“Majority in U.S. Continues to Distrust the Media, Perceive Bias,” says the headline of the September 2011 Gallup Report.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released its polling data that same month, finding “record-high negativity toward the media” on 9 of 12 core measures it tracks.

Gallup tells us that 47 percent of Americans view the media is too liberal, with 75 percent of the Republicans and conservatives agreeing. The Pew report shows 76 percent.

The media assure us that they really are non-partisan and objective. They would, wouldn’t they? But the great 18th century English jurist Sir William Blackstone pointed out centuries ago that no man may be the judge of his own case, and most people will agree today.

The media may feel justified by Gallup’s figures showing that 57 percent of Democrats and liberals think the media are “just about right,” but Republicans and conservatives will see that number as confirming the bias they suspect.

Those identified as moderates aren’t much help since they split 50-50 on the question.

I have no state breakdown for the bias perceived in Maine’s media, although I’ve never met a conservative or Republican who believes Maine’s media are bias-free. At most, they will identify individual reporters they believe make an effort to be objective.

Since a recent Gallup report finds that 36 percent of Mainers to be self-identified conservatives, as opposed to 38 percent moderate and 24 percent liberal, we can conclude that our state’s media have a credibility problem.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center aims to correct the liberal bias of the established media by setting up www.themainewire.com as a news source.

Columnist Al Diamon, who knows as many journalists as anyone in the state, reports that those he has spoken with don’t regard MHPC as a “credible” source (leaving aside the question of who and what they regard as a credible source, apart from the person they see in the mirror every morning).

Mike Tipping has laid down the first line of defense against this threat in his column on Jan. 10. His column provides three Internet site addresses. TheMaineWire.com is not among them. He prefers to be the sole judge of MHPC’s credibility. Apparently, he sees no need for his readers to actually judge for themselves.

Tipping’s column contains no criticism of any reports that have actually appeared on TheMaineWire site. He compares MHPC to a scorpion, accuses it of using skewed or misleading statistics, (without citing examples) and hints at sinister influences from “undisclosed” corporate and individual funders.

(Actually, I can help out Mike here. I made a $10,000 stock donation myself back when I still had stock holdings).

His central message is simply this: TheMaineWire is not a “legitimate” news source. It should be dismissed, disregarded and ignored. Sure, Tipping is affiliated with liberal (sorry, “progressive”) organizations. He freely admits it. Still, he offers himself as the judge and arbiter of legitimate news sources.

Let’s not be too hard on him, though. He doesn’t claim that there are not, or can’t be, legitimate conservative news sources. He just can’t think of any.

I argue here only for engagement. Calling Tipping a liberal or progressive does not constitute a refutation of his views, no more than calling MHPC conservative disproves its analyses. If established journalists are willing to offer specific criticism of TheMaineWire. com’s reports then let’s have a discussion.

There really isn’t much point to claim that there’s a fine line between journalism and advocacy. The Gallup and Pew results show a substantial part of the population does not support that proposition.

We have widespread disagreements about policies, ideas and values in this state and nation. It may not be possible to resolve those disagreements, but attempting to rule out contrary arguments and views as “illegitimate” will certainly not work.

There’s an interesting point in the Pew organization’s research. Many of those who regard the established media as biased to the left still see value in its “watchdog” role. This strikes me as sound common sense.

My own conservative beliefs forbid me regard the Republican, or any party, as a repository of integrity and idealism. I favor it because most conservative politicians are in its ranks, but I would not trust myself to view it with sufficient skepticism.

My own prejudices have produced errors of judgment about some of its personalities and programs in the past.

In sum, better a junkyard dog than no watchdog at all.

John Frary, of Farmington, is a retired professor and former Republican candidate for Congress.


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