Take commentary, bias out of news

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

With journalistic integrity being questioned by the nation, it’s easy for people to pair political views with the news sources they choose to read. Even more dangerously, journalists and hard-news organizations are being overshadowed by colorful commentators and fast-fact news sites that boil down a story to 30 seconds of video, making it that much easier for the public to be misinformed.

Commentators who focus on opinion-based “reporting,” such as Tomi Lahren and Hasan Piker, often blur the lines between their own personal bias and the way they choose to report the story. Their connections to professional news agencies make it increasingly confusing for viewers to disseminate fact from commentary.

For instance, Lahren, former host of a conservative commentary show on Glenn Beck’s channel, TheBlaze TV, was known for rounding out her segment “Tomi” with a section called “Final Thoughts.” It was known for being full of rants about, well, pretty much anything. During her time with TheBlaze, Lahren was able to moderate her vocal opinions with the facts she chose to report during the majority of her segment. However, since she split with TheBlaze in March 2017, Lahren has turned her reporting into commentary almost exclusively. For the less-informed viewer who watched her show and paid attention to what she had to say while she was actually reporting facts, it may be easy to take what she says at face value, especially if it confirms a pre-existing personal bias.

Similarly, Piker is a liberal commentator and reporter for the Young Turks, an online media site claiming to be “The Largest Online News Show in the World.” Similar to Lahren, Piker reports news and also provides commentary, and Piker’s role seems to be as blended as Lahren’s, more consistently posting commentary than fact, although he still reports stories during his segments.

Of course Piker and Lahren are not the only commentators to send mixed messages to the public. Many comedians, like John Oliver and Trevor Noah, capitalize on their comedic perspectives on political issues. However, one major difference is that these comedians do not label themselves as journalists, and therefore, they absolve themselves of the journalistic responsibilities people such as Lahren and Piker carry.

The mixing of these mediums – sharing fact and opinion interchangeably – not only puts a heavier burden on the viewer to discern what to take at face value, but it also lowers the credibility of mass media. Journalists and others who report the news are tasked with a burden of proof: the ability to provide factual evidence proving that what they assert is true. Therefore, when journalists mix opinion with fact, they are no longer able to provide adequate burden of proof. Just as the line between fact and opinion are clearly delineated in print journalism with a designated opinion page and clearly marked news pages, social media journalists need to make an obvious distinction between news and commentary.

There are plenty of reporters who strive to uphold the standards of journalistic integrity. For those searching for truth – truth separated from bias – there are plenty of news organizations who work to avoid bias in their reporting of news events. We at the Lariat strive every day to report stories no matter the political impact, and we urge the American people to seek out those who uphold the burden of proof, instead of simply relying on fast, dumbed-down and opinionated “news” sources.