Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Impartiality, Objectivity, and the Press, 1729

For most of its more than three hundred years of existence, the press in America has claimed to be an objective and impartial observer and reporter of the events that affect and shape the lives of people and country. Benjamin Harris made such a promise in 1690 when he published Publick Occurrences (see Chapter 1). When he produced his first and only issue on September 25, he said he would report important events of the times to the people of Massachusetts Bay. Harris promised to "take what pains . . . to obtain a Faithful Relation of all such things."

Benjamin Franklin did the same when he declared that his Pennsylvania Gazette would publish opinions and let truth rise from the varying beliefs.1 Similarly, William Bradford told New-York Gazette readers, "That it was by strong Importunity they were induced to give the fore-going Letter a Place herein. And since we have done it, we could not avoid incerting this which follows."2 By the end of the era, printers were inserting statements of impartiality into their nameplates that promised the space in the paper and its news were "Open to ALL PARTIES, but influenced by NONE."3

Even as the press has changed into media with instantaneous broadcasts from all over the globe, the same promises have been made. "Our reporters do not cover stories from their point of view. They are presenting it from nobody's point of view," the president of CBS News has said. CNN, likewise, promises, "We give both sides."4

Objectivity and impartiality to current reporters and media outlets usually means allowing the media access to both sides in a dispute. In such

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