What happens when public officials don’t tell the truth? Traditionally it’s been the role of the media to point this out. It is the role of the media not only to uncover hidden deceit, but also to point out deceit in plain sight. The media should not and cannot hide behind the phony gauze of neutrality. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously quipped, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
It is the job of the media to distinguish between the two, and to clearly and blatantly point out the discrepancies to the public.
And yet, too often, they do not. The media, too often, reports what officials say and how they say it, and doesn’t delve into the substance and accuracy of the statements.
The truth is objective, a presentation of both sides of an argument is not necessarily objective.
When a topic is noisily debated, journalists go to pains to present, with equal space and import, both sides of the topic. Usually this is a good thing. The public should know the arguments from all sides of a contentious issue.
But sometimes, and this may sound overly simplistic, but it remains true, there is only one credible side to a debate.
The earth is getting warmer, and man-made carbon emissions are causing it.
Humans evolved from apes. You cannot cut taxes by 20 percent and close enough loopholes to be revenue neutral without raising taxes on the middle class.
Study after reputable study has shown these statements to be true. (Admittedly there have been fewer studies of the last claim because it is so much newer, but every reputable study has found the above statement accurate). Yet we still see news stories in which “experts” from both sides of the argument are called upon and given equal standing to make their case.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist and unabashedly liberal New York Times op-ed columnist, wrote about this phenomenon in 2000.
“If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ‘Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.’ After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.
That analysis is equally applicable today. The mainstream media (with the exception of nakedly partisan outfits like Fox News and MSNBC) are so desperate to appear unbiased that they go out of their way to point out inconsistencies on both sides of the political spectrum even when it may not be appropriate.
This false equivalency, the effort of the news media to remain at the political center of an argument, no matter the merits or truthfulness of either side of the argument, is sometimes labeled as a bias towards objectivity. This is a false and misleading turn of phrase.
Journalists should always exhibit a bias towards objectivity. Being objective — dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings — is always the goal. The trouble comes when objectivity is confused with neutrality.
It is fine to be partial, indeed it is imperative if, after a careful examination of the facts, one concludes that the truth lies on one side of the argument. This is being objective. Examining the facts on their merits and presenting the truth is a journalist’s job.
A long read but worth it. The article outlines most of my personal frustration with journalism and the media as it exists today.