Posted on | July 26, 2012 | 22 Comments
“I agree with the late Hunter S. Thompson that a lot of what passes for ‘objective journalism’ is bullshit. . . . The reason so many Americans hate the news media is because so many supposedly ‘objective’ journalists are transparently dishonest in what they’re doing.”
— Robert Stacy McCain, April 16, 2009
The futile pursuit of that elusive phantom, “objective journalism,” may be more than a mere waste of time, but also a disservice to readers:
A new experimental study . . . finds that opinionated reporting is better at motivating the politically unengaged than objective reporting.
For years, much of the media has assumed that objective education, alone, was enough to promote a healthy democracy. What traditional media failed to realize is that a good chunk of the population needs a reason to care in the first place. “News articles that are written through the eyes of a mere observer, without a perspective or slant, can foster political disaffection among citizens,” explains author Minha Kim of Sungkyunkwan University.
An “experimental study”? The science is settled! The study itself appears to be motivated by left-wing sentiment, but makes valid points:
In situations where news consumers have well-established knowledge of important issues and converse frequently with fellow citizens, objective reporting actually promotes the legitimization of political actions, resulting in stronger participatory intentions on the part of the news consumer. An obvious limitation of journalistic objectivity is that a journalist must take on the role of a disengaged third person, but the willful ignorance of such a practice is not supposed to be the goal of the public journalist. Instead, objectivity needs to be distinguished from social detachment, and it is the latter rather than the former that a journalist needs to overcome. Although it is true that objectivity and social detachment overlap each other to a certain extent, a careful examination of the desirable journalistic role allows the two to be distinguished from each other.
Of course, this study doesn’t really tell us anything that students of Gonzo journalism didn’t already know. Outside of hard-core political junkies, nobody gets much excited about political news reported with bland even-handed neutrality by a bunch of faceless nobodies.
Grant that somebody has got to perform the thankless task of filing that toothlessly objective Associated Press story about the State of the Union speech, and we would be shocked if we picked up our local paper and saw an article like this on the front page:
PRESIDENT’S SPEECH REACHES HISTORIC
NEW LOWS IN SHAMELESS DISHONESTY
By Helmund Gormworthy
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama’s annual State of the Union speech was a gigantic lie from start to finish, as he told one fib after another in an increasingly desperate effort to hide the multiple failures of his administration.
“My fellow Americans,” Obama began, in an obvious attempt to conceal his Kenyan ancestry, before proceeding to tell Congress a series of big fat whoppers in a deceitful lecture that continued for more than an hour before concluding with a trite and transparently insincere, “God bless America.”
During the course of his 72-minute speech, the president told 64 outright lies and more than three dozen half-truths, according to an analysis provided by the Republican National Committee.
“Frankly, the overwhelming stench of bullshit nearly made me vomit,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said afterwards. “This was the most heinously dishonest speech I’ve ever been forced to sit through. Not even Bill Clinton told this many outrageous lies.” . . .
You see my point, perhaps. What we are becoming accustomed to in the New Media age, however, is selecting our news from a vast smorgasbord of choices that didn’t exist 40 years ago, when the average person could choose from one local newspaper and three broadcast TV channels. Today there are not only multiple cable-TV news outlets — Fox, MSNBC, CNN — but also talk radio and a bewildering profusion of online sources, many of them strongly opinionated or at least quite selective in terms of their coverage.
I take it for granted that anyone reading this blog is a highly engaged news consumer, who is also gathering information from many other sources, and this assumption frees me from the burden of reporting everything in an entirely balanced way, as though my lack of objectivity might unfairly prejudice the reader’s viewpoint.
The larger the outlet, and the more it strives to be a “one-stop” outlet for news, the greater the danger that the biases of the editors and reporters might distort public perception.
This is why the biases of NBC Nightly News (about 8 million viewers) matter more than the biases of Fox News (about 3 million viewers for The O’Reilly Factor), especially because no one who tunes in to watch Bill O’Reilly is misled into thinking that he is strictly neutral in his viewpoint. I’ve repeatedly pointed this out: The combined audience for the “Big Three” evening news broadcasts is six or seven times larger than the Fox News audience, so why the Media Matters obsession with the alleged evils of right-wing bias at Fox?
What must be fought against is the journalistic herd instinct, the phony manufactured “consensus” of the Conventional Wisdom. The phenomenon we call “liberal bias” is merely one variety of this problem: Most news reporters and editors are liberal Democrats and therefore, however much they may pretend to be providing Neutral Objective Journalism, their coverage will necessarily reflect certain biases of their herd, for example in regard to the evils of homophobia, the dangers of global warming and the benefits of socialized medicine.
Those of us who don’t share those biases, and who wish to counteract the incessant yammering from vendors of Conventional Wisdom, are freed from any need to pretend that what we write is “balanced” to the point of being neutral. This doesn’t free us, however, from the need to provide readers with facts. Expressing our opinions is only helpful insofar as we are giving the reader access to facts they might not see in the mainstream media. One of my beefs about coverage of the 2010 mid-term elections is that it tended to downplay the sheer size of the Republican victory:
Buerkle’s victory brings to 63 the number of House seats gained by Republicans in the mid-term election. That’s the GOP’s biggest net gain in any election since 1938, and gives Republicans 242 House seats — the most they’ve held since 1949. Their majority is bigger by 12 seats than the one captured by Newt Gingrich’s GOP in 1994.
Nearly two years later, most people still don’t realize that the Republican victory in 2010 was actually bigger than in 1994, and I believe this lack of public awareness explains the persistent obstructionism — the do-nothing inertia — of Harry Reid’s Senate Democrats. Media talking heads keep whining about the alleged unwillingness of Republicans to “compromise,” but why should they compromise with the vastly unpopular liberal agenda of Democrats who just got embarrassed by one of the most lopsided electoral ass-whuppings in American history?
For essentially the same reason, I think the mainstream media are underrating the prospects of a landslide win for Mitt Romney in November. Defeating an incumbent president is, historically, a very difficult task. If you exclude LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968, only three times since 1932 has an incumbent president been defeated: When Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976, when Ronald Reagan beat Carter four years later, and when Bill Clinton beat George Bush in 1992. But all three of those elections occurred when the economy was bad, and this year the economy is much worse than it was in 1992, if not (yet) quite as bad as it was during the 1970s era of “stagflation.”
So when I went to an Obama campaign event in Virginia, which is supposed to be a crucial “swing state” this year, and found hundreds of fired-up Tea Party protesters outside the event, it struck me that the Conventional Wisdom might be completely wrong: Maybe Virginia will be safely Republican in November, and the public perception of Obama’s economic ineptitude will be so widespread that, rather than Obama hoping to win “purple” states like Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, the Democrats will find themselves fighting desperately to avoid defeat in previously “blue” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
I’m not saying that will happen, but it could happen, and the only reason most in the media are ignoring the possibility of a complete Democratic meltdown this year is that the Conventional Wisdom blinds them to evidence that might indicate that possibility. They haven’t even acknowledged the significance of the Republican landslide in 2010, and seem to have in mind that this was a trivial aberration.
Everybody seems to be taking for granted that this is going to be another election decided by a few percentage points in the popular vote and a slight tilt in a few key “battleground” states and who knows? They’re probably right. But if things start shifting toward a GOP landslide, don’t let the mainstream media tell you this is a shocking and unexpected development, because there are plenty of little clues that this is well within the range of possible outcomes, although not what you’d call a “likely scenario.”
The prejudice of political pundits is to keep their predictions strictly within the realm of the most likely scenarios, which is why really important shifts in the electoral landscape are always a shock to the people who manufacture and consume Conventional Wisdom. Back in March, I warned that if Romney got the nomination and polls showed Obama losing ground, the media would start playing the Mormon card, so I was scarcely surprised to see Brian Williams raise the issue during his interview with Mitt.
That’s a legitimate issue for a Republican, whereas no one in the media can be permitted to mention the 20 years Obama spent in the pews of Jeremiah Wright’s anti-American church.
Such are the parameters of public discourse as established by the Conventional Wisdom, and we aren’t supposed to notice the resultant artificiality of our political conversation.
Only by stepping outside that consensus to call attention to the overlooked facts — or to provide an interpretation of facts that doesn’t fit neatly within the consensus — is it possible to see anything other than what the Conventional Wisdom machine dispenses. If it were indeed a fact that Barack Obama is the Antichrist foretold in Bible prophecy, for example, you’d never see that reported on NBC News. The appearance of apocalyptic omens from the Book of Revelation would not be headlined as such in the New York Times.
RIVERS OF BLOOD, DARKNESS AT NOON
Women, Minorities Hardest Hit; GOP Denies Responsibility
Satan could not be reached for comment.