Protect your precious credibility

By Jerry Bellune, Writing Coach

What if your police chief came out with what sounds like a controversial statement?

What if he said that illegal immigrants, criminals and rapists had invaded your community? 

Strong charge but is it true? Would you publish this without asking for evidence to support it?

Numbers rarely lie – but people do. Or at least exaggerate.

What if your mayor predicted a blood bath if the voters do not let him keep his job?

What kind of blood bath and why? What is he or she talking about?

You probably see where this is going.

Whether you love or hate Donald Trump – or any other politicians – doesn’t really matter.

You are supposed to be objective unbiased and fair.

Trump is well known for controversial statements. Other politicians are, too.

Trump opened his first presidential campaign with the accusation that U.S. officials were allowing criminals and rapists to cross our southern border. Based on whose evidence? The FBI or the Department of Homeland Security? 

He promised to build a border wall to keep them out and that Mexico would pay for it.

So much for campaign promises.

All of us journalists like to believe we are objective and our reporting is unbiased.

The truth is that we are as biased as anyone else – even if we may be more committed to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Linda Feldmann, The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington bureau chief, says her media colleagues have committed journalistic sin, whether intentionally or not.

“If I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the country,” Trump said at a rally in Ohio. 

Biased news accounts left out the context of his words. Trump was talking about the impact of future Chinese imports on the jobs of those working in the U.S. auto industry.

That omission in the news accounts implied a blood bath of violence between Trump friends and foes.

Trump’s statements are often ambiguous, Feldmann says. Without context, it is easy to misinterpret what he actually means.

He told his voter base in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest the 2020 vote count, she said. But he did not include invading Capitol Hill. Yet many in the media as well as his critics in politics act as if he has already been tried and convicted of insurrection.

Trump’s critics blame him for “fostering an environment that could lead to violence,” she says. But no one has even tried to indict him for what happened.

Trump attracts supporters with his fiery rhetoric. His supporters fervently believe he is constantly misinterpreted, she says. Ironically that helps him play the victim card as unjustly accused.

What does this mean for us in journalism?

We must bear in mind that our readers are suspicious of us, no matter how fair we try to be.

They can recognize bias – and some times even imagine it. We are on probation every day whether we like it or not.

Make sure who you quote and how you do it is complete and in the proper context.

Don’t put yourself and your credibility in question.

Next: Why write shorter sentences

The above will appear in The Art of Compelling Writing, Volume 3. Volume 1 and 2 are available at Amazon.com for $9.99 each. The author, a well-known writing coach and retired newspaper owner, wrote these books to help editors like you teach your reporters how to write well. 

Sales proceeds go to adult literacy tutoring.

To comment or with questions, please write JerryBellune@yahoo.com

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