Spin, Subjectivism, Objectivity, etc.
First, today’s Howard Kurtz piece in the WashPost: ‘Balance’ in a Spinning World
I’ve been suspicious for some time that objective journalism, as an institution and a working philosophy, was in deep kim-chee, and the current election cycle has done nothing but highlight the reasons why our grand 20th Century experiment is starting to smell like a failure. In fact, it begins to look like the issue is going to be my professional raison d’etre for the foreseeable future. Hunter Thompson blamed Nixon on objectivity in journalism, and since I haven’t repeated it lately:
Some people will say that words like “scum” and “rotten” are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.
Today’s institutions of established journalism are having the same problem dealing with Bush. The Dubya camp not only plays fast and loose with the facts (Kerry does plenty of that, actually), they are actively and aggressively dishonest in their dealings with the public.
Lest I be miconstrued here, let me restate that last bit in the plainest language I can muster: Bush and his people lie, and they do so more than any other campaign I have ever witnessed (and this includes some of the rhetorical sewage that used to seep out of the Jesse Helms camp every six years or so, as well). They are worse than Nixon ever dreamed of being.
So how do you deal with this in a world where the ideal of objectivity holds sway and is somehow seen as relating to “fairness” and “balance.” How do you “balance” coverage of the deceptions in a presidential campaign when 90% of the lies are perpetrated by one side? If you report it 90/10, you’re biased. If you try and balance it so that the spotlight is shined 50/50 on each camp, you’re creating the illusion that both sides are equally guilty.
What about when one side’s crimes are mostly errors of degree and exaggeration, of context, while the other side is actively concocting pure fiction? How do you balance coverage when one side is missing the mark by an inch or two while the other side is shooting at the crowd?
Right. What is even more interesting in some ways than how this election will shape our politics is the related question as to how it’s going to change our journalism.
:x-post lullabypit and :