Journalistic best practice has long dictated that when writing a story about any issue, the reporter should attempt to take as unbiased a tone as possible. At the very least, a story is supposed to provide a balance of information related to the matter.
Application of these practices is perhaps most important when dealing with stories involving the filing of criminal charges against individuals. That's because if bias creeps into the news reporting, it has a way of influencing public sentiment about a defendant's guilt or innocence before the person has had his or her day in court. What happens then to the presumption of innocence?
A news item out of Murfreesboro is what prompts this observation. It involves the filing of charges this week against a 31-year-old woman on suspicion of driving under the influence. The way the reporter chose to lead the story by noting that the woman's arrest comes "only two years" after a previous conviction for drunk driving.
That may be factual, but it is also judgmental. The suggestion from the reporter seems to be that somehow this defendant just hasn't learned her lesson.
The story goes on to exclusively cite the official police report about the arrest, describing in detail how the officer involved was responding to a car crash. On arriving at the scene, the officer said he found the woman and she seemed noticeably impaired. He said she agreed to perform standard field sobriety tests, but that she didn't do them "as explained and demonstrated." Eventually, her previous DUI conviction came to light.
The woman was subsequently arrested and booked on the DUI charge, and with driving on a suspended license. She is due to have her day in court in December in Rutherford County General Sessions Court.
Source: MurfreesboroPost.com, "Woman facing 2nd DUI arrest after crash," Marie Kemph, Sept. 25, 2013