Elections, Objectivity, and the Media

It helps to set some guidelines. My own: Don't even think about voting until the morning of Election Day.

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ST. PAUL, MINN.—As one of the most contentious, fascinating, and important presidential elections in history swings into high gear, the role of the media is the subject of much discussion—some of it pretty heated. Here at the Republican National Convention, many supporters of John McCain have started to beat on the media like a drum, accusing some major institutions of favoring Barack Obama. There may be some truth to that, though in most cases I suspect it's more careless than calculated. Of course, the Obama folks have been happy to play the same tune when it suits them.

But whatever our colleagues are up to, at U.S. News we mean it when we say we play it straight. We honestly don't have a stake in who wins. As a magazine, we won't endorse, as has been our practice. Our job is to use our reporting skills and judgment to help you make sense of what's going on. We do have commentators who are more free to express opinions, and our writers often take an analytical approach. But there is a big difference between saying, "That was a great speech," and explaining why, based on some objective criteria, it was an effective speech. Pressing candidates on the validity of their policies is not the same thing as picking sides. Concluding that the numbers don't add up or the promises are empty can be a fact.

Opinion overload. Not that we're perfect. We're human beings, and it takes effort to keep your views to yourself. It has become especially difficult in a media culture that increasingly rewards assertive bloviation. The fat pipe of 24-7 cable TV and Internet blogs is fed far more with partisan rhetoric than facts. No equivocators need apply. That said, true objectivity is elusive and sometimes in the eye of the beholder. It requires you to constantly test your assumptions—and sometimes fail to get it right.

It helps to set some guidelines. A former boss of mine famously refused to vote at all, lest it compromise his objectivity. At the time, I thought it was overkill. But particularly in an intense race like this, I've come to appreciate his point. If you're not concerned about the outcome, you can more clearly focus on the components. My own rule, which I've used in the many elections I've covered, is a little more forgiving: Don't even think about voting until the morning of Election Day. When there's nothing left to say, sort through the months' worth of facts, impressions, and biases, then pull the lever. It's the best way I know to keep a sense of balance as events unfold. And besides, it keeps things interesting right to the end.

As always, I'd like to hear what you think. (Click here to comment.) I'll respond to as many of your thoughts and concerns as I can.

—Brian Kelly