All News Is Not Created Equal

One reason I like The Cincinnati Post is its syndicated editorial columns; they offer a much more interesting mix of viewpoints than those in the Enquirer. I enjoyed a column in yesterday’s edition by Martin Kaplan. He analyzes the repeated calls for a national debate about Iraq, pointing out that vigorous debate has been going on since the war started.

“So why, despite all appearances of actually having a national debate right now, do people keep insisting that we mount one?” Kaplan writes. “Perhaps it’s because the mainstream media are too timid to declare the difference between right and wrong. Imagine if journalism consisted of more than a collage of conflicting talking points. Imagine the difference it would make if more brand-name reporters broke from the bizarre straitjacket of ‘balance,’ which equates fairness with putting all disputants on equal epistemological footing, no matter how deceitful or moronic they may be.”

Is objectivity necessary in journalism? Is it even possible? Even the selection of a story — the shooting is more important than the strike — involves subjectivity and judgment. Does treating two sides equally constitute objectivity? Are “just the facts” enough for a news story?

— Gregory Flannery

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18 Comments on “All News Is Not Created Equal”

  1. The Dean Says:

    There is no such thing as objectivity, so we might as well take our bias and run…

  2. Gregory Flannery Says:

    Dean, I agree that objectivity is unattainable. I think it can be a useful discipline for some types of reporting. But I think it also constrains reporters, especially when its practice takes the form of assuming moral equivalence between two points of view. I’ve always found it interesting to examine a newspaper’s assertions of objectivity in light of its reporting on such issues as poverty, racism and disease: No one pretends that these phenomena have a “good side,” and we expect reporters to start with the assumption that they are bad things. Is that obejctivity or pandering?

  3. The Dean Says:

    When you said you liked examining a newspaper, for some reason I thought you were referring to The Enquirer — and further, when you said you wanted to see how it reports on racism, poverty, or disease, I thought you were going to indicate how those things are absent from such corporate news sources.

    If saying that poverty and racism is bad is an example of my subjective pandering, then I have no problem being a biased writer.

    Then again, I prefer the title “media activist” to describe my own work over “reporter” any day.

  4. Gregory Flannery Says:

    Dean, no, my point was that mainstream newspapers claim to be objective, but they clearly start out with certain moral assumptions in their daily reporting: poverty is bad, racism is wrong, disease is to be resisted. Those assumptions are, at least, non-objective.

  5. The Dean Says:

    I guess I don’t get your point.

    I take it to be a fact that poverty and racism are bad. Do you dispute that fact? Where are you going with this inquiry?

  6. Gregory Flannery Says:

    But those aren’t facts, Dean; they’re value judgments. Your opinion is that poverty and racism are bad. That’s my opinion, too. But when new stories start with those kinds of value judgments, they can’t truly be said to be objective. All this was just meant to say what you said more simply: There is no such thing as objective reporting.

  7. Neal Watzman Says:

    It seems to me that journalism is about presenting facts as best as possible to the readers or listeners or viewers. Certainly it is difficult to be “objective”; we all use our own filters, and editors present a certain bias in the stories selected.

    As mentioned above, discerning readers can recognize the difference between the biases of The Enquirer versus The Post versus CityBeat.

    Editorials are about opinion and crafting a viewpoint for presentation.

    The problem is that the lines are often blurred between journalism and opinion. “News stories”, represented as facts are often seriously slanted to present a certain viewpoint to those reading such news. And we have to look no further than the reporting of the war in Iraq to see how blurred those lines become.

  8. Anon Says:

    There is a corporate bias in our media and it relies too heavily on “official” sources. For example, in the lead up to war we heard from the administration, Generals, think tanks and other war hawks. We didn’t hear from people in the peace movement or the many intellectuals that were opposed to this insane policy.

    They had Generals describe the weapons and it would’ve been nice if we heard doctors talk about the affects of them as well. Instead of a liberal media we got “embedded” journalists.

    It’s true there is no objective reporting, but there is good reporting and that is when it asks the tough questions and is skeptical of power. The fourth estate is now for the state. Amy Goodman form got it right about the war. GE’s NBC, MSNBC and the rest of the corporate media got it wrong.

    Nice post Greg!

  9. The Dean Says:

    Well, if those aren’t facts, then I don’t know what are. News stories SHOULD start with those kinds of value judgments, and they should NOT try to be objective, since that doesn’t exist anyway.

  10. Anon Says:

    News stories often lack context because it’s hard not to have a perspective when giving relevant backround. That’s why Gore Vidal calls us the United States of Amnesia. If people new our history of invading countries around the world and imposing brutal dictators, they wouldn’t be so easy to convince every time. If people knew our history with Saddam and Iraq or who created Iraq and how the war profiteers wouldn’t be able to “manufacture consent”.

    I think people should try to be objective and factual. That means trying to represent many sides to an issue, especially the side of the voiceless. Howard Zinn said it best, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train”.

    Perhaps we should organize a forum on how to read a newspaper or evaluate information. Whether reading any blog or paper one should have their spin detectors on. That’s certainly true of TV news and the corporate propaganda they disguise as news.

    Would you be interested Greg? I already know the Dean will be.

    It would be a good little civics lesson!


  11. David Gallaher Says:

    At least when it come to Iraq, however much we debate, it’s hopeless.
    Voters did take the step of increasing the percent of Democrats in Congress. What good will it do? Listening to Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton on Iraq is damn discouraging, as was the slap-down of Murtha.
    We can have national debates until the cows come home, but, if anyone has any hope that government will do the right thing, they are all delusional.
    The purpose of government is to ride waves of hoi polloi hysteria, and, when hysteria begins to die down, create more.

  12. Bertie Wooster Says:

    Does anyone remember when, just a couple of months ago, this blog was rife with information about relevant and timely political topics? Oh, how I hearken for those days; this blog has become a ‘fill in this space’ non-site.

  13. Westside John Says:

    There is a saying that goes…”Ignorance is bliss” I think we are bombarded with too much information. Let Surgeon’s operate …we don’t stick an embedded reporter in the operating room to “oversee” and make sure the facts get out. We trust that he/she knows what they are doing and do it to the best of their ability. The same goes for military generals, they know what they are doing and should be left alone to do it. I shuddered while sitting in a tent in Qatar watching Geraldo Rivera give away our troop locations and movements. Somethings we just don’t need to know, hell in WWII they firebombed Dresden and killed tens of thousands of civilians in one day. I can’t imagine how we could have won that war with the media of today. Don’t get me wrong I think a government should be held accountable for it’s actions but as long as there are to people with opposing viewpoints we are going to have war.
    As for being objective…..once you put a human into the equation you dismiss objectivity.

  14. Anon Says:

    Bertie Wooster, the state of the fourth estate is more relevant than any other issue. It is timely and important. If we had a washington press core that was worth a crap we wouldn’t be in this quagmire.

    Westside John, we are bombarded with too many comercials and propaganda. Americans are extremely ignorant about the world, what our government is doing and how we are viewed by other nations. The Generals aren’t surgeons, they are the ones that create the need for surgeons and body bags. The media shouldn’t give away troop positions, we all agree on that and Geraldo Riveria can hardly be called a journalist anymore, if ever.

    The medias job is to question the liars that get us into unnecassary, illegal and immoral wars like Vietnam and Iraq. Instead they helped beat the drums for war and manufactured consent with lies and propaganda.

    Firebombing tens of thousands of civillians is a major war crime and is not acceptable. The public should be aware of these things. If the American people saw the mass murder that is being commited in their name for one week they would demand an end right away. That’s why they aren’t allowed to see it. Only embedded journalist are allowed. How else can the government be held accountable without a democratic forth estate that is a real check on power?

    War is not inevitible and certainly not the answer. Diplomacy works well but as President Eisenhower warned we must beware of the undue influence of the military industrial congressional complex.

    (war profiteers!)

  15. Westside John Says:

    how simple is your answer, “make love not war!” Wake up, we are ANIMALS first and intelligent beings second. We will always fight for what we believe in wether it is right or wrong….of course that is an issue that is subjective . I could take the most liberal thinking person who is completely against violence and, if I strike his or her child I am in for a butt whupping. People keep thinking that we are so enlightenend, especially when that ideal serves their end. I take a much simpler view. Bad people hurt innocent people (large scale) the good people rise up and smite the bad people. (smaller scale) Yes there is loss of life, yes innocent people will be killed in both conflicts, but we can’t just sit around and let a purely evil regime prosper if we can do something about it.

    This is not pretty, this is, for lack of a better word, the lesser of two evils. I just can’t stomach people whose views are so narrow that in their rantings about how every viewpoint should be heard conveniently censor any opposing views.

    Is war good, no obviously it is the last worst action that shoulds be taken, but it is a necessary tool.

    P>S> There were weapons of mass distruction in Iraq, they were conveniently over looked by the media. (12 medium range missiles with nerve gas warheads)

  16. Westside John Says:

    Which is worse, war profiteers or a society that blames every flaw on itself and never the individual, oh sure we can just give the person some prozac or ritalin and every thing is better.

  17. mc Says:

    We have acknowledged a lack of critical thinking. If we can’t evaluate information and its sources, we can’t ask the reporters to do the job for us. They do their jobs for their media companies and we have to do ours.

    It is up to the consumer to educate himself and make the decisions about the information and misinformation he gets. No one is able to be inhumanly objective since we are products of nature and nurture.

    We have an obligation, whether we are media producers or consumers, to tell the truth as we know it and look for it in what we read and see. If we have questions, there are plenty of other sources of information and we can follow up with those and many of us do. It is not that difficult.

    We can read the paper and watch news but it is up to us whether or not we give anything credence. Consumers know that they are hearing one aspect of a story and not the entire story.

  18. Westside John Says:

    MC………….very well said Sir

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