In a recent history course of mine, my professor told the class that, when reading any historian’s work, their narrative says just as much about the time they were living in as the period they were writing about. For example, Roman historian Livy, who lived from 59 B.C. to 17 A.D. and wrote about the centuries before, had certain biases that mutated his transcription of past events. Livy even says himself that he writes with the specific purpose of teaching certain moral lessons.

This pattern of transcribing and relaying “facts” in order to fit an agenda is not one that ended with Roman historians, but like much else, has been passed on to contemporary times. This is common among today’s historians, but more prevalent among journalists.

Journalists and news anchors are extraordinarily important people in today’s society. News anchors Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow and others are household names across the country, even for people who aren’t that attentive to the news. Have you ever stopped to think, “Who are these people? Are they trustworthy journalists or are they biased performers looking to gain viewers?” 

News anchors are part of the medium through which we get most of our information on the world, and their shows are growing more popular. Newspapers are losing readership while evening primetime shows are how 57 percent of Americans get their news. Can we trust the front men and women of these programs and their staffs to credibly choose which stories are reported on, and how they are reported?

Let’s start with Sean Hannity of Fox News. Hannity has his own primetime show on Fox News in which he disseminates information that is purported to be fact. Recently, Sean Hannity lent his radio show to two of Donald Trump’s attorneys. He didn’t have them on as guests to answer tough questions about the potential investigations the president faces. He gave them his show. Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow were allowed free reign over the program for three hours to spread their views unchecked and even take calls from listeners. This is an egregious dereliction of duty by a news anchor, to give away his show knowingly to allow a biased pair of partisans his national platform.

Trump’s now-former lawyer Michael Cohen also has proven issues with Hannity’s credibility and ability to be objective. Hannity was also a client of Cohen’s. This information was not brought forward willingly, but was “wrung from Mr Cohen’s lawyers by the judge’s order.” If Hannity wanted to be an impartial journalist and show a commitment to objective truth, then he would have come forward with this information, instead of downplaying its significance after it was revealed in a courtroom.

Hannity is not the only newsman, conservative or liberal, to have shown bias in both his personal and professional life. For example, Al Sharpton, whose past is strewn with connections to the Democratic Party and with personal controversies, has a 6:00 p.m. show on MSNBC called “PoliticsNation.” He also has a radio show called “Keepin’ It Real” and uses it along with his position with MSNBC to spread his ideology. Sharpton has worked in politics for decades and has had his fair share of controversies. The Tawana Brawley case, perhaps better known to our parents, is a stain on Sharpton’s reputation. A grand jury found that Brawley had lied and made false accusations of rape against several white men, including two police officers, but only after Sharpton had made slanderous remarks about both the police officers and the district attorney. These remarks resulted in Sharpton being found guilty and fined, and, according to some, sparked riots. In this case, Sharpton was made to put his money where his mouth was because he jumped on a situation to incite anger and gain publicity. He attempted to run for office on several occasions, but lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York, senator from New York and president of the United States. These issues, while not the only in Sharpton’s past, are clear markers of Sharpton’s ties to a political party in one case, and in the other, reckless behavior and slander.

Political bias in the media is not limited to Sean Hannity and Al Sharpton. Plenty of others across all networks spread their bias daily with the stories they choose to report and how they report them, with the guests they invite to the show, how they treat them and even seemingly simple choices such as the language they choose. Word choice might not seem important, and it is not always intentional, but it affects the tone of the speaker and reflects biases.

The point of this article is not to make you stop watching or reading news, but rather to ask that you do a little research into those you’ve trusted to research and report on the world for you. Whether it is Chris Cuomo, the host of CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time,” whose brother and father are staunch Democratic politicians from New York, or Laura Ingraham, host of “The Ingraham Angle” on Fox News, who worked as a speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Ingraham, who has made her political stances very clear, was encouraged by Republicans to run for Tim Kaine’s Senate seat in Virginia, and, most concerningly, endorsed Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016. I don’t mean to say that endorsing Donald Trump is an issue in of itself, but she set a dangerous precedent. “It was the first time in modern U.S. political history that a prominent media figure endorsed a nominee at his convention,” according to Newsweek writer Bill Powell.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment and its supposed guarantee of a free and independent press have almost become irrelevant with the advent of more politicized news. The political ties between the news media and both the Democratic and Republican parties have made them neither free or independent. They have devolved into propagandists of two power-seeking organizations. This does not mean that you can’t watch the news or that you can’t trust anything you see. It does mean however that there is an implicit or explicit bias in everything you see, and in order to see the full picture of any issue, this must be recognized. Jack W. Germond, a political reporter for nearly 50 years, wrote in his book “Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics”: “The rules were clear then. If you once crossed the line from journalism into partisan politics, you could not return. They were them and we were us.” 

David Hayse can be reached at dhayse@umich.edu.

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