Investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson tweeted five simple words last week: “I resigned from CBS News.” Seconds later, a website report explained why. Sources say she felt frustrated with the network’s “liberal bias.” If true, in a nutshell, she had become a square peg in a round hole, and was tired of pretending otherwise.
Another reporter did the math. From the time Attkisson started covering topics critical of the Obama administration, like Benghazi and the government’s "Fast and Furious" gun walking program, her face time on the network dropped off.
Based on these facts, a claim could be made for liberal bias. But the network could also respond, no, we just didn’t like her reporting; she doesn’t fit the demographic; there are other stories more worthy of investigative reporting.
There’s always a reason liberal bias is denied. But it's alive and well in newsrooms. And it has been for decades.
The same is true for religious persecution.
As a practicing Catholic, I began my career in local TV newsrooms where I quickly learned that appearance is as important as substance. And, sadly, religious beliefs are something you keep to yourself.
TV is an odd business. Many rules apply that -- in other companies -- would have H.R. in a tizzy.
As a cub reporter in the 90s, I broke an exclusive piece of information on live TV about an at-large serial murderer. The news director called me into his office. Of course, as any good 20-something would, I thought a healthy dose of praise was headed my way.
He closed the door, sat me down, and told me my bangs were too long, and I should never let that happen again.
While management missed a motivational opportunity, I learned a valuable lesson that television is a visual medium. Spray your hair, put on make-up, dress professionally, and report the news accurately and fairly. Those values come with the on-air package. Accept them or leave.
When it came to jewelry, the rule was simple. Don’t wear anything flashy, like dangling earrings, or necklaces that will reflect light into the camera. Makes sense. But I never thought that wearing a cross necklace would be considered “flashy.”
The first time I wore one to work, I was told to take it off because it would be distracting to the audience. I wanted to keep my TV job so much; I did it. It didn’t seem to matter to management that I wasn’t covering religion.
While putting the cross -- given to me by my parents -- in my purse, I told myself that it was the right thing to do in the name of objectivity. I convinced myself that management was right, and I needed to keep my religious views hidden, so I didn’t appear biased. I got the message: Real reporters don’t wear religious symbols.
As the years went on, and my crosses hung in my jewelry box, I realized that I didn’t even feel right wearing them outside of the TV station either. In my head, the unofficial work rule bled into my personal life, taking me farther away from God. Somehow, I thought, someone will see me wearing a cross in a grocery store and decide that I’m not objective, and then I’d be denied the ability to report the news, a job I loved.
The unspoken and spoken bias meant that I didn’t talk about my faith at work. And I certainly didn’t talk about my volunteer work at a pro-life pregnancy center where we collected clothes for babies, and talked to women about adoption alternatives.
A nagging feeling of guilt (another tried and true Catholic tradition) always lurked in the back of my mind. I was ashamed of myself for tossing aside my faith in God, my belief in Jesus Christ as my Savior. It wasn’t lost on me that all around the world Christians die for the right to bear witness in public, and, yet, in our free country, I hid my beliefs in the name of the news gods.
This appearance of bias is the same reason journalists are discouraged from showing allegiance to a political party, and are forbidden from attending pro-life or pro-choice rallies outside of the office.
While it makes sense for these rules to exist for political reporters and editors, I question the reasoning for those who are not covering the topics.
Just as I question the wearing of religious symbols on air.
Who believes that reporters are completely objective, without bias? While some might have thought that was true 50 years ago, the proliferation of liberal and conservative news outlets has changed the conventional wisdom. Are automatons what audiences want when reading or listening to the news?
I don’t know Attkisson, or exactly why she resigned, but I know how she could feel (if sources are right and she indeed did feel stifled in the name of bias). No matter what the reason, good for her for resigning. It’s too hard to work in a newsroom that devalues what you bring to the table.
For the record, I’m wearing crosses again. If you don’t want to hear my news analysis because of it, I’m OK with that. I've learned to bless my detractors.
Lauren Ashburn joined the network in 2013 and currently serves as a Washington-based contributor for FOX News Channel (FNC). On MediaBuzz with Howard Kurtz, Ashburn contributes commentary on the state of the news media shaping current events, their role in politics, cultures, business, and tech. Click here for more information on Lauren Ashburn.