I get a lot of mail about media bias. I can't remember giving a lecture when I wasn't asked about it. If my mail is a measure, many conservatives believe that most reporters are Democrats, driven by liberal bias. Many liberals believe reporters are so cowed by the Bush administration that we go too easy on Republicans.
My standard answer is that, yes, some reporters are biased, not many, but a few. Like a draft army, the press reflects the society from which it is drawn and contains many points of view. But I argue that what drives the vast majority of reporters is not a hidden political agenda, but simply a desire to get the story and to get it before their competitors.
I never heard that better explained than last week at the opening of the Watergate papers of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which have been placed at the University of Texas.
These notes, transcripts, the raw data compiled by these two great reporters are a trove of information for scholars. But the trip to Austin was worth it just to hear Woodward describe what motivated the two as they delved into the minor burglary that eventually brought down a president. They had no hidden agenda, nor any idea how the story would end. Woodward said, "We were just trying to find out what happened." In those few words, he summed up journalism's whole purpose, and they should be posted above the door of every news room in America, the last thing reporters see as they head out on assignment.
When we forget those words and try to overly complicate our purpose, we get into trouble. When we remember them, we can perform a valuable, even a noble service. I still believe that is what most reporters do.
By Bob Schieffer