Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Journalistic Objectivity

My new gig with the Center for Independent Media has been quite interesting, if for no other reason than to stimulate my thinking about the differences between blogging and journalism and how to find a balance between them that maintains integrity. Notice that I say integrity, not objectivity; the concept of objectivity has become so attenuated that it is no longer useful at all in such discussions.

Sometimes that balance can be difficult to strike, but here’s one thing I am absolutely certain of: the mere repetition of “both sides” in a dispute is not “objectivity”, nor does it have any integrity. Glenn Greenwald hits the nail on the head in this essay about the Washington Post passing on blatant lies about Barack Obama in one of those ridiculous forwarded emails you’ve probably gotten declaring that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

In this article, the Washington Post just reported the contents of those emails without ever bothering to point out that they are absolutely false. Greenwald cites an online chat by a Post official defending that approach, saying:

We are getting many questions of our story on Obama today. I’ll try to address this as best I can. These are always very difficult decisions — how to address something that people are talking about, that has clearly become a factor in the race, without taking a position. Part of our job is to acknowledge that there is a discussion going on and to fact check and lay out the facts. The Internet has complicated this responsibility because there is so much garbage and falsehoods out there.

This discussion has reached a high pitch on the Internet and our editors decided it was in the readers interest to address it. I have heard people say that they won’t support Sen. Obama because they read he doesn’t put is hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. He has denied this — so airing some of this and giving him a chance to deny its accuracy could be viewed as setting the record straight.

The first paragraph clearly contradicts the second. If she recognizes that part of their job is “to fact check and lay out the facts”, why didn’t they do that? Greenwald nails the reason why:

That is self-evidently absurd. “Setting the record straight” would mean having the reporter report the facts and identify the false statements as false. But the Post did the opposite; it simply passed on each side’s “views” without comment — the factually true side and the factually false side — as though they merited equal weight.

But Romano defends this practice as “setting the record straight.” Here again we see an explicit statement of the corrupt view that so many establishment journalists now have of their role: “we pass on factual falsehoods from one side, note that the other side denies them, and call it a day. Then we’ve done our job.”

This is not journalism, it is laziness and cowardice. So afraid are they of being accused of bias that they refuse to state the truth even when they can easily defend it. I agree completely with Greenwald’s conclusion:

It isn’t actually that complicated. When a government official or candidate makes a factually false statement, the role of the reporter is not merely to pass it on, nor is it simply to note that “some” dispute the false statement. The role of the reporter is to state the actual facts, which means stating clearly when someone lies or otherwise makes a false statement.

It’s staggering that this most elementary principle of journalism is not merely violated by so many of our establishment journalists, but is explicitly rejected by them. That’s the principal reason why our political discourse is so infected with outright falsehoods.

Hear, hear.