Let’s Stop Pretending News Objectivity is a Thing

15 Jul

If there’s anything that makes me more nauseous than the first week I took Zoloft, it’s journalism students who think they’re going to overhaul the entire American news system into this objective utopia where no one has an opinion and events are reported in the exact way they occurred. These people tend to think of the news as a gridlock battle between liberal and conservative, MSNBC vs. Fox. They harp on about how “both sides” of an issue need to be addressed, as if anything in the news can so easily be reduced to point and counterpoint, and their main criticism of any given network, reporter, or story will be that they’re “too biased.”

objective unicorn

This unicorn is pretty realistic though

I find little wrong with being biased. I personally dislike large news networks because they act in corporate interest, choose not to cover less pleasant instances of state oppression, and play into partisan politics, rather than because they’re “too liberal” or “too conservative.” Legitimate criticism of a given news source or story would be bad writing, bad fact-checking, and inconsistent coverage. While news companies will swear up and down that they strive to present nothing but facts, this is close to impossible because the way “facts” are presented are largely affected by the individual presenting them. Deliberately making things up is totally dishonest, not to mention stupid. But Reporter A wording something differently from Reporter B, and you spouting off on the Internet about how both of them are full of shit, is the First Amendment at work. The alternative to news bias is 1984-esque state-owned news companies that churn out “facts” that they want the public to believe to be objectively true.

bush 1984

Anti-Statist Rule #1: Everything You Dislike is 1984.

Film and photography come closest to being objective mediums because they show things rather than describe them, and even so, there are a billion ways to manipulate pictures and videos into how you want them perceived (case in point being the above, although obviously it’s not always that extreme!). One of the reasons I’m so interested in Vice travel documentaries and world news is because Shane Smith and his correspondents have perfected “immersionist” journalism; they take part in the everyday lives of the individuals they want to profile rather than ask stilted interview questions. Even so, this cannot be fully objective because the footage they choose to use for the documentaries, the video edits they use, and even the small details in the camera angles are all deliberate. Think back to the Motherboard documentary Click, Print, Gun, that I posted the other day, if you bothered to watch it. The ominous music in the introduction tells you all you need to know about how whoever made it wants you to think of  Cody Wilson, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide.

While it’s true that the facts of a story are important, the various nuances of everyone’s writing and reporting style contribute to how they’re going to report an event. For example, I grew up middle-class with NYC in my backyard and first became heavily politicized through left-wing social justice politics, and although I’ve strayed from that a bit, I still have a strong distrust for the government. Of course my reporting style is going to be different from someone who is immersed in the religious right and grew up dirt poor in the South. One of America’s redeeming qualities is that both of us are eligible for jobs in the journalism industry, where it’s up to the public to decide who they want their information from, and it’s up to publications to decide who they want to hire. The amount of variations that exist in political philosophy and individual perspectives make it pretty insulting to the public’s intelligence for the media to present everything as a partisan issue. Niche publications like Reason are fantastic because they know and openly discuss their “bias” (I prefer to think of it as perspective) and how it affects the way they view events. Within even the most niche publications and networks, you have a plethora of individuals who all have something slightly different to say even if they’re all roughly on the same end of the political spectrum.

free speech zone

America, fuck yeah!

As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said (although it’s most often inaccurately attributed to Voltaire): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Journalists worldwide are at the forefront of the battle for free speech, and their duty is to protect that rather than censor themselves in the name of objectivity.

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