Journalists must become more transparent about their biases in order to regain credibility with the public, particularly after recent scandals involving Rolling Stone and other news organizations.
Despite the Society of Professional Journalists’ concern that transparency isn’t enough, I think it is a good first step. Here is my declaration of transparency.
I come from flyover country: Idaho, Colorado and South Dakota. I even wrote a book about it.
I face battles over liberal bias in the academic world, although my journalism colleagues generally respect my views. Others outside of my department do not.
In my misspent youth, I voted for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. I thought Ronald Reagan was a dreadful president until I looked at his record. After being a liberal for many years, I found the presidency of Bill Clinton abhorrent because of his sexual misconduct.
I worked throughout the world for some prominent news organizations — The Associated Press, Newsweek and ABC News — for more than 20 years. One colleague said I might have seen more bodies than most medical examiners because of my coverage in Jonestown, Guyana, and the Middle East.
What I failed to realize is that these news organizations had an agenda — one I often subscribed to.
When I broke from the ranks, I was ostracized. For example, I produced a story for “20/20” about U.S. Department of Justice investigations of former World War II Nazi collaborators. I interviewed conservative Patrick Buchanan, a critic of U.S. government probes. One prominent producer, the sister of Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, told me she was disgusted that I let Mr. Buchanan say his piece.
My former colleagues recently castigated me on Facebook for my conservative views. One former ABC senior producer called me as “dumb as a boulder.”
When I arrived in the Middle East, I thought the Israelis were the good guys; I was wrong. I then thought the Palestinians were the good guys; I was wrong. I thought anyone was better than the Shah of Iran; I was wrong. In Newsweek, I did call Saddam Hussein “the butcher of Baghdad”; I was right about that. I think it was the first time anyone got that into print. As a result, I got kicked out of Iraq.
I applaud former President George Bush for the invasion of Afghanistan. I am not so sure about Iraq, although I agreed with his decision at the time. I think President Obama should have kept soldiers in Iraq. I think Saudi Arabia is a bad ally. I think Iran is a country that the U.S. cannot trust.
As a Roman Catholic I give money to the church even though I produced one of the first investigations about pedophilia in the priesthood in 1979 and a report on the Vatican Bank, which funneled money for the Italian Mafia.
I oppose abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. I believe in evolution, with a significant impact from God.
My political contributions are minimal, although I recently gave money to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. I don’t know whether I will vote for him, but I think he should be important part of the Republican Party.
I earn money as an expert witness in libel cases, mainly because so many examples of awful reporting occur. I received $300 this year from speaking engagements.
I hope more journalists will provide information about who they are and how it affects what they report. Otherwise, people will continue to distrust us.
• Christopher Harper is a longtime reporter who teaches journalism at Temple University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @charper51.