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Public Bias

Last week Twitter changed the label on NPR’s (National Public Radio) Twitter account to “Government-funded Media.” NPR responded by stopping its activity on Twitter because “the platform is taking actions that undermine our creditability by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent” (NYT 4/13). Do you find it a little weird that government funding undermines one 's credibility? Why not the opposite? Why doesn't government funding ensure independent or at least responsible journalism?

True, government-funded projects have sometimes caused great harm. Just think of the cultural genocide of government schools on American Indian reservations. At the same time, there are many “government-funded” projects that do a lot of good.

Maybe it’s a matter of terminology. Saying something is “government-funded” sounds different than to say it’s “publicly funded,” and yet isn’t the public funded by the government?

Many of us went to public schools, but how many of us went to government schools?

What if we called public facilities government facilities? Are public museums also government museums? Is the public health department really a government health department? Do we bury our dead in city cemeteries or government cemeteries?

The distrust of government, like much else in America, has its roots in the history of slavery, the lost cause, and the current Republican Party. From our national beginning the slave states felt threatened by a national government and agreed to the union only on condition that they held a majority in the House of Representatives. After the Civil War, the ideology of the lost cause perpetuated distrust of national government, and that continues in much of the Republican Party today.

I doubt if a government-funded media should be without some bias. There is the bias toward inclusion or exclusion, toward repair of harm done or denial, toward truth-telling or lying, toward regard for others or disregard, toward a climate of justice or a climate of justice. If Martin Luther King Jr. is right that the arch of the moral universe bends toward justice, then that is one bias we should support.

Frankly, I would hope that government-funded media would affirm its bias. It’s too bad that Twitter doesn’t recognize theirs.

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