We journalists love brevity. By that standard, my favorite response to a June 4 column defending the Monitor against charges of bias was simple and direct: "Hogwash!!!!!" wrote Kathleen Morgan in an e-mail.
On the other extreme, there were several miniessays on the topic. Most important, the number of responses was impressive. At last count, 185 Monitor readers had weighed in via e-mail, with about 76 percent stating support of the Monitor's approach to the news, and about 14 percent falling loosely in the "hogwash" category. The other 10 percent represented views of the topic that had little to do with the Monitor per se.
Before sharing some samples of what we heard, a general thought. Monitor readers are an impressively thoughtful crowd, steeped in the news and pretty passionate about the events of the day. Anyone concerned about apathy among the citizenry would find no evidence for that here.
Now, a brief summary.
Those in the "hogwash" category thought either that the author was full of baloney, that the Monitor was too liberal (the majority) or too conservative, or that our coverage was clearly biased on a specific issue.
The "increasingly left-leaning position of the [Monitor's] articles and editorials have made reading it a difficult task," wrote Glori Kilpatrick of Highland, Calif.
"Now and then I pick up a copy to see if your left slant has eased. It hasn't. Reading the Monitor leaves me feeling discouraged, depressed, sometimes fuming," wrote Mary Kuhl.
On the other hand, Houston Barclay, of Duvall, Wash., perceived a Monitor tilt in the other direction: "During the run-up to the Iraq war, you folks were embedded with the Neo Cons."
Speaking of Iraq, more than one reader identified our use of the term "war" as indication of bias. For these folks, "occupation" is more accurate.
On the conflict in the Middle East, Norman Cohen of Seattle wrote, "Your pages have historically been skewed in favor of the Arabs and against Israel for more than fifty years."
On a more general note, Bradford E. Beadle of Blue Bell, Pa., complained about the Monitor's negativity. "Today I reviewed the April and May issues; the negative articles out spaced the positive articles by more than five to two! I find I must read other daily papers to maintain my positive outlook."
Some readers who felt the Monitor was biased encouraged us to stop fighting the fact. "I only wish that journalists would admit they have a bias or a point of view. It's normal and natural. Why not just admit it?" asked Jim Fisher.
Correspondence supportive of the Monitor's evenhandedness was noteworthy for its general tone of gratitude, particularly for the paper's founder Mary Baker Eddy and her stated object for the Monitor "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind."
"The Founder's reasons for providing the people a free press are well-served in the pages of The Christian Science Monitor. Monitor readers have a source of news and opinion they can trust as they think and act in their roles as citizens of the nation and the world," wrote Eleanor Moller.
"You have our support. Keep doing the job Mrs. Eddy envisioned for the Monitor. You are blessing all mankind," wrote Lydia and Gene Roberts of Grand Junction, Colo.
"The newspaper and the readers are united in an effort to nurture the often fragile human devotion to truth, believing that in this enterprise they are truly doing the work of the Creator," wrote Dwight Brown.
"I am reminded once again why I usually seek out the Monitor in the end when forming MY opinions," noted Clyde Phillips in an e-mail. Andrew Donovan-Shead of Tulsa, Okla., said, "The Monitor is indeed unbiased and a newspaper of good taste, a moderate voice much needed today of all times. I don't always agree with what you print, but we need to understand opposing views in order to attain the best understanding."
Some who wrote simply expressed appreciation that the topic of bias had been raised: "I applaud the Monitor for at least opening a discussion on the subject of bias. I am 25 years old and I am deeply troubled by the polarization that is happening in this country," wrote John Bellush III.
"In these times, when journalism tends toward entertainment rather than truth, it is encouraging to know that a news organization exists that is actually and generally committed to truth," said Fred Lash.
"I have read and valued the Monitor for many years, though for a time my subscription lapsed. But I continued via the Public Library! At 90 years of age my future is uncertain, but I will renew (optimistically) one more time!" wrote Dale B. Harris.
Using a baseball metaphor, Glen Phipps made us feel better about our occasional misses. "Take heart, no one who has ever been up to the plate more than once is batting 1.000."
"I recommend the Monitor to anyone interested in an honest, straightforward reporting of news rather than service to a cause extraneous to informing the public!" wrote Don Barnes.
Before giving a reader the final word, let me thank all the readers who wrote. You couldn't all be represented here, but rest assured, your comments were read and valued, and are being shared with the entire Monitor staff.
Now on to a comment from John Syme, who didn't match the brevity of "hogwash" but was nonetheless pithy.
"Bless you," he wrote. "Never give it up."
Continuing correspondence on this is welcome. Just e-mail me at Paul Van Slambrouck, and include your phone number for possible verification.
• Paul Van Slambrouck is the Editor of the Monitor. His June 4 column, 'Bias and the Monitor' can be seen at http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0604/p09s02-coop.html.