Roger L. Simon

Biased or Unbiased - A Tale of Two Interviews

I read two interviews with Internet opinion leaders yesterday – Kathryn Jean Lopez , editor of National Review Online, and Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia. They are interesting to read together because they seem polar opposite solutions to the same problem – journalistic bias. Kathy (obvious disclosure: I occasionally write for NRO) is an articulate spokeswoman for what one might call the “honest bias” school of journalism (and by extension blogging):

The objective media thing is a charade. I’m not sure what the point of pretending otherwise is. We’d have livelier pieces to read and more serious debates, I think, if everyone just became an honest reporter/editor/publication. Report and do it with your slant. Just stop pretending to be doing otherwise.

“Jimbo” Wales talks of the forthcoming Wikinews this way:

At Wikipedia, we have very, very strong neutral policy. We call it a neutral point of view, and it’s really one of the central organizing principles of everything we do, including the news project.

But how does he preserve this neutrality and who defines it? It seems to come down to this:

One thing people don’t realize about Wikipedia is that there is a strong community–this group of 200 to 300 heavy contributors, especially. We all know each other. And you get to know, within the community, who is respected and who is authoritative.

In other words, you get to know who is supposedly neutral and who is not. I have to say I am suspicious. I think what you are getting to know is who is the subtlest and best advocate of his or her point of view. There is no simple solution to this.