On bias, transparency, and privilege


When I read about the Lisa Simeone debacle this week, at first I was outraged, and then it made me nervous, and now I’m not sure what to think. 

In case you missed it, basically Simeone was a radio host for a Soundprint, a documentary show, and The World of Opera, both of which air on NPR. She got in trouble for her involvement and affiliation with OccupyDC. Simeone is a freelancer, and not an employee of NPR, but the way the story was reported, it seemed like NPR “pressured” her bosses to fire her, and she was indeed fired from Soundprint, although not from The World of Opera. Then, NPR decided to stop distributing the opera program.

First of all, I was mad because, as a freelancer, it didn’t seem fair to me that a person should be expected to quell all personal beliefs and affiliations for a part time gig. But even if she was a full time employee, it seemed to me that requiring journalists that have no political bias is, well, kind of old school.

[Editor’s note: “Old school” sometimes goes as far as saying journalists shouldn’t “take sides” by voting.]

I never went to journalism school. I got into writing through an alternative route, through the wave of new media, starting out as a citizen journalist writing a story here and there to now where it’s pretty much my main job save the occasional teaching or acting gig.

In my experience with TCDP and other places, I’ve been told the most important thing is transparency, rather than some sort of standard of neutrality and uninvolvement.

It’s a more logical way of doing things, I think, because it’s impossible to not have any opinions. And even if you are so dedicated to being unbiased, you can’t help who you are and what your background is. 

For example, you can’t be neutral about your own privilege. As I write about issues of the achievement gap, or the employment gap, or even as I cover something like Slutwalk, which has received criticism for its white privileged bias, I’m aware of my own privilege. I’m aware that I’ve gone through life with certain givens — education being among the biggest ones.

On top of that I have a worldview that was built on life experiences. And my lefty, artsy bias informs the way that I report on things, even if it’s not an opinion article. It’s a filter to the way I perceive the world, and I can’t just take it off. Better to just acknowledge that it’s there, no?

I actually haven’t been to any of the Occupy protests here in Minnesota. I’m not sure why. I haven’t had any assignments about it, and I guess I just wasn’t compelled to go as a protester myself, though I basically agree with the tenets of the protests.

But I did participate in a protest this summer, at Marcus Bachmann’s clinic. I didn’t report about it, but I did discuss it here in this column. I wonder if I’m now disqualified from ever working for NPR or other news stations that have policies where you have to pretend you are not a human being? Ah well!