The Monitor’s true bias

Is the Monitor biased toward a sense of unity? Toward a sense that, amid all the diversities of opinions, races, and nations, we can find a common humanity that more strongly binds us? Yes.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Capt. Perri Johnson (c., in uniform) attends the 'Touchy Topics Tuesday' meeting in St. Louis Dec. 5, 2017.

Someone once told me that The Christian Science Monitor’s reputation for unbiased journalism was all wrong. He wasn’t criticizing the Monitor or saying that it was – or should be – partisan about any policy, party, or person. He was saying that there were things on which the Monitor clearly did take sides: for justice, for compassion, for dignity, and for responsibility, just to name a few. Former Monitor editor Marshall Ingwerson summed it up this way: “The Monitor has a bias for progress.” 

Christa Case Bryant’s cover story this week is a beautiful example of how that Monitor bias works. 

So often, the national conversation after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo., has compelled us to take sides. The views behind Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are not necessarily in conflict, but they often end up seeming that way. The deep emotions on both sides – so often undergirded by legitimate concerns – can often tempt us to choose teams. 

But Christa’s story tells us about Elyssa Sullivan and Charles Lowe, who did something interesting. In some ways, they chose the “other” team. Ms. Sullivan, a white suburbanite, joined Black Lives Matter protests. Mr. Lowe, a black police sergeant, chose to join a police department that, many critics say, still struggles with racism, and which, according to data, is disproportionately white. 

Recent elections – from the US presidential election to “Brexit” – have provided powerful evidence that many people are closed into their own bubbles. The traditional word for that is segregation.  We usually think about segregation in physical terms when people of different races don’t live together. Demographic studies show that that remains overwhelmingly true in the United States. But recent elections brought to the surface a different kind of segregation – a mental segregation. You could say that Sullivan and Lowe are rebelling against that trend. And you could say the Monitor is biased in support of them. 

Time and again, Monitor reporters have found that when people have the courage to break out of narrow assumptions about those on the “other” side – no matter who that “other” is – and engage them with a genuine sense of goodwill, barriers fall. That can be the residents of an Atlanta neighborhood learning to trust the cop next door. Or a dyed-in-the-wool Second Amendment supporter reaching out to gun control advocates to address the suicide rate. Or residents of Greek islands embracing the refugees in their midst. 

These stories are not about telling readers what to think. They should not take sides on a policy. Rather, they should at least begin to break down the idea that the sides we often choose are irreconcilable. 

Is the Monitor biased toward a sense of unity? Toward a sense that, amid all the diversities of opinions, races, and nations, we can find a common humanity that more strongly binds us? Yes. The Monitor’s mission  is “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” That can’t leave anyone out.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.