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Saturday, Sep. 20, 2014

Like belly buttons

Posted Friday, January 4, 2008, at 5:23 PM

Opinions, it has been said, are like belly buttons -- everybody has one. If it were a condition of being a journalist that you have no opinions, there would be no journalists. On the contrary -- reporters sometimes have strong opinions. We have close exposure to government officials and to issues of public concern, for example, and it's only natural that we would have opinions about them.

What matters is not whether a journalist has an opinion, but whether he or she can put his opinion aside in the process of making sure that all of the stakeholders in a given story have their say. A good reporter can be fair to both sides even if she or he agrees with only one of them.

I once read, in a journalism magazine, a personal account by a reporter who would, in the grand scheme of things, probably be considered moderate-to-liberal. She was assigned to cover a speech by a well-known Christian conservative -- either Phyllis Schlafly or someone like Phyllis Schlafly -- with whom she sharply disagreed. She recognized her own potential bias and made a concerted effort to base as much of her story as possible on the speaker's exact words. Afterward, she drew praise from both sides -- the speaker's opponents and the speaker's supporters both said "you really showed her for what she is," and they both meant it as a compliment to the reporter.

My co-worker Brian Mosely worked for weeks researching a comprehensive series on the Somali immigration and the impact it had on the local community. It covered a variety of viewpoints. We've drawn criticism from both sides of the issue. Towards the beginning of the week, when Brian was laying out the Somalis' refugee status and quoting Catholic Charities about their work with the group, we were accused (viciously, in a couple of cases) of doing a puff piece and ignoring the problems. The last part of the series spoke in detail about the problems created by the Somali influx, and some readers (especially those who read only that last installment) accused us of doing a hatchet job and being closet racists.

Few, if any, of our critics have raised actual objection to any of the facts presented. (A few out-of-town Somalis have questioned whether this group or that one is part of the Bantu tribe, but Brian pretty much quoted the information he was given on that topic by Catholic Charities and other similar sources, which is all he had to go on.) Instead, they've grasped at straws in their criticisms of the series. One was upset that we would run a story about Muslims during Christmas week. Several, on both sides of the issue, have criticized us for interviewing source X when everyone should know that source X is biased.

But Brian pretty much talked to the people you have to talk to in a situation like this. If you want to find out how the Somalis got here, you have to talk to Catholic Charities. If you want to know the impact of Somalis on law enforcement, you talk to the police chief and the sheriff -- after all, they're the police chief and the sheriff. Even if they were completely off-base in their assessments -- and I doubt they're as far off-base as the most vocal Somali defenders have claimed -- their assessments would be newsworthy because they are the people in charge of local law enforcement.

Brian talked to a variety of people -- people who see the Somalis as noble victims trying their best to survive, and people who see the Somalis as an unwanted and uninvited hindrance. He quoted people on all sides of the issue, because that's what a reporter does.

Some of Brian's critics have cited things he's said in clearly-marked opinion columns, or in a personal blog which he hasn't maintained in years, as evidence that he's biased against the Somalis and therefore that the series must be biased.

As the editor responsible for putting that series on the front page of the Times-Gazette, let me say this: Hogwash.

Brian has opinions, to be sure. I don't always agree with them. Once, after Brian had written a number of columns skeptical of the existence global warming, I got a little fed up with him and decided I was going to interview a scientist on the issue. I called MTSU and asked the news and public affairs department to put me in touch with someone on the faculty whom I could interview about global warming.

I called the first of several names they gave me and ended up talking to a professor who is quite passionate about the issue -- but not in the way I was expecting. He believes, for mathematical reasons, that carbon dioxide could not possibly be responsible for the temperature changes being blamed on it by most other climatologists. He doesn't necessarily discount the existence of global warming but does not believe CO2 is responsible.

Well, I lived up to my responsibility as a journalist, set my own opinions aside, and reported what this professor had said. A few months later, on that same campus, Laurie David and Sheryl Crow appeared to talk about global warming, and I reported their words as well.

I believe the Somalia series stands on its own merits. Brian wears his political heart on his sleeve, much more than I do, but that doesn't mean that one of us is more biased than the other. As some have pointed out, a reporter who is open about his or her opinions gives you a chance to hold him accountable for what he does as an objective journalist. What matters is the work -- and in the case of the Somalia series, few have been able to fault the work. So, for whatever reasons, they've tried to shoot the messenger instead.


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
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I found the Somalia series to be very informative. I live out in the country and try to avoid going to town as much as possible. I was not aware that there were that many Somalians in Shelbyville although I have encountered them in stores in the resent past. It seems to me that there are problems with their assimilation into the main stream population particularly as it relates to our schools. The cultural differences will be very difficult to deal with and I think Brian made that point very well.

As for political bias, I guess "everybody has one" but there are "inies" and "outies" I find that most reporters tend to be a little to the left but Brian is usually a little to the right as am I and therefore I usually enjoy his perspective. I say, "keep up the good work".

-- Posted by Farmer Bill on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 7:30 PM

Question: Who can become a blogger?

-- Posted by jkelley on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 7:46 PM

jkelly asks :

Who can become a blogger?

Answer: You

https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccou...

-- Posted by USorThem on Sat, Jan 5, 2008, at 8:26 AM

Anyone local who sets up a blog using Blogger or WordPress.com (which I would recommend over Blogger) can e-mail me and I will be happy to post something to my blog alerting people to the fact.

-- Posted by Jicarney on Sat, Jan 5, 2008, at 9:46 AM

It is amazing how people can read the same thing, yet interpret it so differently.

What is also interesting is how nasty the comments can be, but that usually makes me stop reading, not agree.

After reading some of the blogs, I now understand that some of the comments came from reading only portions of Brian's article. I see how that can happen, but to get so nasty and be uninformed should be embarrassing.

There is much to say about this topic and the way it was interpreted. From the standpoint of generating discussion about an important issue, the article succeeded.

It would be nice if the disagreements were civil enough that we could derive benefit from the opposing viewpoints and not get mired down in mud slinging.

-- Posted by stevemills on Sat, Jan 5, 2008, at 10:10 AM

steve,

what really has me a bit miffed is the people that don't even live here trying to dictate how we should act. It's not like their inconvenienced... Much like what has happened to the Katrina victims.

-- Posted by Evil Monkey on Sun, Jan 6, 2008, at 12:51 AM

BTW I think Jkelley was wondering how he could become a picture toting Blogger on t-g.com

-- Posted by Evil Monkey on Sun, Jan 6, 2008, at 3:09 PM

I know, and I e-mailed JKelley privately on that issue.

-- Posted by Jicarney on Sun, Jan 6, 2008, at 4:53 PM

Evil Monkey should get his own blog too, I cannot pictures though. It would just be too horrid. You see, I gave up my good looks for the ability to type.

-- Posted by Evil Monkey on Sun, Jan 6, 2008, at 6:29 PM

I think Jkelley had a good question, how does one become a blogger for the TG? I'd guess one would have to be a reporter working for the paper?

-- Posted by cranberry on Sun, Jan 6, 2008, at 11:48 PM

This has been covered here in the comments on several occasions, so I tried not to repeat it in public, but apparently I need to, so here goes. We put out a public call for bloggers last June and we took pretty much everyone who responded and followed up. But we don't have an unlimited number of spaces. If you think you have something unique to add, e-mail me and explain what you want to do and why, and I'll decide whether or not it justifies adding. Otherwise, as pointed out above, you can create your own blog on one of the free services.

-- Posted by Jicarney on Mon, Jan 7, 2008, at 5:54 AM

The issue at hand is not about the affect of the Somalis here in Shelbyville not is about the opinions of Brian Mosley. It is about the systematic distortion and continues portrayal of the Somali people in Shelbyville as savages and people not fit to live in the modern fold. In that regard one would think that Mosley has succeed, at least when one reads the blind-support some are lending here on this response pages.

In many ways John Carney is betting on dead horse, especially when the truth is Mr. Mosley has a dark history of being closet-racist and some-one that targets the vulnerable and weak elements in our society to satisfy his inner-orgies of hate and chauvinism. The Somalis are an easy target for him, because it is both convenient expression of his hatred towards others and more importantly he believes that he can get away with his xenophobic views. But the fact remains that Mr. Mosley has a dark history of being excessively bigoted and xenophobic. It is time we should stop making excuses for Brian Mosley's explicit pronunciations of hate and intolerance and call a spade a spade.

-- Posted by adam omar on Tue, Jan 29, 2008, at 12:34 AM

Hey Omar or whoever you are - get a life and quit your complaining about how bad you've got it!

Mr. Mosely TELLS THE TRUTH and buddy, sometimes the truth hurts. But FACTS ARE FACTS and it's just tough if you can't handle the TRUTH!

I'm really sick & tired of people who come to this country (mostly ILLEGAL) and then try to tell us, the true citizens, how we should conduct ourselves!

I'm sick & tired of ILLEGALS and REFUGEES coming to this country and DEMANDING that they be given PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT!

If YOU are unhappy here, you are FREE to leave at anytime, and if you happen to be ILLEGAL then you should make tracks - because if I find anyone who's here ILLEGALLY, I'm contacting ICE ASAP!!!

-- Posted by puppydinks on Wed, Jan 30, 2008, at 1:17 PM

puppy,

Mosley expressed his inherent bigotry and hate by targeting the most vulnerable of segment of our society. It is no wonder that the only people who are defending him are those that hold his views of hate and bigotry. America is for every-one. The Somalis came here legally, they didn't break any American laws and certainly don't get any special treatment. Keep in mind that unlike your ancestors, the Somalis have committed genocide on the rightful owners of this land. Once again, a shining example on how bigotry blurs the reality. Good luck knocking your head against the wall. The Somalis are here to stay. They don't need your permission

-- Posted by adam omar on Fri, Feb 1, 2008, at 5:45 PM

correction:

"haven't committed any genocide"

-- Posted by adam omar on Fri, Feb 1, 2008, at 5:46 PM

That is very true... Everyone gripes about the illegals, then when you have foreigners who come here by legal means, they still don't like it...

So, if this really is "God's country" like many on these blogs have said before, then what on earth gives a single one of you HUMANS to decide who comes and who goes?

-- Posted by darrick_04 on Mon, Feb 4, 2008, at 1:41 AM


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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.
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