Watchdog sites matter, but when they work to incite anger and remain unconcerned with reporting truthfully, they do more harm than good.
The idea that universities are unfairly biased against conservatives is a popular one circulating throughout conversations about higher education, especially lately. The word “bias” usually carries with it a connotation of unfairness; but are college educators and students being unfair when they favor a more liberal perspective?
Campus Reform, an education-focused conservative news website, centers much of its dialogue around “exposing” liberal bias in higher education. According to the group’s mission, which is posted on its website, Campus Reform is a “watchdog to the nation’s higher education system.” If you read through some of the articles they’ve published, it’s clear that they are very concerned with the potential mistreatment of conservatives at American universities. However, it’s worth addressing both the accuracy of the claims made by Campus Reform and the ultimate purpose that stands behind its self-proclaimed mission.
Media Bias/Fact Check gave Campus Reform a mixed rating for factual reporting and assigned the group a rating of being significantly right of center for its bias. The rationale for these ratings was that Campus Reform has used words playing to stereotypes and emotional responses and has published reports that may be misleading or omissive. The rating also explains that Campus Reform has made an unproven claim and has used sources that have consistently failed fact-checks.
While Campus Reform may have some important points to make, the legitimacy of these points is seriously undermined when they receive poor ratings for bias and factual accuracy. If your argument can only stand on its own when it’s propped up by an unproven claim, facts that haven’t been thoroughly checked, and language that is centered on emotion rather than on fact, it’s probably not very persuasive. Such an argument may rely more on the emotions and prejudices of the writer than on actual fact.
As recently as January 10th, Campus Reform published an article claiming that Yale professor Dr. Bandy Lee lacks a valid medical license. The site was using this claim to delegitimize Dr. Lee’s assertion that President Donald Trump is mentally unstable. This claim, which was also posted on InfoWars and made by white nationalist Hal Turner, was completely unfounded; she let her medical license expire in Connecticut, while maintaining a valid license in New York.
Whether or not author Anthony Gockowski was aware that his claims were false is beside the point. In any case, publishing outright lies to weaken anti-Trump sentiment is irresponsible journalism. Campus Reform had an opportunity to intelligently criticize the practice of doctors “diagnosing” politicians and celebrities without a proper examination. Instead, the site chose to publish an article that is somewhere between a misleading claim and a downright lie.
Campus Reform has had plenty of opportunities to call attention to bias against conservatives in an intelligent and reasonable way. However, the group misses the mark when it takes a story and throws in “facts” with varying amounts of truth, omits key details of events, and uses words intended solely to fire up their readers
It’s also important to question what exactly Campus Reform is trying to accomplish. Perhaps Tyler Grant is correct when he argues that ‘watchdog’ groups like Campus Reform manage to make everybody angrier, while not actually changing anyone’s minds. Your typical liberal reader is not going to read an aggressive, shamelessly anti-liberal article with some accuracy-related problems and become a convert to conservatism from the experience. If anything, the reader might respond with anger and might develop a lesser opinion of conservative news sites after encountering one that struggles to report with accuracy.
The cause Campus Reform seems to be championing is unimpressive and harmful. Rather than trying to establish common ground and foster mutual understanding with the liberal educators and students they’ve taken issue with, Campus Reform is simply creating an even more polarized political atmosphere in America, which is the last thing we need right now.
Watchdog sites matter. But when they work to incite anger and remain unconcerned with reporting truthfully, they do more harm than good. Bias against conservatives in American higher education may exist to some degree, but certainly not to the degree that groups like Campus Reform want you to think. In any case, no meaningful dialogue or progress will result until we approach the issue from a place of level-headedness and the genuine desire to become more fair and honest in how we deal with our political differences.
Cassie Kuhn is a student and journalist at the University of Alabama.