In Journalism, Objectivity is not Balance, it is Truth
- Leave a Comment
- 3 min
Earlier today, the technocratic and industry-captive news curators at TV News Check linked in their morning newsletter to an opinion piece by Accuracy in Media’s Carrie Sheffield. Sheffield commented on the recent interview by Lara Logan and retired Navy SEAL Mike Ritland.
Sheffield writes in The Hill:
In order to unify our country and rebuild our civic fabric, we must address this lack of trust in the media that Logan identifies. Trump calls out media bias and is the strongest industry watchdog that conservatives have had in decades. This in part helps explain his sky high approval ratings among Republicans. Even if journalists dislike him, they owe it to the American people to respect and give a fuller picture of his policy approach. They need to quit playing the role of activist and stick to the role of reporter.
I disagree with her premise that reporters owe us a “respectful” and “fuller picture” of Trump’s policy approach. Both Sheffield and Logan imply that a full picture means providing what conservatives call “balanced” coverage. That for every critical story or aspect of a story, a reporter should also include a positive piece as well. That is not what a trained journalist should aspire to do.
Christiane Amanpour says as much in an interview with Preet Bharara on his Stay Tuned with Preet podcast, explaining the difference between truth and neutrality. The latter seems to mean something similar to what to Sheffield and Logan regard as”balanced.”
I don’t think it should be confusing. There’s the truth, and there are facts. And there’s empirical evidence. That’s truth, (and that’s being truthful when you seek and report in those parameters.) Neutrality is often confused by people for objectivity. People sometimes think that our golden rule, which is objectivity, means neutrality. It does not.
Neutrality is when you essentially put two opposing thoughts on the same platform, and give equal weight to two opposing thoughts. Now sometimes you can, but often you cannot. And let’s just take genocide for instance, which is where I learned my craft. There is no moral or factual equivalence between the gross violation of humanitarian law and mass killing of people based on their ethnicity or their religion. There’s no equating the perpetrators with the victims.Emphasis mine.
As I’ve written before on this site, trained journalists work like trained clinicians. They follow a set of procedures and practices to produce an accurate story—or diagnosis—lest the public suffer harm due to such negligence. They should be able to put aside their individual biases and contexts to do a professional job.
Sheffield and Logan note: there are “many courageous truth telling journalists who want to serve the public, and our hats are off to them as they inform and inspire us.” However, Sheffield dismisses the rest of the press entirely by referring to others as “mainstream journalists.” As we know, “mainstream” is code for the cadre of reporters who, according to Sheffield, conservatives, and right-wingers alike, “do not provide balanced and accurate information regarding [Trump’s] administration.”
Let us remind Sheffield that “balanced” and “accurate” have been co-opted by the right to sully the reputation of the professional, trained journalists who seek out the “truth” and “work in the public interest,” but may publish something critical of the president. Ultimately, that is what reporters owe the public: holding truth to power.