May 9, 2022 — The debate over both-sides-ing or both-sides-ism seems to have subsided since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war likely because an overwhelming majority of Americans agree Moscow’s narrative is often utterly devoid of truth. But with the midterm elections nearing, I suspect complaints against the mainstream news media’s insistence on obtaining both sides of news stories will soon resume.
According to Merriam-Webster, both-sides-ing is a “critique leveled at the media and public personas referring to the practice of finding a second angle on a story in an attempt at appearing ‘fair’ to each side, which can often be seen as lending credibility to a side or objectionable idea that has none.”
From my internships in high school to my days in journalism school to my work at two Pulitzer Prize winning newspapers, I was instructed to always search for the second side or as many sides of every story to ensure the coverage was fair and balanced. In fact, one of my employers listed the failure to obtain the multiple sides as grounds for dismissal.
Public deserves the ability to make its own judgment
As a result, the suggestion that journalists should somehow be dismissive of any point of view strikes me as malpractice at best and dishonesty at worst. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, journalists should apply to critical thinking to the views of all responsible parties, no matter the credibility of each perspective.
Yes, it’s more work to vet multiple views, especially at a time when the number of journalists and the resources available to them is in rapid decline. But that’s no excuse for shortcutting the reporting process.
If one side’s version of events lacks credibility, then it’s the reporter’s job to document it, not simply label it so. Readers, listeners and viewers deserve to evaluate the evidence for themselves that supports or casts doubt on all points of view.
Shed light in all directions
As a young journalist, I remember seeing the Scripps Howard corporate logo for the first time. It was a black line drawing of a lighthouse at night with light beaming out of the tower in both the left and right directions. The tag line was, “Give light and the people will find their own way.”
That should continue to be the objective of journalism. Provide the public with the facts and let them make up their own mind. Unfortunately, too much of what is billed as journalism today is merely commentary. That trend has only flourished with the advent and growth of 24-hour cable news.
Shedding light on all views and subjecting them to critical review is the cornerstone of journalism and an informed public. Simply ignoring or dismissing positions that don’t meet a journalist’s biases or preconceived notions of the truth is advocacy, not journalism.