Saturday, June 29, 2013

The myth of objective journalism

By Frank Moraes 

The primary difference between Fox News and MSNBC is not ideology; it is that Fox pretends to be objective. Yes, in general, MSNBC does a better job of reporting actual facts and doesn't go out of its way to mislead. But they are both advocacy groups: one for the Republican Party and the other for the Democratic Party. But no one ever claims that MSNBC provides the Truth that the other networks don't want the people to know.

Other than this fact, I have no problem with Fox News. I believe strongly that news organizations should have an explicit political inclination because they all have an implicit inclination. But even worse than that Fox who any reasonable person can see is just GOP-TV, I'm concerned about the middle-of-the-road media outlets. I'm visiting my sister and I just overheard some reporting on the TV from a local station, KTVU. They were covering information about the company that did Edward Snowden's background check. It was anything but objective. The coverage was akin to the coverage of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial.

This has long been a thorn in my side: the idea that centrists are not ideological. They are -- every bit as ideological as those of us on the left and the right. It is just that their ideologies are usually incoherent. Let's think about my favorite centrist example: Nazis. On one side you have the Nazis who want to kill all the Jews, on the other you have people who don't want to harm any Jews, and in the middle you have those who just want to give all Jews life in prison. It's clear than the centrist position is ideological.

Similarly with Edward Snowden, the centrist position that he did something dangerous that put us all in danger is just as ideological as my position that he did the American people a great favor that did not put us in any danger. Matt Taibbi wrote an excellent article yesterday about this issue, "Hey, MSM: All Journalism is Advocacy Journalism." It is basically a defense of Glenn Greenwald.

Greenwald is explicitly an advocate. Andrew Ross Sorkin is not; he's an advocate, but he isn't upfront about it. Recently, he got into trouble by saying that he would "almost arrest" (whatever that means) Glenn Greenwald for publishing the Snowden revelations. But Taibbi highlights a more important passage from that same article:

I feel like, A, we've screwed this up, even letting him get to Russia. B, clearly the Chinese hate us to even let him out of the country.

Whatever happened to a press that was an adversary of the government's attempt to hide things? This is right out of Pravda: we've screwed up by letting Snowden get to Russia? In that sentence, he indicates not that he's an American (I do that all the time) but that he is an arm of the government. Clearly, he is advocating -- and in a way that is dangerous to democracy because he isn't explicit about what it is he's doing. In fact it is worse: he's claiming to be an objective journalist.

The hidden assumptions are always the ones that harm us. That is why I would rather discuss politics with a right-wing extremist than a centrist. Most centrists really have convinced themselves that they aren't ideological just because most people they know agree with them. But that's just silly. If everyone you know thinks that Man of Steel is the best movie ever, it doesn't mean that it is objectively the greatest movie ever; it means that you don't know a very diverse group of people. With silly superhero movies, it hardly matters. When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, it does.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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