It's interesting to note that most people define even handed news as that which matches their own beliefs the closest. It's not unnatural, of course, since reading opinions similar to our own simply confirms the "facts" we know to be "true".
As an exercise, consider the following news from CNN.com's front page viewed through the eyes of someone who thinks that CNN is one of the least reliable, most opinionated news sources around, contrary to popular belief:
From the CNN front page:
"Conflicted" doesn't begin to explain the problems at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but it's a start.
A great lead immediately sets the tone for a factual story abstracted from the author's and his employer's agenda.
This is the agency with an organizational chart that defies a one-sentence explanation, whose divisions don't always work together -- an agency so hampered by itself that the INS' own administrator has condemned its "illogical processes."
A sprawling bureaucracy ripe for some downsizing indeed. The author doesn't waste space and proceeds straight into the available facts. A supporting quote serves to underscore the immutable truth.
Add to that the descriptions immigration experts use to describe the INS -- unmanageable, insubordinate, prone to whim. It's like the mother who finds herself trying to corral a collection of overtired, underfed 2-year-olds: It's nearly impossible.
Independent, trustworthy sources have obviously provided the author with expert inside information on the situation. The author then personally observes a parallel between his research topic and the world at large. The neutrality of the language is commendable, given the touchiness of the subject.
The federal agency mailed visa approval notices for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, identified as the two pilots who crashed planes into the World Trade Center on September 11. They applied to change their visa status from visitor to student a year before the attack and recently received approval -- six months after the deadly terror attacks.
A large news organization with CNN's investigative resources can provide the reader with factual, well researched information as evidenced in the preceding paragraph. Omitting the inconsequential issue of the true nature of the information the INS sent out to the Huffman flight school - a long-ago approved change of status form returned to the sender after a six month holding period in the INS' contractor's warehouse - clearly demonstrates that CNN does not get sidetracked in its examination of the issue at hand.
INS Commissioner James Ziglar faced those very questions Tuesday when he testified at a congressional hearing filled with lawmakers skeptical that the agency could fix itself.
An excellent summary of Tuesday's hearing in front of the Congressional subcommittee on Immigration. Representative Conyers' ad hominem attacks on James Ziglar and Representative Lee's inspired defense of her own reform program have been clearly witnessed by the author.
An outside, private company with an INS contract to handle some agency paperwork followed procedures in mailing out the notices, Ziglar said. The INS approved the request to change visa status for the two last summer, he said, adding that such notices are routinely mailed six months later to educational institutions for filing purposes. In the case of Atta and Al-Shehhi, those notices were sent to a flight school the men had attended.
A confirmation of the statement made a few short paragraphs earlier for those readers who are reading the piece attentively. For the others, the soundbyte "terrorists get visas after attack" will have to do.
"Reorganization of INS is necessary to provide clearer lines of decision-making and specific accountability," he told lawmakers in an opening statement.
The author describes in detail the issues involved in reforming the agency and provides the chairman's theory on the best way of implementing change. It may be a bit long-winded, but a quality news source cannot afford to let important information remain unreported.
A former INS commissioner agreed. Wayward regional offices "tend to be the case in any large government agency, and that certainly is the case with the INS," said Doris Meisner, who oversaw the INS from 1993 until 2001 during the Clinton administration.
An insider's word is worth a thousand research papers. The source is well chosen: it is trustworthy, having no personal stake in the situation; it is qualified, having successfully demonstrated its competence in the field; and it is eminently quotable, managing to confirm the article's facts in a mere nineteen words.
And while Congress continually increases the INS' budget to make improvements -- Ziglar has requested $6.3 billion for the next fiscal year -- "it is nowhere near the level of personnel and resources it needs to fortify the borders," Helton said. "The INS is not anywhere near the capacity it needs to be to do what it's supposed to do."
The problem unveiled. Again, expert testimony is used in a clear demonstration of the reporter's intimate knowledge of the topic at hand.
How can the agency accomplish its mission? The answer, said Helton, lies in ripping the INS apart or putting it all together.
A logical, non-partisan solution to the problem presented in the preceding paragraph. The clarity and consistency of the article's argument is good material for an introductory journalism class at the local community college.
House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, supports dismantling the INS as it exists now. "It is my intention to schedule hearings and a committee vote on my bill to abolish the INS as we know it next month after Congress returns from the Easter recess," he said last week in an interview with CNN.
Again, facts remain unobscured by unimportant details of the source's vested interest in the story. After all, commenting on the possible link between Representative Sensenbrenner's membership of the Judiciary committee and his hard work in ensuring that large parts of the INS come under his committee's supervision when transfered to his ally Attorney General Ashcroft's department would be conjecture. As such, the CNN writeup rightly foregoes presenting opinion as fact.
"(T)he organization isn't as important as shocking it into a different culture, " Helton said. "It really requires one of those corporate makeover experts who understands government personnel issues and can come in with a hatchet and shake things up."
The efficiency of private institutions masterfully contrasted with the backwardness of government bureaucracies. If it weren't coming from an independent news source, the reader might think that he's being swindled into supporting yet another "government is bad, private alternatives are good" argument.
Dedicated to all fans of balanced news reporting, the mainstream way.
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