It’s Michael Kinsley day here at the Frontal Cortex. Over at the Guardian, Kinsley has another stupendous piece lamenting the sharp division that American newspapers (especially the NY Times) try to draw between fact and opinion.
According to a column by its “public editor” (aka ombudsman, or official busybody), the New York Times has been asking itself whether it does enough to distinguish between fact and opinion in its pages. A “newsroom committee on credibility” looked into the matter and decided that what was needed was a “news/opinion divide committee”. The nine lucky editors on this committee “worked for months” to come up with a new system for helping Times readers who can’t figure out that “President Bush flew to Texas yesterday” is a fact, whereas “President Bush is a bozo” is an opinion.
Of course, from the perspective of neuroscience, Kinsely is exactly right. It’s neurologically ludicrous to believe that the human mind can exercise perfectly objective judgment, or analyze information free from bias. Our subjective emotions distort every iota of information that enters our head.
That said, I still think the sharp division of fact and opinion should be preserved at newspapers, if only as an act of aspiration. Journalistic objectivity might be impossible, but it’s still a laudable goal. If we stop trying to describe the world as-it-is (and not as we want it to be), then what’s to keep us all from becoming Bill O’Reilly’s?