More on the Myth of Media Objectivity


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What the evening news shows need is less “objectivity” and more analysis. The problem with objective journalism is that it doesn’t exist and never did. Molly Ivins disposed of the objectivity question for all time when she observed in 1993, “The fact is that I am a 49-year-old white female, a college-educated Texan. All of that affects the way I see the world. There’s no way in hell that I’m going to see anything the same way that a 15-year-old black high school dropout does. We all see the world from where we stand. Anybody who’s ever interviewed five eyewitnesses to an automobile accident knows there’s no such thing as objectivity.”

I’ve said it before and Molly Ivins has said it too [see above]. There is no objectivity in the media. Amira Hass has said it: being fair and objective aren’t the same thing.

If you don’t yet know who Keith Olbermann is yet, you owe it to yourself to YouTube him. Journalism with a soul. Don’t bother settling for anything less.

If you don’t believe what Ivins is talking about above, you probably don’t understand the multiple subjectivity of post-modernism and your value to a 21st century world is limited. Time to get with the program.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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2 thoughts on “More on the Myth of Media Objectivity”

  1. There’s an interesting article at the Parliamentary web site about the way media presents stories these days.

    ‘Supposed media objectivity’ is, well…not so much. I remember telling my teacher that ‘hard news’ could be biased and she laughed at me.

    Round Table: The Parliamentarian and the Press; Grant Devine; Jeffrey Simpson; David E. Smith

    The modern style of journalism is that the personalities and the opinions of individuals should not enter into the story but in fact, they do, hidden as they are behind the facade of objective reporting. Such influences have considerable impact especially in reporting on a political campaign or on policy interpretations.

    The authors go on to point out that when opinion and biases are meshed together in a single news item, the reader has no way of recognizing assumptions and political biases of the reporter. Well, what is wrong with that? So what if the reporter has a bias. What if certain assumptions are made that are not shared with the media and shared with the public. What’s the downside? The downside is that you might not have the truth. You might not have the facts.

  2. Oh, but post-modernism is passé. It’s so late-20th-century.

    But seriously:

    It’s all very well and good to remind us of the practical impossibility of objectivity. But to deny the existence of objectivity as an ideal is to descend into a morass of self-contradiction.

    The problem with talking about “objectivity” isn’t that objectivity doesn’t exist. (And again, I’m talking about existence in an ideal sense.) Rather, the problem is that those who trumpet it the most don’t come any closer to achieving it than others do. (In this regard, objectivity is analogous to “selflessness” or to “humility”. But I digress.) And as your articles on this topic have pointed out, claims of objectivity are often nothing more than a way of sweeping biases under the rug so that the unwary will fail to notice them.

    But it’s not even as simple as that.

    Take a look at this excerpt from the article about Keith Olbermann, in the link you provided: “Our charge for the immediate future is to stay out of the way of the news,” [Olbermann] explained when the show debuted on March 31, 2003. “News is news. We will not be screwing around with it,” a reference to Bill O’Reilly, his rival over at Fox News in the 8 pm time slot. “It will not be a show in which opinion and facts are juxtaposed so as to appear to be the same.”

    The word “objective” may not appear here, but it looks to me like just another way of saying “Our charge is to be more objective than our rivals”. Those of us for whom Olbermann looks like one of the Good Guys will cheer. Meanwhile, folks on the “right” will sneer at Olbermann’s statements in the same way that I sneer at Fox News’s slogan. (“We report. You decide.” Yeah, right.)

    I’m still musing over the distinction Amira Hass draws between “objectivity” and “fairness”. Both of these words point to the same idea: It’s nice to try to get around our biases. Truth is important.

    Somewhere, in some parallel universe, your counterpart is writing about the “myth of media fairness”, and the mirror-version of Amira Hass is trying instead to be “objective”. But otherwise, that world looks much the same as our own.

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