Objective vs. “Fair and Balanced”: How the Press Fails Us

There is a crisis in our journalism, and it’s something that has to be taken care of right now. I don’t know what is being taught in journalism classes these days, but given that I spent the better part of a year working in the heart of a big city newspaper’s newsroom in the 1970s and most of what I see today would not have been allowed back then, something has changed, to be sure. And it is not to our benefit. The news media cannot be trusted any longer.

The key to all good journalism is context. That is their main purpose. Of course, they should be reporting facts, but then there’s the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of every story. Without that, the reporter has no purpose. Re-writing a press release so that it fits into a certain space is called copy writing for a reason; it’s not journalism. It is also not journalism to simply dump a few thousand or a few million pages of documents on the public; the journalism part is doing the leg work and the research necessary to explain to the public what they mean and why they’re important. And no; “we report, you decide” is also not journalism. If you are reporting properly, then we shouldn’t have to interpret or “decide” what the documents mean.  People like Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and David Sirota (and most of the professional left) are not journalists. Hell, this blog is not journalism; the only difference is, I’m honest enough to admit it. They are obviously just providing the Internet with click-bait, which I do not do. I’d like everyone to click, but I refuse to write things just to make people want to.

I will get into this a lot more in coming weeks and months, but right now, I want to talk about the concept of objectivity.

For some stupid reason, too many news organizations seem to believe that objectivity is a goal, which is laudable. On the other hand, I’m not sure they know what objectivity is, exactly. I say that because many news organizations seem to think “objectivity” is all about treating all sides the same. They seem to mistake “fair and balanced” (a notable concept that Fox News has bastardized until it has become meaningless) for “objective reporting and it doesn’t get any dumber than that. “Objective reporting” is about reporting only fact while trying to avoid the subjectivity with which most humans look at just about everything. Objectivity should be the ultimate goal for journalists, but they should know that objectivity is rarely “fair.” here are some examples:

“Hillary Clinton is dishonest.” This statement is not only subjective, it is also demonstrably untrue. It is opinion, not objective fact, regardless of the circumstances.

“Hillary Clinton lied about being under sniper fire in Bosnia.” This one seems tricky, but there is no way to see it as objective fact. First of all, almost no one was there and the witnesses who were there tell varying stories. The consensus seems to be that she was asked to put on a flak jacket because sniper fire had been reported in the region; whether she was actually fired upon is in question, although it’s possible. In other words, it can’t be a lie because, for something to be a lie, the person making the statement has to know for a fact that their statement is untrue. Since there is no way to prove her statement either true or false, the only person lying here is the person claiming that Hillary lied, since it’s impossible to know that.

“Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president.” This statement is objectively true and factual. Besides the fact that she is over 35, her resume is more robust than about half the modern presidents out there. You may not like her for president and you may prefer someone else, but it is absolutely factual that she is qualified for the presidency by any measure.

“Donald Trump is unqualified to be president.” This one is tricky, in that, if we were talking about many other political offices, there are no objective qualifications for running for president. President is different, though, so this statement is objective fact. There is no normal measure by which Trump measures up to any other president, not even George W. Bush, who at least spent some time as Texas Governor. He has never worked in government before and he has demonstrated that he has no idea what he can and cannot do as president. Other than the pure constitutional argument, that he is over 35, it is impossible to point to any other qualifying factor that points to a qualified presidential candidate. It would be hard to claim he’s qualified for Congress, let alone president.

“Donald Trump is a successful businessman.” This is opinion and can in no way constitute an objective fact. I’m working on a couple of articles about Trump’s background and I can assure you that, if you think that making a lot of money defines “success,” then you can say he’s successful. However, if you count up his business failures, an equally compelling argument can be made the other way. In other words, because there is no objective definition of “success,” this can only be opinion, no matter how many pretend “facts” you can point to in support.

“Jill Stein is the most qualified candidate for president.” Objectively speaking, this is a lie. She is barely more qualified than Trump and less qualified than Gary Johnson, who has at least some experience in government. She led the fight for a “clean elections law” in Massachusetts that was later repealed (and which has little to do with clean elections << – my opinion!) and she spent a year or two as part of a city council. Other than that, she’s been a physician. Know what else makes it a lie? Jill Stein knows she will never win, so everything she tells you she will do will never get done because she will never win.

This is just a short lesson on objectivity. Objectivity and fairness are not the same. Journalists owe us as much objectivity as they can. They do not owe us fairness. If someone says “Hillary Clinton is a good candidate for president” and they also report, “Donald Trump said something profoundly stupid today,” it is very possible for both statements to be objectively true, even though they don’t seem “fair and balanced.”

We need a press that tells the truth, period. “Fair and balanced” news is the last thing we need. If someone is lying, say they’re lying. If someone has accused them of something provably false, then report that someone has made the accusation, of course, but unless you also report that you know the allegations to be false or unprovable, you have not done your job, journalists.


Objective vs. “Fair and Balanced”: How the Press Fails Us — 4 Comments

  1. “Donald Trump is unqualified to be president.” This one is tricky, in that, if we were talking about many other political offices, there are no objective qualifications for running for >> president <<. President is different, though, so this statement is objective fact.

    The word "president" that I marked should office, or something like that.

  2. People like Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and David Sirota (and most of the professional left) are not journalists. Someone tell Sirota that. His damn head is so bloated. Who owns that IBTimes anyway?