Objectivity Is a Lie the Journalism Industry Tells Itself

Americans are living through a chaotic time, and a lack of trust is at the heart of the chaos.

But it’s not just a lack of trust in the politicians which is driving American angst. It’s a lack of trust in the news media as well.

A lack of trust the folks in the news media are all too willing to dismiss, or blame on others.

Case in point, when it comes to President Donald Trump I (like a lot of Americans) feel trapped between to unreliable narrators. On one hand we have the Trump administration which is often guilty of saying things which are, at best, unsubstantiated and at worst demonstrably untrue. On the other hand we have a national press corps which is mostly homogeneous in its politics and concentrated in urban, coastal areas which is prone to exaggeration and misrepresentation when it comes to Trump, specifically, and right-of-center politics generally.

Trump’s political success was, in many ways, born of a fundamental mistrust of the “mainstream media” among vast swaths of the electorate.

This lack of trust is something the journalism industry is largely dismissive of. They blame social media and the rise of bloggers and the American public’s preference for echo chambers which reinforce the things they wish to believe.

All of which are valid criticisms, to one degree or another, but the one thing you rarely hear the journalists talk about is their own role in creating that lack of trust.

Their is an industry dedicated to holding people accountable in an objective way, but they are incapable of being objective when it comes to themselves.

Instead deploy tired arguments attacking the mediums through which Americans get their information. It started decades ago with the rise of talk radio and cable news, and today the problem is blogs and YouTube.

“The blogs, Twitters, Facebooks, YouTubes and renegade TV channels are full of misinformation, misrepresentation and deceit,” writes columnist Lloyd Omdahl today. “Unfortunately, these have become the primary sources of information for a society too lazy to read.”

“The classic journalism being brought to bear on the chaotic and confused Trump administration rises above the insidious mendacity of ‘fake news,’ which is the catch-all phrase for hot air on most talk radio, shallow ‘point-of-view’ television, and self-corrupted, online bloggers,” columnist and former Fargo Forum opinion editor Jack Zaleski wrote over the weekend. “Good journalism is reasserting itself at a time when it is most needed.”

It is possible for two honest people of good faith to look at a set of facts and arrive at two conflicting conclusions based on their social and political biases. We’re supposed to believe that journalists are some race of Übermenschen who don’t have that problem.

The problem is that to people who work in an industry where there is very little political diversity, “good journalism” tends to be pretty one sided.

Most journalists hold left-of-center political views, something which has become more obvious today in this age of social media when we can all see these journalists – from the local beat reporters to the national press corps – expressing their points of view on Twitter or Facebook.

The reality bias in journalism is much more complicated.

Blogging, which is my preferred medium of choice, got popular as an alternative to traditional journalism because it delivered something the journalists were not. Namely, accountability for journalists.

I was a young, obscure blogger back when bloggers took down Dan Rather for trying to smear a sitting President months before an election with a patently false story about service in the National Guard. It was a seminal moment for the medium made possible by fundamentally unfair, one-sided practices from a mainstream reporter.

I think a lot of my success here in North Dakota, to the point where I’m now in the employ of the largest journalism organization in our state, has to do with the fact that I was delivering something the public wasn’t getting. Namely, facts and analysis from a right-of-center point of view.

This may prompt some of you to invoke the journalism industry’s oft-touted objectivity, but that’s bunk. No journalist working in America today is objective.

The funny thing about newspapers is that they typically dedicate one entire section to opinion when, in reality, the entire newspaper is the result of opinions.

Every news story ever written is the result of opinions on everything from the words in the headline to the quotes and facts included in the text to which stories get covered in the first place. There is no such thing as objective journalism.

There is lots journalism which is fair, to be sure, but objectivity is a ruse. Which is why the lack of right-of-center thinking in the press corps is such a problem.

It is possible for two honest people of good faith to look at a set of facts and arrive at two conflicting conclusions based on their social and political biases.

We’re supposed to believe that journalists are some race of Übermenschen who don’t have that problem.

It’s baloney. A myth the media industry likes to tell itself.

How do we fix this? I don’t know. “Do you ask how journalists vote during job interviews?” one of my reporter colleagues asked me recently when we were debating this.

Good question. That would be problematic. Objectivity is impossible, but balance would help.

At the national level it might help to move focus away from the White House press corps and focus on giving regional and local reporters a shot at covering the president. I’m not sure the public is served well by having the same group of people from the beltway media establishment following the President around everywhere and asking him questions. There are entire books to be written about the poor way the Trump administration has handled the press, but one thing they’re getting right is allowing for diversity in access to the White House. Whether it’s internet-based media, or Skype questions from local reporters across the nation, it’s a good idea.

And, frankly, conservatives need to start taking more of an interest in working in journalism.

Plus, there really are things the journalism industry could do to promote diversity of thought in their ranks. They already have initiatives promoting racial and gender diversity, why not promote political diversity as well?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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