Maintaining the Writer's Personality Makes a Place for Bias

An article in the Thursday Styles section of the New York Times explores the phenomenon of women using Halloween as an opportunity to dress in sexually explicit ways. The writer approaches the topic sociologically. She quotes people from both sides of the issue, including a Women's Studies professor, a Human Sexuality professor, and everyday women. While the citations, quotations, and sources used seem to be balanced, the tone of the article and the text from the writer tends to, although in a lighthearted and jocular way, discourage this kind of dress.

Anyone who has watched the evolution of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years will not be surprised that these images — culled from the Web sites of some of the largest Halloween costume retailers — are more strip club than storybook. Or that these and other costumes of questionable taste will be barely covering thousands of women who consider them escapist, harmless fun on Halloween.

When I first read this article I thought that the bias of the writer was blatant. However, the more I thought about it, I began to think that perhaps the bias I saw in the article was merely a result of my bias reading the article. With little quips like,

It is a wonder gyms do not have “get in shape for Halloween" specials.


And when they [men] dress up as police officers, firefighters and soldiers, they actually look like people in those professions. The same costumes for women are so tight and low-cut they are better suited for popping out of a cake than outlasting an emergency.

I perceived the tone of jest-veiled scorn. However, by citing women and sociologists who both see this trend as empowering and demeaning, the article does provide a balanced view.

Putting aside the fact that this is an article in the Style section and not the front page, it raised another question. If the writer is imparting her own opinion on the piece, is a certain degree of personal bias permissible in an article as long as the other side is allowed a voice? The conclusion of the article offers both,

Ms. Siegel of said the costume industry is merely mirroring the fashion industry, where women have more variety in their wardrobes. Besides, she said, men are less interested in accessorizing. “They’re happy grabbing a mask and a robe and being done,” she said. At least they get a robe. Ms. Bodner of Cornell estimated that it will be about 30 degrees in Ithaca on Oct. 31. “We’re not just risking our dignity here,” she said. “We’re risking frostbite.”

This article provides a light tone to a seemingly light issue. But by intermingling snide jest and social commentary, the writer does seem to be taking a side on the issue. Since it is arguably impossible to fully extract personal opinion, or personality for that matter, from journalism, I don't think it is necessarily wrong or out of place to address an article in this way. In a piece that could easily have turned into a pseudo-feminist rant, I applaud the writer for including dissenting opinions while maintaining a slant that speaks to the personality of the writer.

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