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Published: Sunday, 10/12/2008

Claims of biased coverage arise

We live in a complex, baffling and sometimes frightening world, as what's been happening to the economy proves only too well.

So I don't find it surprising, that many people are tempted to buy into conspiracy theories to explain what they don't like or they don't understand. Naturally, in Toledo, the area's only daily newspaper is frequently under suspicion.

Over the last 10 years that I have been serving as ombudsman, I have had few weeks when somebody didn't accuse the newspaper of some sort of plot. The nature of the conspiracy varies, though readers have accused The Blade of manipulating the news to support everything imaginable, from Block family interests to a particular department store.

However, these days I hear mainly from Republican and conservative readers, who accuse the paper of slanting the news to favor Democrats, especially the party's presidential ticket.

That is somewhat understandable, given that the newspaper's editorial pages have been very critical of the Bush Administration and, to a large extent, of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

What we in the newspaper business sometimes forget is that most of our readers haven't been to journalism school. In fact, the editorial pages in any newspaper are supposed to be completely separate from the news product. The people who write the editorials do not get involved with those who write and edit the news.

Some of the criticism I have been getting indicates most folks don't realize that. I have been looking for signs of bias in news coverage, but haven't seen any. However, I think some folks interpret the reporting of bad news for their particular candidate or cause as biased news. In the last several weeks, the Democrats have surged ahead nationally in virtually all the polls.

Reporting that doesn't qualify as bias. Nor does asking hard questions about either campaign. Nobody is ever going to be fully satisfied, including me. I would like to see more reporting about exactly what has been the Obama campaign's involvement with ACORN.

I also would like to know from Senator McCain why he thinks Mr. Obama's casual, long-ago relationship with a long-ago radical from the 1960s is really pertinent to anything, given the much more urgent need to figure out what is happening with the economy.

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Another reader called last weekend in a high state of indignation. The Blade had included reviews for a whole raft of new movies on Friday and Saturday (Oct. 3-4) as the paper often does. But left out was a rare conservative comedy, American Carol.

That bothered me too, until I found out that the wire services review for that movie didn't arrive in time to make it into either edition.

When it did arrive, the review of American Carol was featured prominently in the Peach Section on Tuesday, Oct. 7. It likely got more space, in fact, than if it had been one of eight reviews.

There are very few perfect solutions to most newsgathering problems. The editors of The Blade try to do the best they can.

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Jim Bickford of Findlay, Ohio, asked me an interesting question.

The newspaper writes all the time about the "middle class," he noted. "But who are these people and what do they earn, top to bottom?"

The answer is that there is no easy answer. The government does not define what income constitutes "middle class."

A Gallup poll five years ago found 46 percent of people calling themselves middle class, and 17 percent "upper-middle class."

But there is no agreement on what a "middle-class income" is, though most definitions put middle-class family income as ranging between $35,000 a year and perhaps $100,000 or a little more.

What we can say is what the median income is. Two years ago, the Census Bureau said half the families in America made more than $48,201; half made less. So maybe that will tell you something.

Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or e-mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.



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