Oct 7, 2009

Facts for factions, second take

The people most opposed to the idea of objective journalism often are people who believe in objective truths. They consider editorial efforts to moderate language and viewpoints on tough issues - illegal immigration, torture, war, abortion - a cop out.

Subjective journalism rose up to cater to this crowd and has at times focused laser light on controversies that got swept aside when presented in moderated tones. But there's a viral strain of subjective journalism that claims to be objective and it is has helped erode the belief that any journalists can their facts straight.

To be sure, not all journalists can, and there are some newsrooms that get so careful with words that they serve up water and pretend it's soup. For these reasons, public skepticism of the media is healthy. But the selling of subjectivity as objectivity has done far worse damage to the idea of impartial journalism and accelerated cultural factionalism as consumers are emboldened to regurgitate belief to friends and neighbors and to call it fact.

Ezra Klein noticed a Fox News executive inadvertently copping to this slippery game in an interview given to Time magazine. Here's what Fox VP Michael Clemente had to say:
The fact that our numbers are up 30 plus in the news arena on basic cable I'd like to think is a sign that we are just putting what we believe to be the facts out on the table.
Here's what Klein had to say about that:
Most news organizations, in my experience, do not have to qualify the word "facts" with the words "what we believe to be." On the other hand, as Fox says, that model is good for ratings.

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