FIRST-PERSON: The New York Times flunks the fairness test, again

Baptist Press
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Posted: Mar 16, 2012 5:52 PM
FIRST-PERSON: The New York Times flunks the fairness test, again
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- The New York Times published an advertisement carrying the headline "It's Time To Quit The Catholic Church" on March 9. Placed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ad was a scathing attack on the Catholic church and encouraged liberal and nominal Catholics to abandon their faith.

"We invite you to free yourself from incense-fogged ritual, from ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men, from blind obedience to an illusory religious authority," the FFRF ad urged.

Four days after the FFRF ad appeared in The Times, two organizations -- The American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization Of America -- sought to place an ad that mimicked the FFRF ad in almost every way. The proposed ad, however, encouraged moderate Muslims to exit Islam.

"It's Time To Quit Islam" the headline in the proposed ad read. It asked, "Will it be religious freedom, freedom of speech, or back to the Dark Ages? Do you choose women and their rights, or imams and their wrongs? Whose side are you on?"

The ad, though, has yet to see the light of day in The Times. Pamela Geller, a blogger and executive director of Stop Islamization of America, indicated the Times told her the situation in the Middle East is such that it would not be appropriate to run the ad at this time. However, it might consider running the ad at another time.

Geller did not accept The Times explanation. "I can't believe this is the narrative. You're not accepting my ad. You're rejecting my ad. You can't even say it," Geller told The Times according to a variety of reports.

Will The New York Times actually ever run the "It's Time To Quit Islam" ad? I wouldn't hold my breath. The Times has a history of left-leaning bias. The flap over the two recent ads, each critical of religions, seems to expose the Times also has trouble being objective.

It is no sin to be biased. Everyone possesses some degree of it. Bias, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, is an inclination or prejudice for or against one thing or person. No one is completely free from bias.

I sat down to watch a college basketball game recently. I had no affinity for either team playing. However, after watching for only a few moments, I found myself favoring one team. Without even thinking about it, I found myself biased, hoping a particular team would win.

Bias is reality, even at a news organization like the esteemed New York Times. But a person can be biased and still be objective. To allow bias to interfere with objectivity, especially at a news organization, is wrong.

Objectivity, again appealing to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as "not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts."

I can be biased about any subject while still treating it objectively. Objectivity simply requires that I present the position of a person or organization and the facts of a situation accurately and fairly.

My conclusions will naturally flow from my bias. However, so long as I do not skew facts or misrepresent the position of a person or organization, I am being objective. To me, objectivity and integrity go hand in hand.

When The New York Times chose to run the ad negative about the Catholic Church only to refuse a few days later an identical ad critical of Islam, it was not being objective, it was not being fair and it certainly was not being balanced.

While the recent episode at The Times is a glaring example of the newspaper's lack of objectivity -- its lack of fairness -- it is not the first time the publication has let its bias influence objectivity.

The Danish publication Jyllands-Posten printed its collection of cartoons mocking Mohammed in 2005. As a result, riots swept across the Islamic world. Though the drawings were certainly newsworthy at the time, The Times refused to run them.

In February 2006, the same Times that passed on publishing the Mohammed cartoons published a large photo clip from a controversial video by deceased artist David Wojnarowicz that showed Jesus dying on the cross with several large ants crawling on his body.

A host of more subtle transgressions of objectivity could be offered as evidence to show The New York Times, the so-called newspaper of record for America, has no trouble offending the followers of Christianity. However, at the same time, it is reticent to print anything negative about Islam.

"Fairness is not an attitude," commented Brit Hume, senior political analyst for Fox News. "It's a professional skill that must be developed and exercised." At the New York Times, it would seem, fairness and objectivity are not skills that are highly prized, at least not with regard to Christianity.

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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