WESTERHOLD: Biased? Sure!

If you think there's no media bias let me tell you a story. What a night it was -- Nov. 7, 2000 -- when the president
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010


If you think there's no media bias let me tell you a story.

What a night it was -- Nov. 7, 2000 -- when the presidential election ground to a halt with a dead-even vote total.

But hours before it stalemated -- at about 8 p.m. -- CNN called Florida for Al Gore, and the newsroom erupted with applause.

Except for one lone Republican photo-journalist.

Yes. Yes. Yes. You heard it from the horse's mouth. There is a bias in mainstream newsrooms. That's true for sure in at least one newsroom I know pretty well, The (Elyria) Chronicle-Telegram's.

But so what.

A good journalist fights for every word. Being fair and balanced is not just a phrase or a slogan. It's an obligation. Being accurate is an absolute responsibility we strive to meet every day. We some times fall short, but it's never for lack of effort.

And being accurate requires we check our biases at the door, or at the editor's desk if need be.

But being accurate with election results in the 2000 Bush-Gore contest was, and remains, a very difficult task.

At 8 p.m. it looked definitely like Florida gave Gore an electoral vote total that put him over the top.

Little did we know we would still be scratching our heads at 4 a.m. the next morning trying to figure out what the story would be.

Little did we know we'd still be scratching our heads waiting for the Supreme Court to unlock the deadlock.

At The Chronicle we went with the headline "Bush wins" after hours going back and forth trying to figure out what was happening. We missed deadline by two hours, and I left the newsroom that morning thinking, "this is far from over."

In the end the most accurate headline the morning after that historic election might have been "Nation waits." But we didn't have that information in time for deadline.

So what is the truth? What would be accurate for that election? "Gore elected, Bush selected?" Did Bush win? I don't know, and I stopped trying to figure that one out a long time ago.

I have never been much of a George W. Bush fan. Yes, most of the journalists in the newsroom that night weren't either and were elated thinking Gore had won. But in the end we were right: Bush has been a disaster as president.

It's time to move on.

Hopefully the contest between Barack Obama and John McCain won't last into the wee hours of Nov. 5, and we'll know who the next president will be when we all go to bed at a decent hour.

I've been a presidential politics junkie since Richard Nixon ran against Hubert Humphrey, and I have to say I think this might truly be the most important election in my lifetime.

And yes, I do have a favorite in this presidential election, and I'm excited by the opportunity for change he will bring to Washington if he gets elected. This is the most exciting opportunity for change in presidential politics in history.

But that does not mean I cannot be fair, or that I cannot look at every political contest with an open mind and a balanced approach.

Just last week in this space I endorsed three local Republicans for political office. I hope they win and bring the change that's needed to Erie County.