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Von Pinnon: Trend toward politicized media makes us dumber

If you believe some of the people who write or call me from time to time, The Forum is either the most politically liberal news organization on the planet or the most politically conservative.

If you believe some of the people who write or call me from time to time, The Forum is either the most politically liberal news organization on the planet or the most politically conservative.

I used to try to challenge those assumptions, but nowadays I mostly just hear them out and thank them for their observations.

Let's face it: In America today, there's no room for moderates. Even those who claim to be moderate are suspect. Nobody can strive for neutrality or objectivity, right?

In the Forum newsroom, we let the facts guide us. We try to be equally skeptical and questioning of everything and everyone we cover. Are we perfect? No. Sometimes we don't go far enough. Sometimes we go too far. Sometimes we flat out fail to ask the questions for which our readers want answers. Those are fair criticisms.

That we cover a story or put it in a certain spot because we agree or disagree with what it has to say is illogical. We cover stories and decide where they run based on what we think our readers want to know.

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That said, we do have a perception problem, and most of it is born from the very opinion page on which this column appears.

The editorial - the institutional opinion of the paper - as well as the letters, columns and cartoons we choose to publish daily create both favor and ill will toward The Forum as a whole, depending on a person's world view.

It's reasonable - though erroneous - for readers to believe that the opinions shared in an editorial or cartoon we publish must dictate how we approach that particular subject or ideology in the news pages, even though newspeople have nothing to do with them.

For that reason, I once remarked to a senior executive here that if we really wanted to clear up that perception problem, we'd do away with the opinion pages and all of our columnists. The paper would be far less influential and entertaining but, minus the commentary, would be far more credible to some readers.

Of course, this blurring of the news and commentary line is even more pronounced on radio and cable TV, where in some cases there is no news whatsoever. For instance, the prime-time hours of the Fox News Network and MSNBC, to name a network at each end of the political spectrum, are wall-to-wall punditry. The entire day of local AM radio isn't much different.

In an opinion column for the latest Newsweek magazine about the Obama administration's latest feud with Fox News, Jacob Weisberg asserts that most 24-hour cable news networks have adopted the "Australian-British-continental model of politicized media," where tradition dictates people subscribe to media that supports their political view. He goes so far as

to call this approach to the news fundamentally "un-American."

"What's most distinctive about the American press is not its freedom but its century-old tradition of independence - that it serves the public interest rather than those of parties, persuasions, or pressure groups," Weisberg writes.

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The most disturbing part of this trend toward more ideologically slanted information is that media that have so much potential to make us a more informed society is instead making us dumber, which in turn makes us more vulnerable.

Everybody's got an opinion. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer news outlets today have factual information that helps people make smart choices about their lives and futures.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.

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