In London, A Case Study In Opinionated Press Most mainstream American news organizations promise to report "without fear or favor," but many Americans still see the media as biased. So what might it look like if American newspapers openly embraced an ideology, like they do in the U.K.? NPR's David Folkenflik goes to London to find out.
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In London, A Case Study In Opinionated Press

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In London, A Case Study In Opinionated Press

In London, A Case Study In Opinionated Press

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Most mainstream news organizations in the U.S. promise to report without fear of favor, as the saying goes. Even so, many Americans believe the media is biased. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik wanted to get a look at a media landscape where newspapers quite openly and proudly have a point of view. Here's his report from London.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: To American eyes, the British media operate in a looking-glass world, one in which the major TV news channels - the BBC and Sky - try to serve up the news without opinion. Whereas the big daily papers are pretty clear about theirs. Take The Guardian.

Ms. POLLY CURTIS (Reporter, The Guardian): We have (unintelligible) to be the world's leading liberal voice. And we are left-leaning, but essentially liberal at our heart.

FOLKENFLIK: Polly Curtis is guiding me around the back corridors of the Houses of Parliament. She's a reporter who covers the government for the paper.

Ms. CURTIS: It is a very interesting time for us. We have traditionally been a Labor paper. And this election we backed the Lib Dems, which was controversial within the paper and outside the paper as well, especially seeing as they ended up in the coalition with Conservatives, which nobody really saw coming.

FOLKENFLIK: When Curtis talks about Labor, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, those are the country's leading political parties. And Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron indeed convinced the third party Liberal Democrats to help him form a government.

Such ideological sympathies in the press influence the way politicians look at reporters. Nick Boles is a Conservative member of Parliament from England's East Midlands region.

Mr. NICK BOLES (Conservative Party): If a�Guardian�journalist were to interview me, I would definitely assume that they would be trying to penetrate into areas of weakness in what the government's doing or where there are likely to be failures or particular policies that they are very worried about. Whereas with�The Telegraph, I'd(ph) probably be more likely to be thinking that they were looking for ways in which the government was betraying the Conservative cause.

FOLKENFLIK: He's not crazy about the way either treats him. British newspapers are notoriously brawling and fratricidal. But Bowles says he knows what he's getting.

Mr. BOLES: In Britain, we feel that it's better to know where people are coming from and then to make up your own mind about what you think based on reviewing perhaps more than one source. Because the truth is, nobody can be completely impartial and objective. And the idea that�The New York Times�doesn't have a political point of view is ridiculous. It does, but it twists itself into knots in an attempt to pretend that it doesn't.

FOLKENFLIK: On this day each week, Prime Minister Cameron takes questions from his foes in Parliament, an exercise in public accountability and in political theater.

The first voice you'll hear belongs to Labor leader Ed Miliband, claiming Cameron is out of touch with working-class Britons.

Mr. ED MILIBAND (Labor Party Leader): It's no wonder that today we learn the foreign secretary describes this gang as the children of Thatcher. It sounds just like the 1980s.

FOLKENFLIK: David Cameron.

Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON (United Kingdom): Let me say this: I'd rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown.

(Soundbite of cheering)

FOLKENFLIK: Gordon Brown being the notoriously unpopular prime minster who led the Labor Party to defeat last year. The exchange is in all the newspapers the next day, with Cameron the winner, though each paper has its distinct take.

Mr. ALAN RUSBRIDGER (Editor-in-chief, The Guardian): I think it's quite a striking thing about the British press that you get this polemical battle over the basis for what news is, which I feel is to a large extent missing in the American scene.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. He argues British papers give more room than their American counterparts to voices that challenge conventional wisdom.

Mr. RUSBRIDGER: No judgments are free of ideologies, so who you choose to quote and how you structure stories are highly political judgments. I think that's the problem with trying to place too much faith in something called objectivity.

FOLKENFLIK: Back over at the main lobby in Westminster Palace, surrounded by marble statues of prime ministers dating back centuries, Anne Begg says she checks all the papers each day, but finds them lacking. She's a Labor member of Parliament from Aberdeen.

Ms. ANNE BEGG (Labor Party): One of the concerns I have with some of the print media is that it's almost all comment, which is always partial and is always partisan. As opposed to how you cover a news story. In that respect, I don't know if you could call them as newspapers anymore - they're perhaps comment papers.

FOLKENFLIK: People inside Parliament and outside it volunteered that they relied heavily on the BBC to deliver straight ahead news. It was a common and unexpected thread in many interviews around town.

Curtis and others at The Guardian say that BBC's presence allows them the leeway to ask questions informed by the views at the heart of her paper.

Ms. CURTIS: We care about civil liberties. We care about deprivation. We care about people getting a fair deal from a government. But I think kind of the core of the paper is its reporting, and your reporting is fair - even to opponents of the views at the heart of the paper.

FOLKENFLIK: Fair, but not balanced. Tomorrow I'll take a look at the debate here at home over an opinionated press.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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