Integrity Matters
May 18, 2005

Writer, reader see different sides of bias

Question: (E-186)

Dear Jim:

My first business mentor explained the difference between stubborn and loyal. When he asked if I knew the difference, I paused, and he took the silence as permission for him to define the terms: Loyal is when you agree with me and stubborn is when you don't. We laughed, but I did get the point...perhaps bias fits into the same distinction: it often depends on whether one agrees with what someone else says or writes. So before we're too harsh on media bias, let's assess the implications.

Some people avoid thinking for themselves. Perhaps they lack the language skills, the time or maybe they're simply lazy. They prefer to have information interpreted for them. Savvy marketing professionals know how to package products, including headlines and stories, to attract customers.

Unless individuals are willing to research and study issues, then it should be no surprise that those selling news products will provide attractive, sometimes sensational, headlines to increase mind share and market share. Is this bias or shrewd business?

A dozen years ago, I spoke with former North Carolina head basketball coach Jim Valvano. It was just before the United States went to war with Iraq, for the first time, and Coach "V" and I were talking about important lessons from our childhood days - his in New York City and mine in small towns in Indiana and Missouri. What was particularly interesting was his story about how his father had taught a valuable lesson about intellectual snobbery and bias.

Watching their dad reading the color comics, one wisecracking brother asked why Mr. Valvano read only the "funny papers" on Sunday. A long pause followed. Then he noisily folded the comics and firmly placed them on the table next to his favorite chair.

Mr. Valvano, looking at his two college-educated sons, reminded them that he enjoyed the comics because he had difficulty reading. He said he was glad his sons could read better than he could, but he enjoyed the comics, especially the pictures, because they helped him understand English, his second language. And, then he made a powerful point: "Cartoons are for those who don't read so well and editorials are for those who don't think so well."

Coach Jim Valvano said he and his brother both felt ashamed - and immediately apologized to their dad.

Bias, by the media or individuals, can occur any time and seldom reflects integrity. Drawing conclusions hastily, without thoughtfulness and thoroughness, will lead to errors in judgment.

Bias and prejudice, of all types, must go away because integrity matters, in all situations.

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