Burger King was ahead of the political times in 1974, when the fast-food chain told America that you can “have it your way.”
If you’re old enough, you can recall the commercial where an employee at the register takes a family’s order and then sings into her microphone: “Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce. Special orders don’t upset us.”
More and more, callers to The Tribune-Democrat want it their way – meaning words and images from only one political party or ideology.
Republicans especially complain about “biased” coverage anytime a Democrat lands on our front page.
Multiple callers on Oct. 1 called The Tribune-Democrat “left-leaning” because Democratic president candidate Joe Biden appeared on the front of that day’s print edition. That’s on the morning after Biden made a stop in downtown Johnstown – about three blocks from the newspaper’s offices.
And that’s after weeks of prominent coverage of Republican campaign events in the region:
• Sept. 24: Donald Trump Jr. at Roxbury Park in Johnstown (main package, page A1).
• Sept. 4: Donald Trump rally at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe (main package, A1).
• July 31: Vice President Mike Pence rally and business tour in Somerset (across the top of A1).
• July 13: Pence rally and tour of business in Sarver, Butler County (centerpiece, A1).
Why so much coverage of the Republicans? Well, they were here.
The GOP even got a bonus on Sept. 12, when our front featured a large picture of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump during the 9/11 anniversary observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville. Biden visited the Flight 93 site later in the day, with only his national press pool covering.
If a prominent presence in the newspaper is the yardstick for measuring bias, then we’re clearly on the far right – alongside Breitbart and NewsMax.
Except we’re not. We’re smack dab in the middle – right where we ought to be – covering the candidates as they visit our region and bringing in local voices from all sides of the issues.
The problem is that when people on the far right and far left point fingers back across our vast political divide, they don’t even see a middle. The “other side” begins where their side ends.
In a 2014 national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, people were asked about their political beliefs and how they viewed the level of bias in news media outlets.
Pew found that folks on the extreme left got their news from outlets such as “The Daily Show,” The Guardian and “The Colbert Report.”
Folks on the right preferred the offerings of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh – both sides generally seeking out commentators, not reporters.
The national networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – fell just left of the average respondent’s position, with the Wall Street Journal slightly to the right.
When we have surveyed readers, they’ve historically told us either our news coverage is not biased, or they can’t tell which way we might lean. (That does not include the Editorial page, where we and you get to express our opinions.)
Our reporters strive to balance their stories, including a diversity of viable viewpoints and experiences. That doesn’t mean a perfect 50-50 split between sources who feel one way and those who disagree, but rather a fair representation of the various perspectives.
The national firm Baer Performance Marketing says that old Burger King campaign worked because people appreciated the flexibility – the chain’s willingness “to tailor orders to each individual’s tastes and preferences.”
On the subject of objectivity, we can’t be flexible – and readers should appreciate that.
Individual preferences and the endless availability of cable channels gave rise to the fragmented TV market that emerged in the 1990s. People who were liberal wanted the news reported “their way,” and conservatives did, too.
So the ranting of partisan talking heads pushed aside objectivity, and the notion of “fair and balanced” fostered a news climate that has been anything but.
People routinely tell us that we should report the story they saw on some hyper-partisan website or network, because those sources tell it “like it is.”
What that really means is that those biased outlets tell it they want to hear it.
But it’s The Tribune-Democrat’s responsibility to not take sides in news coverage. That means voices of Republicans and Democrats in political stories. And that means treating moments when both parties make local stops as evenly as possible – but covering each moment on its own at the risk of appearing off-center.
U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson is among the senior members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, first elected in 2008. He has served Cambria County since his district shifted south two years ago.
But we will give equal time to his opponent, Democratic political newcomer Robert Williams.
Political writer Dave Sutor will provide profiles of both candidates.
Our Zoom interviews with both Thompson and Williams can be viewed on www.Tribdem.Com/multimedia.
The purpose of those stories isn’t to tell you what to think, but to help you develop an informed opinion of the two candidates.
More importantly, those stories will not be written from either a Republican or Democratic point of view.
They’re just questions and answers, experiences and platform proposals.
And that’s exactly what readers should want – neutral reporting that allows you to analyze the candidates and come to your own conclusions before you cast your ballots.
Burger King scrapped the “Have it your way” slogan in 2019, switching to a pitch of “Be your way” – whatever that means.
We’ll be right here in the middle when the dust settles on Nov. 4 – or whenever results are eventually finalized. That’s our way.
Hold the cheese, please.