If It Looks Like Bias, Walks Like Bias, Is It Bias?

Oh PLEASE! What is the New York Times doing? This morning, I clicked on a story by reporter Todd Purdum headlined, “Best Defense: More Offense”; I had been reading different stories around the Web about the second presidential debate. Before I could get to the story, a banner ad touting John Kerry’s success in the debate filled a separate page; the Democratic National Committee had paid for the ad.

Now as a former journalist, I do know something about boundaries between editorial and advertising content. In print, placement of an ad next to a related news story is a big no-no. Reputable newspapers or magazines would never place, say, an ad about Microsoft Windows in the same spread—or two-page layout—as a positive review of the product. In politics, this rule is typically more strictly followed in the United States. In broadcast journalism, the now defunct “Fairness Doctrine” helped ensure political fair play. 

Broadcast and print managing editors have long understood that advertising should not influence, or appear to influence, editorial content. If nothing else, it’s good business. If people don’t trust what they read or see, they may look elsewhere; fewer readers or viewers would mean fewer subscribers and advertisers.

I would expect the same good practice to follow longstanding print publications into online editions. Apparently, that’s not the case with the New York Times. I’m so peeved about the Kerry ad preceding the debate story, I plan to cancel my print edition subscription as soon as I post this blog; I have been a long-time subscriber, paying more for “all the news that fit to print” over the two local Washington papers.

The placement stinks of bias. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the New York Times, because the political stories are a little too left for my tastes. But, broader reporting is excellent. Or so I thought. We’re in the midst of a highly-charged presidential election, where it’s hard to know what news to believe because there is so much obvious partisanship out there.

How can I, how can anyone, trust a newspaper that puts a Flash political ad for one of the candidates before a story about that candidate and his opponent?

Photo Credit: Ken Zirkel

Editor’s Note, Oct. 13, 2014: I eventually cooled my anger and still subscribe to the Times online today.