Readers Write: Papers’ Martins story shows bias

The Island Now

There’s a fine line between gross editorial bias and garden-variety bad writing.  
I’m not sure which side of that line the front page of my most recent Port Washington Times falls, but the question itself is instructive in the many conscious and subconscious mechanisms of journalistic slant.The story graces the the most recent cover of the paper and was first published online on Sunday Aug. 21.  It’s not the only example of this particular kind of bias I’ve seen in The Port Washington Times but this story the most recent iteration of the trend.  
The title Jack Martins’ bid for delay shakes up house race is innocuous enough, incorporating the essence of the story with that kinetic verb compound “shakes up” to give it some pizazz.  
The first two paragraphs that follow, however, demonstrate exactly what objective journalism should avoid.
Republican Jack Martins’ request last week to push back the 3rd Congressional District election threw another twist into an already closely watched, high-profile race.
The Old Westbury state senator asked a federal judge Aug. 19 to push the general election to Dec. 6 from Nov. 8, arguing that having only a month after the court-ordered Oct. 6 primary would give Democrat Tom Suozzi an unfair advantage and violate a federal law aimed at protecting overseas military voters.
Beginning the paragraph with the candidate’s name, especially as a repetition of the headline itself, offers up the single greatest asset in local politics: name recognition.  
For any reader just glancing absently at the beginning of this story the takeaway would be little more than that.  
Such prime positioning, however, does more than this.  
Republican Jack Martins’ request is, grammatically, the subject of the sentence.  
That spot puts him in control.  His request drives the action.  In a not too abstract sense, Republican Jack Martins is the most powerful person in the world this article creates.  
This is the beginning I’d expect the from the state Senator’s press releases, not a journalist’s reporting of them.
That dominant subject positioning is repeated in the second paragraph, modified with the standard switch to political party and job title ID to flesh out the details of this individual while avoiding repetition within the story itself (names are traditionally repeated every other paragraph and swapped with either epithets like the one here or simple pronouns).  
This second paragraph also swells the import of Martins’ action by more than doubling the word-count of the first.  
If we accept the conventional 200 words-per-minute rate of your average reader, the end of that second sentence marks nearly 20 seconds of a Port Washington Times reader being thoroughly under the control of the state senator.  That’s an eerie place to be.
Of course, the other candidate in this particular political race also gets a mention.  
Democrat Tom Suozzi, however, is relegated to the back half of that very long sentence, grammatically subordinate to the Old Westbury state senator.  
Without the need for a second-mention epithet, readers spend considerably less time concerned with the Democratic Party nominee and learn nothing new about him.  
The key to all of this is the slow accretion of impression that can happen in the act of reading.  
Strong writers position their readers, choreograph the relationships between subjects and breathe agency into whichever characters they choose.  
Readers, strong or otherwise, inevitably dance to the writer’s lead.  That’s the essential art of stories, be they imaginative or journalistic.  
The problem with these opening paragraphs in this one story — and the rest of the article doesn’t do much to adjust the balance — is that they employ all these devices towards an undeniably biased portrait.
Douglas Parker
Port Washington

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