Objectivity is (pardon my language) bullshit. Still, journalists and the public operate under the assumption that our news represents a fair picture of the world we live in. While that idea persists I am constantly astounded by the blundering missteps of journalists at all levels who masquerade under that label. Nothing like the accusations of the “liberal mainstream media” that earn nearly as much airtime as the election horse race, but a deeper level of systemic dysfunction.
The story that has my attention today ran in the Fremont Tribune today and concerns the bias of its News Editor.
In the wake of the Penn State scandal, Nebraska’s football game last weekend against the Nittany Lions was guaranteed to draw attention. One of the more touching scenes to come out of the game centered around Nebraska coach Ron Brown’s pre-game prayer.
In the 48 hours after the game, video links of the shared moment between Nebraska and Penn State players filled my Facebook feed and appeared in national news coverage. Without a doubt the scene created a poignant image.
Media grasp at these soft frames: what’s the “human angle?” A group of more than 225 football players and coaches gathered on the field sharing a faith message — that’s fodder for journalists.
Today the Fremont Tribune’s Tammy McKeighan published her own interview with Ron Brown. In concept, covering Coach Brown’s prayer is fine. In the context of the Penn State scandal the prayer represents a positive (if arguably misguided) event worthy of soft news coverage.
The problem: McKeighan is the Tribune’s News Editor. But she also publishes a column, Spiritual Spinach, about her faith life. One’s faith, like race, sexuality, marital or parental status should not preclude a journalist from writing about a subject-matter (some organization’s ethics codes do wade into politics). However, professional standards frame an expectation that journalists exercise self-awareness and consciously work through their biases. McKeighan makes no effort to do this.
This is where I return to Coach Brown’s appearance in the Tribune. McKeighan’s story might as well read: Coach Brown is unjustly called controversial. Faith — and I mean Christianity — is what’s needed to bring these boys, and our nation, together.
Journalists may not always expressly state their case, but their choices reveal quite a bit. Three passages especially make her point in this story:
“Where have we been silent when we should have been speaking up about injustice to God that comes out of abortion and evolution and homosexuality and in all kinds of ways that go against God’s teaching in the Bible? We’re no different,” he said, adding, “I’m tired of being politically correct and trying to have everybody like me. I’m here for the approval of God - not the approval of men.”
Ron, who leads the FreedMen Nebraska ministry, said he believes God has given him the courage to unite men and boys across the state to “stand up for the principles of Christ, even though they’re unpopular and it might cost us our jobs.”
What happened at Penn State is an atrocity, but also what’s happening around the world - how we’ve downplayed God and squeezed him out of the equation in our lives - that’s an atrocity,” he said. “The Penn State situation should be a reminder to us of the many other atrocities performed against God on a daily basis.”
These three tidbits most draw my ire. The story is published to the “Faith & Values” area in the “Lifestyles” section of the paper. I suspect that a content analysis would reveal that only a narrow slice of life appears here. In my quick survey of the website, I did not see a single story branching away from Christianity.
What of the nearly 25% of Americans who aren’t Christian? How about the 8 million people who openly identify as LGBT? Christian isn’t the only lifestyle. It’s certainly not the one most-persecuted in the U.S. (no matter what Coach Brown’s quotes suggest). And furthermore, it’s offensive and misleading to present “Faith and Values” as synonymous.
Forget McKeighan’s religious conviction for a while. She isn’t even in the business of accurate reporting. She fundamentally mischaracterizes the ACLU by conveying and not correcting Ron Brown’s belief that the “American Civil Liberties Union [is] trying to silence the Gospel message in the public schools.” I expect such ignorance from the general public — the ACLU poorly crafts its public image and as a result loses out to a louder, more raucous opposition voice.
But a News Editor? Come ON!
And how did this pass snuff with her editors?
McKeighan should no longer be News Editor of the Tribune if this is the quality of work we can expect of her. A clear conflict of interest needs to be addressed and resolved. And the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Tracy Buffington, should look more closely at the content going into the Tribune. The more I look, the more disappointed I am that this newspaper is my hometown press.