Fake Objectivity


Hardly anything branded as “fake news” is actually fraudulent, but much of what’s called “objective reporting” is as phony as a politician’s commitment to the good of the American people.

“Objective reporting” means relating what happened without trying to convey an opinion about it. Americans have been duped into accepting “balanced reporting” as just another term for “objective reporting” — but they’re not the same thing, and “balanced reporting” isn’t nearly as admirable as its proponents want you to think it is.

Dragging in a highly inflammatory statement or a statement of questionable validity from the lunatic fringe to “balance out” the key point of the story is not “objective” — it’s either devious or stupid depending on the intention or the ignorance of the reporter. “Telling both sides” is equally without merit when one or two unrelated or insignificant points are used to “balance” a preponderance of strong evidence or when a statement from an unqualified person “balances” the opinions or findings of leading experts.

Newspapers and magazines that target readers with a specific and narrow mindset are sometimes faced with a story of high news value that contradicts their position. Since they can’t ignore it, they undermine it with input from sources that would not be quoted in more ethical publications.

The same scenario plays out in the broadcast media, where there are at least three reasons for this deviation from straight news reporting. One reason is the proliferation of interview and discussion programs which, like fruit trees, require many branches if they’re to bear the desired fruit (in this case, filling the allotted air time and attracting the largest possible audience and the highest-paying sponsors). Another reason is Fox’s need to obscure obvious facts with a smoke-screen of contradictory “evidence”. And a third reason is National Public Radio’s compulsion to include a blatantly liberal element in every discussion whether it’s relevant or not.

The urge to demonstrate objectivity without understanding it is typically triggered by news items about legislation, administrative actions, court decisions, and the like. These invariably inspire reporters to seek out contrasting opinions about the underlying issues which are seldom part of the actual news story.

Equal air time for a rival political party’s response to a State of the Union speech is an example of token objectivity or its illegitimate sibling, balanced reporting, carried to an extreme. Of course, no State of the Union speech in living memory has actually been a report on the condition of the country. It’s just another partisan political stump speech, too predictable to be considered news. But the opposition’s response is even more “not news”.

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