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Editorial: Irresponsible journalism undermines election coverage

It seems that in the middle of a competitive election, many media outlets have lost their ability to deliver unbiased information based on research, investigation and facts.

On Sunday, Barbara West, a reporter for Orlando-based TV station WFTV, presented one of the finest examples of what not to do in objective journalism. During an interview with Joe Biden, she continually asked one-sided questions, such as “Aren’t you embarrassed by the blatant attempts to register phony voters by ACORN, an organization that Barack Obama has been tied to in the past?”

Regardless of whom the interviewer supports, the purpose of an interview should be to extract fresh and substantive information from the interviewee, not emulate a negative campaign advertisement.

This isn’t to say that reporters should avoid asking questions that require robust answers — such interrogations are the foundation of investigative journalism. However, questions with an underlying motive of drawing out particular answers or emotional responses have no place in ethical media and serve no purpose in the national dialogue. The West/Biden spectacle seemed more like a debate than an interview.

West continued, in, the same scolding tone of voice to recite a quote by Karl Marx. This was a not-so-subtle attempt to draw a parallel between Biden’s political philosophy and Marxism. Biden responded by asking if the question was a joke. Though it was, the real humor was in the tragic comedy that was West’s interview.

Sarah Palin continually finds herself in similar situations, with media outlets attacking her as a person instead of addressing her policies.

During an interview with CNN’s Drew Griffin, Palin was presented with an unnecessary quote: “The National Review had a story saying that ‘You know, I can’t tell if Sarah Palin is incompetent, stupid, unqualified, corrupt or all of the above’.” This is one instance in which the phrase “gotcha media” seems well-suited.

There is an obvious distinction between presenting what to consider and how to consider it. Moments like these can erode a media outlet’s credibility, making viewers feel they cannot trust the source to provide unbiased information.

Viewers’ best defense against questionable information — or shady interviews — is to seek the truth themselves. There are several objective sources that provide unfiltered and direct information regarding nearly every issue concerning government.

Web sites such as politifact.com, factcheck.org and opensecrets.org are just a few that have been widely heralded as genuinely non-partisan and unbiased sources of information.

In the meantime, squash bias by calling media outlets out — including this one — when you feel that coverage isn’t as fair as it could be. Demand the facts.