Journalism either ought to explain how 3-anchor foreign Obama coverage can be balanced, or admit objectivity is an illusion 7/19/08Posted by Steve Boriss in Objectivity.
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So, all three network anchors are tagging along on Obama’s overseas trip. Obviously, this is unprecedented. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that when McCain visited Iraq, the media was so caught-up in the Democratic Primary that they virtually ignored it. They continue, “For them to follow him across the ocean on his get-acquainted tour is a bit too fawning. It’s a pure violation of the rapidly disappearing rule that the media is at least supposed to try to appear fair and balanced.”
There is no denying that this world tour is bound to be interesting for viewers and the networks are making sound business decisions by covering it. But there is also no denying that it’s impossible to square this coverage with “objectivity.” Do they intend to provide McCain with equivalent positive coverage? If so, by covering what equivalent events? It seems obvious that they have no intention of doing so, and even if they did it is hard to quantify what an equivalent event would be. Is there anyone out there who is willing to stand-up for the principle of objectivity during this time when media credibility is on the line? Let’s either hear the voices of journalists who will tell us that, no, in fact this can be balanced and here’s how — or let’s move to a more honest period in which we admit that objectivity has never been the commitment that it has been claimed to be.
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Something must be up when the sacred idea that news ought to be objective is questioned by Eric Alterman, a man whose far-left credentials include a political column for The Nation and a book called What Liberal Media? (yes, he actually believes there is right-wing bias in media). Alterman had no problem with the fake and now-failing objectivity model when the mainstream media’s authority was secure, attacked only by right-wingers he deplored on talk radio and cable TV. But conveniently, now that the Left is having some success with its own partisan news sites like the Huffington Post and the Talking Points Memo, perhaps objectivity is not such a great idea after all.
Now, it’s an overstatement to say that Alterman is on the road to Damascus — he has always been blind to the desirability of our emerging new era of partisan news. He still defends modern journalism. He speaks of its founding fathers, Walter Lippmann and John Dewey, as if they held polar opposite views that define the full spectrum of ways to think about journalism — failing to recognize that both were anal-retentive leftists seeking ways to control a hopelessly ignorant public so they would make “sound” public policy decisions. Lippmann wanted to control the public’s decision-making by putting truth-generation in the hands of journalists, then quasi-governmental think tanks. Dewey at least wanted to maintain the pretense of democracy by using the schools to teach us how to think like liberals.
Hey, I got a crazy idea. Why not give every citizen the right to free speech and expression, respect their dignity and their equality to elites, let them sort things out for themselves, then recognize and value their consensus opinions as the consent of the governed? No, Mr. Alterman, you’re right — that can never work. The dead-white-guys who came up with that cockamamie scheme founded our nation, which bears little resemblance to “The Nation.”
Mainstream media was better off when the public was mad at them. The problems began when those on the right started to complain about liberal media bias. They were labeled as angry, mean-spirited, paranoid kooks. Then, conservative talk radio and Fox News Channel emerged. Their audiences were labeled as misfits who were not only angry, but also too closed-minded to face the truth as presented by the objective mainstream media. Eventually, with help from Bernard Goldberg’s book on bias, some very high profile Old Media failures (e.g. Dan Rather’s forged documents), and the Internet, the idea that the mainstream media were biased became mainstream. Those on the right remained mad, while those on the left, who benefited from the center-left bias, understandably did not get quite so worked-up.
But now, the public has gone beyond being mad at media bias. They are laughing hysterically. With the latest bias victim being one of the center-left’s own candidates, and the pro-Obama bias blatantly obvious to everyone, it is now getting difficult for anyone to take the mainstream media and its insistence on its own objectivity seriously anymore. The skit below on Saturday Night Live, a program we can assume has a young, liberal audience, is devastating. Old Media just lost its chance to restore its reputation for objectivity – the firewall that we are told differentiates journalists from bloggers. Some unexpected people are now getting the last laugh.
NY Times-McCain “Smear-gate” is a very big development. Public no longer falling for the “objectivity magic trick” 2/22/08Posted by Steve Boriss in Objectivity.
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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.
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It was dumb when it was decided a century ago that news ought to be objective. It was even dumber when many news outlets began covering-up their reporters’ opinions by insisting that they not support political campaigns with their votes, time, or money.
Thomas Jefferson wanted newspapers to provide a multitude of voices competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas, not an elite class of truth-specialists — reporters pretending to be scientists — who could supposedly figure out “the truth.” He wanted facts and opinions widely distributed, and run through a process of “attack and defense,” which he thought was the only way to generate accurate information upon which a free people could act. And, he believed that the God-given dignity of each individual entitled them to their own opinions, preferences, and fillings-in of the unknown, no matter how stupid or selfish their thinking might seem to elites.
But for a century, journalism thought itself smarter than Jefferson, and founded its own country built upon different beliefs. They would be the wise men in their land, determining truths and guiding us toward correct answers in social policy. Per an article in Online Journalism Review, many outlets prohibited a range of political activities, ostensibly to sustain the myths that news ought to be objective, can be objective, and can be written by opinion-free reporters. The effect of this is a cover-up — a lack of transparency that frustrates bias-suspicious readers and deprives reporters of a helpful dose of self-consciousness that might prevent them from being unfair to the other side. Believe me — any journalist who thinks this is a formula to build trust is not smarter than Thomas Jefferson.
Survey shows utter futility of journalists’ attempts to prove they are objective, signaling it is time to move-on to partisan news 1/10/08Posted by Steve Boriss in Bias, Objectivity.
Romenesko reports on a shocking survey that ought to end the debate about whether journalism should continue its century-old ideal of objectivity, or move to a model of multiple partisan outlets engaged in honest argumentation. 88% now believe that the news media does attempt to influence public opinion. Worse still, 80% do not believe most news reports. If journalists saw such numbers from a candidate, they’d have no doubt that the politician must either make big changes or suffer a humiliating defeat. Yet, they seem completely blind to the dangers when the subject is themselves. No, it is not about how good news media outlets’ web sites are, or about whether their work is supplemented by the journalism of “citizens,” more than 80% of whom apparently think their work stinks. It is about a super-landslide majority of the public feeling they are being betrayed by journalists’ false promises.
The solution is literally right in front of their noses, sitting on their computer screens. The blogosphere has shown us that news consumers actually like opinions. They think of them as helpful perspectives that fill-in the gaps, allowing them to make their own, more informed decisions. They do not view opinions as contaminants of facts, as long as everyone understands that the content is not the truth, but simply what the writer believes to be the truth. Until 100 years ago, the news consisted of a multitude of voices competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas. And it will again, soon, leaving behind the objectivity dinosaurs who insist upon the sanctity of a model that never, ever worked in the first place.
French Presidential election newspaper coverage reminds us that only U.S. participated in failed “objectivity” experiment 5/6/07Posted by Steve Boriss in France, News, Objectivity, President, Sarkozy.
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For decades, most Americans have assumed that “objectivity” is the gold standard in news coverage, given that’s what our journalists told us. But in fact, objectivity was a unique American invention that the rest of the world by and large chose not to emulate (the exceptions have mostly been news media controlled through ownership or regulation by governments that prefer that their citizens receive a single, government-friendly view presented as the truth, e.g. Pravda, BBC, Xinhua). Reminding us of America’s isolation on the objectivity issue is this article on French newspapers’ reaction to conservative Presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory. Self-identified conservative papers like Le Figaro and Les Echos celebrated it on their front pages, while leftist papers like Liberation and L’Humanite mourned. It’s now been more than 80 years since U.S. journalism introduced the goal of objectivity. Yet today, 83% of U.S. likely voters still do not believe they are getting it, while cable TV news and talk radio successes suggest they do not even want it. Soon the U.S. will rejoin the international community of the free world, and most news consumers will be selecting news that is compatible with their personal worldviews.