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NY Times-McCain “Smear-gate” is a very big development. Public no longer falling for the “objectivity magic trick” 2/22/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Objectivity.

For many years, there has been a frustrating disconnect between journalists and the public. Journalists have insisted they are professionals who impartially view the world as it is, and meticulously report “both sides of the story.” The public, on the other hand, has smelled a rat, but has never been able to find it. While two-thirds now believe the media are biased, the average American is at loss to prove their point when presented with mainstream media stories that, for the most part, seem authoritative, comprehensive, and balanced.

What has actually been happening is that journalists and the public have been caught-up in a bizarre magic show, in which journalists are typically unaware of their own sleight-of-hand. Inadvertently using a magician’s technique called “misdirection,” they have focused their audiences’ attention on the internal content of their articles — “See? No lack of objectivity here.” And all the while, the lack of objectivity is right smack in front of readers’ faces, hiding in plain view. When readers focus on the headline instead of the article’s contents, the lack of objectivity magically appears, and the right questions begin to be asked. Why was that particular story considered newsworthy? Why was that angle chosen? Is it just my imagination, or does it seem like just about every news story and angle selected among the infinite number of possibilities available makes center-left positions and politicians look good and all others look bad?

Smear-gate represents a milestone — a major new advance in the power of New Media over the previous high-water mark, “Rathergate.” Back then, bloggers and other alternative media successfully second-guessed the objectivity of a story on journalism’s own terms — factual accuracy in a story on President Bush’s military service — and it cost Dan Rather his job. This time, they second-guessed a story based on the public’s terms — whether it is truly objective given the selection of the news story and angle. For once, the misdirection was noticed and the NY Times was caught in the act. It’s a significant new phase in the disappearing act known as Modern Journalism.


1. Right Angles » Blog Archive » The death of journalism - 2/25/08

[…] accelerating. First it was the irresponsible NYT story on McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist, that, by the way, never confirmed that any such […]

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