UM Dean of Journalism School Does Not See Mainstream Media Bias in Presidential Coverage
Republican Donald Trump swears the mainstream media is colluding with Democrat Hillary Clinton to help her win the Presidency. Larry Abramson, Dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism, disagrees.
“I find plenty of coverage that I think is very balanced, very informative,” Abramson said. “I think there has been new energy injected into the ‘fact-checking’ movement. During the debates we’ve seen a lot of resources going into the fact checking by some of the major news organizations. I think if you look around, there are more objective sources of information that you might think. At the same time, I think it’s definitely true that some organizations have seen this as an unusual challenge, and have gone out further on a limb than they ordinarily would, and they’ve admitted that.”
Abramson said the journalism school teaches students to remove their own beliefs and opinions and focus on all sides of the issue.
“That’s what we teach our students, that they need to be fair, that they need to go out there and look especially hard for those opinions they most strongly disagree with,” he said. “At the same time, we do teach them to go after lies. We teach them to really pursue the truth and go after people with a flagrant disregard for the truth. So, when someone comes on and basically begins making up facts, and I’m not naming anyone in particular, they’re going to make themselves a target for closer scrutiny, and that is something that we do teach our students.”
Referencing the Watergate scandal in the 1970’s, on the issue of whether the press should be a ‘watchdog’ or an ‘attack dog’, Abramson said instead of biases, journalists have values.
“We do speak out in favor of human rights,” he continued. “We do stick up for the rights of the oppressed and try to oppress the comfortable. So, whenever someone steps on those basic human values, I think that the press should become an attack dog. Let’s face it, Richard Nixon was a crook, and he deserved the heat that he got from the press.”
Abramson said there is one style of journalism he opposes.
“One thing I don’t defend is ‘he-said, she-said’ journalism,” he said. “If you were to cover this election by just saying ‘Hillary says this, and Donald says this’, I don’t think you’d be doing your listeners or your viewers a great service. In some cases, more scrutiny is appropriate in order to say this person’s argument just isn’t credible and doesn’t square with the facts.”
Abramson said the journalist’s job is to create the ‘first draft of history’.
“I think there’s plenty of work to be done to help people make up their own minds, and that’s what a democracy is all about. They are supposed to be able to walk into the voting booth with the tools to make their own decision, and I don’t think any journalist would question the responsibility of any voter to vote on their own understanding.”