If there’s one thing liberals and conservatives can agree on, it’s the need for unbiased, independent and fact-based journalism.

We may feel more comfortable consuming news, analysis and opinion that fits our political worldview, but that’s not what we need. To know the truth, we require both sides of the story.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

Unfortunately, as we all know, Americans are not getting what they need. We’re in a phase of fake journalism, similar to the yellow journalism of the late 1890s, when newspapers misrepresented the facts and used sensationalism to drive up circulation.

As it was then, media is big business, which is part of the problem. All media outlets are trying to attract and retain eyeballs, so they overplay the day’s events to keep us hyped up and tuned in.

Consider recent coverage, for example. We went from the potential of World War III with Iran to, when that fizzled, a made-for-TV impeachment of President Trump. These events, to the skeptic, are simply manufactured crises designed to increase viewership and readership.

It’s ironic then that Jim Lehrer, the great PBS NewsHour anchor who died recently at age 85, left the scene during a period of journalism he viewed as anathema to the democratic system that relies on an educated public.

I grew up watching the “McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour,” now called the “PBS NewsHour.” The one-hour evening news show, originally hosted by Lehrer and Robert McNeil, helped explain the world to me and my family. It still does.

A few months ago, long before Lehrer died, a liberal friend told me we need more Jim Lehrers. We both agreed that CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The New York Times and Washington Post fail to deliver a fair and full reporting of the news. They insert politics and indoctrination where they don’t belong. They leave out key facts that don’t fit their narrative. They attempt to predict the future and create context rather than simply recapping the day’s events.

After realizing we actually agreed on something, we concluded that fair reporting was foundational to the republic. When people don’t have facts, they can’t vote properly nor communicate with each other properly. And that’s why, my friend said, we need more Lehrer-like journalists.

Lehrer helped generations become better citizens. His NewsHour demeanor wasn’t flashy, but enlightening. News and analysis were delivered in an in-depth, serious and professional tone that assumed viewers were able to process the information. After watching the milky 6:30 p.m. national news broadcasts, the NewsHour from 7-8 p.m. provided the meat needed to understand what was really going on.

Though Lehrer is gone his ideals live on, and modern journalists would do well to heed his “Nine Rules” that guided his professional life:

1. Do nothing I cannot defend.
2. Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
3. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
4. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
5. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
6. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
7. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything.
8. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should be allowed to attack another anonymously.
9. “I am not in the entertainment business.”

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