by A.S. Friedman
“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Ten days ago, I posted a comment on your web site taking issue with your videotaped “Debunking the Myth of Objectivity” editorial. As a longstanding journalist, I couldn’t disagree more with your contention that there is no objectivity in the world and Americans cannot rely on the news media to be objective in their reporting.
The notion that objectivity is a myth and all news reporting is laden with bias might fly in such isolated, theoretical sanctuaries as college philosophy classes. But in the real world of facts and figures, beyond political and ideological spin zones, your hypothesis is nonsense.
Obviously, you’re right in pointing out that facts are interpreted, at times exaggerated and unfortunately bias sometimes slips into news reports. But it’s my interpretation, drawn from various studies of the mainstream media, that most journalists report facts and figures and when the truth is unknown or uncertain, they label it as such.
So, for example, the initial report of the deaths of two people at a movie star’s home might start like this:
Police, responding to a 911 call, found two bodies at the home of Academy Award-winning actor ______ ________. Investigators said the victims apparently were shot to death. Neither victim was immediately identified by police.
It was unclear whether the actor or his wife were in the home at the time, but investigators said there was no sign of forced entry. The nextdoor neighbor said she and her husband heard gunshots sometime after 9 p.m.
Tell me how that report could be construed as anything but objective? The same for this one:
The New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Sunday’s Super Bowl as running back Ahmad Bradshaw scored a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the game. The Super Bowl rematch ended as the 2008 game did -- with the Giants winning.
On Feb. 1 after listening to your video dismissing objectivity in the world as non-existent, as “a pie in the sky idea,” I was moved to challenge you to provide me with any set of facts and I would give you an objective report. Rather than wait any longer for your response, I decided to make the case with examples of my own.
Yet before I could do so, I noticed that you’ve disproven your own theory. This week on your own Libertarian-leaning web site, you posted a straightforward, objective notice of an upcoming meeting. Here it is:
A workshop on holding local government accountable will take place February 13 at 6 p.m. at 2755 Concrete Court in Paso Robles.
Organized by San Luis Obispo activist Kevin Rice, the workshop will teach participants how to get involved in the political arena at the local level. Speakers, including Mike Brown of COLAB, will explain the significance of seemingly obscure agencies, such as the Air Polution Control District and the Integrated Waste Management Authority. Attendees will learn the basics of the Brown Act, public records requests and lobbying city hall, as well as why city council elections in Pismo affect people in Paso and vice versa.
The event is free of charge and attendees are encouraged to bring friends and family.
Sure, there could be a bit of nitpicking over just how objective the report above is. You could say the word “control” in the headline might be slightly misleading. Control is somewhat stronger than holding a local government “accountable.” And you might quarrel slightly over whether those who attend will “learn” all that’s offered to them or simply just “hear” what they’re told at the meeting. Also, in the last line it doesn’t say who is encouraging your readers “to bring friends and family.” But these nitpicks certainly don’t add up to a total rejection of objectivity in the news media, let alone in the world itself.
There are endless examples of straightforward, unbiased accounts of legitimate news events and issues that I could offer. How about the following?
President Obama today announced a compromise approach in the birth control dispute arising from his controversial health care law. Hoping to quell complaints from the Catholic Church and other critics, Obama said contraceptive services will only be provided by health insurance companies, not by employers including those that are faith-based.
Media pundits and Republican opponents of Obama’s health care plan questioned why the president hadn’t simply adopted this approach at the outset, suggesting it would have avoided the religious freedom versus women’s rights battle that has flared across the country this week. Obama made the announcement before a gathering of reporters but left afterward without answering any questions. Later others in the Obama administration and on his side of the political aisle did address the questions.
I suppose you could nitpick over the order of facts presented in my account of Obama’s announcement. But does anything in my account prove your hypothesis that objectivity in reporting is non-existent?
Here’s another example of straightforward reporting:
Rick Santorum swept to victory in all three Republican presidential contests Tuesday, delivering a setback to the momentum of frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Fresh from his decisive victory in the Florida presidential primary, Romney was defeated by the former Pennsylvania senator in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and in Missouri’s primary.
Just how much momentum Romney lost in the Santorum sweep remains to be seen. The former Massachusetts governor won the Colorado and Minnesota GOP caucuses four years ago, but this time around Romney trailed Santorum by five percentage points in Colorado and ran a distant third in Minnesota behind Santorum and second-place finisher Ron Paul. Romney maintained that he didn’t lose any headway in the count for Republican convention delegates. Delegates in Minnesota and Colorado will be apportioned later, while Missouri’s primary was merely a “beauty contest” with no delegates to be won.
Yes, my account includes some interpretation. But there again, it’s based on the facts and is added to make sure that the report is fair and balanced. So once again, how does this square with your notion of no objectivity and all bias in news reports?
I could go on and on, but I think the point is made. My suggestion is to go back to square one and recheck your facts. You might even come to an objective conclusion about your hypothesis.
A.S. Friedman is a longtime journalist from Los Angeles.