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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. 
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Law and Disorder

Good thing I was interested in live TV last night rather than using the DVR. Disappointing would have been the recording. I turned off the TV about half way through the first of two “Law and Order” episodes, disgusted how one-sidedly political the show has become. Naively, I had hoped for respite with the cast change. No such luck.

Episode one sought to put alleged Iraqi prisoner abuses on trial. The timing and context had to be deliberate given the election year. As if we hadn’t watched or read enough already about the prisoners’ treatment for it to be repackaged as entertainment. Geez. I tuned into episode two during the last 20 minutes, which made nonsense out of people devastated by the 9-11 attacks on the Twin Towers. 
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For the Gipper

Washington mourned the death of Ronald Reagan this week. While sentimental and opportunity for people to pay last respects, the mourning struck me, as it always does, somewhat misplaced. Why show so much respect for the dead when the living could use it more?

I understand that Alzheimer’s gripped the former president and that maybe he couldn’t appreciate friends or fellowship the way he used to. What about the family? Particularly considering the seriousness of his illness? 
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I Must Be Living Under a Rock

Living in the Washington, D.C. area—hey, right off Connecticut Ave., baby—and tracking high-tech and the Internet for work, you’d think I’d know about what’s going on. Apparently, I have too much in common with Patrick the starfish from SpongeBob Squarepants. There’s a reason he lives under a rock, folks.

This morning, while checking the couple hundred or so RSS feeds I monitor, I stumbled onto this tantalizing headline, “Sex Scandal Rocks US Congress,” from Express India. So exactly how far around the world do I have to go to get local news: “Washington loves nothing as much as a summer sex scandal, and the season is off to an early start this year, as a Congressional aide was sacked after posting her lovemaking exploits on the internet”, according to the story, with a dateline of today. 
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Voter Profiling

I guess privacy doesn’t mean much during an election year. According to a Reuters story by Andy Sullivan, politicians are “drawing detailed profiles” of voters. Mr. Sullivan quotes Grassroots Solutions founder Robert Richman as saying, “It’s pretty scary, the stuff you can get on people”.

It’s funny how politicians often talk big about protecting people’s privacy (except maybe with regard to Homeland security). But in the crunch, some won’t hesitate to mine data the same as businesses. 
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If You’re Political, Then say So

Should journalists make political contributions? That’s a quandary raised in a today’s Washington Post story by reporter Howard Kurtz. The situation is this: Some news organizations allow staffers—and that includes editors and reporters—to make political contributions. Such contributions could infer bias and so tarnish the contributor’s and/or news operation’s neutrality.

As a former journalist too often disgusted by the news media misbehaviors, I’m in favor of the contributions, as long as there is full disclosure. My reasoning is simple. Reporters, editors, and publishers are people. That means they do have biases and even agendas. But the mask of so-called neutrality often hides the real story behind news stories. I like the idea of those purporting to deliver unbiased news stories and analyses offering readers insight into their political leanings. 
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Blog the Vote

According to a story in yesterday’s Washington Post, political candidates wooing younger voters should skip the ads and blog. The story, by Brian Krebs, cites a study sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship program and the Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement center at the University of Maryland.

According to Mr. Krebs, “The survey suggests that the Internet is most effective for candidates pursuing young people who are already interested in politics or passionate about certain key issues.”
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