There is no such thing as “objective” journalism now and there never has been. Objectivity in reporting is a value that never should have existed and certainly shouldn”t any more.
These are not the angry ramblings of a leftist reacting to the success of the blatantly ideological Fox News network, whose anchors and reporters have a curious tendency to confuse conservative rhetoric with empirical facts and then tell their viewers “we report, you decide.” Rupert Murdoch”s right-wing propaganda machine is far less insidious than this ossifying value among liberal elites that “reporting with integrity” equals “objective reporting.”
Journalism, like every other communicative medium, is necessarily subjective but the implications of this truth are more than semantic.
Journalists are supposed to tell us what happened at a particular place and time, that is, they give us the short version of an event. So when President “Curious” George W. Bush holds a press conference, the reporter does not transcribe the entire interchange he or she picks out what he or she believes to be the important parts and tells his or her audience about those points.
Of course, this operation is inherently subjective because it involves making personal value judgements. Given that there is limited space and/or time to mention everything that went on, the reporter almost always has to decide whether comment A or comment B deserves mention whether a particular statement is quoteworthy or whether it ought to be paraphrased. It is here that the reporter”s personal psychology and value system comes into play.
Clearly, a number of factors shape the way an individual views (and reports) the world, not the least of which is his or her socioeconomic class. As with just about every other professional career, a college degree is basically a prerequisite for getting any type of reporting job in the mainstream media. It ought to come as no surprise, then, that the people who bring us the news every day are almost exclusively white and almost exclusively hail from upper and upper middle class backgrounds.
But if this is true, then the American news media is run almost exclusively by a very specific class the same class that controls the vast majority of the world”s capital. Naturally, what is important to a typical person might not be nearly as important to a rich capitalist. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of stories in the mainstream press are not told from the perspective of everyday people with everyday jobs but through a series of value judgments made by members of the ruling class.
This would explain why the vast majority of the stories about the current economic slowdown have focused much more on stock holders” losses (which primarily affect the elite classes) than job losses (which almost always affect the middle and lower classes). Obviously, judging from the body of coverage thus far, the media elites do not see much importance in the profound personal tragedy that is the loss of a job. I doubt any of the 26,000 DaimlerChrysler workers about to be laid off would agree.
Another, more specific, example of elite values framing the way news is presented is the recent conflict between Northwest Airlines and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the mechanics” union, where coverage is primarily focused on how the strike affects “you” (“you” meaning upper or upper-middle class professionals who fly frequently). I suppose a potential strike is more “objectively” important than the mechanics” complaints about wages and their pension benefits assuming you have enough money to fly in the first place.
It could probably be argued that we need not worry about these types of “objective” presentations. If a reporter is good, he or she will be able to divorce himself or herself as much as possible from his or her class biases and decide what is “worth reporting” from a neutral standpoint. But while there might be degrees of objectivity reporters can attain, the modern value of journalistic objectivity, even when it is acknowledged to be a mere ideal, breeds popular complacency towards the media. It ought to be abolished.
By making the impossible demand on journalists to be “objective,” by incorporating objectivity into the very nature of what it is to be a journalist, the public has an excuse to read the paper and/or watch the news uncritically.
If people are going to reclaim the news media so that it serves their own interests instead of the powerful capitalist classes there has to be a popular redefinition of what constitutes “good journalism” that prevents mass complacency.
Nick Woomer”s column runs every other Tuesday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.