do a better job of presenting the news in a fair and accurate way the first time.

Running a newspaper or television news station is no more difficult today that it was in years past, except for the competition of the electronic media. Honesty, transparency, believability, credibility, common sense and diversity of thought are what sells.

And if you're going to have a motto like "Light for All" or " All the News that's Fit to Print" then for heaven's sake print all the news and stop cherry-picking the news to support a political philosophy. Because doing so simply opens the door for other's to report the news for you. Which is exactly what has happened and what I suspect will continue to happen for a long time to come.

Michael P. DeCicco, Severn

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