Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Myth of Objectivity

The McCain campaign complains that the press is showing more enthusiasm for his opponent.  This brings to a head an issue that has underlain the problem of the press in the United States for decades.

The problem is this: a basic premise in journalism is that the press must be “objective”.  Dozens of books have been written that show there is no such thing as objectivity: every decision made in the mind of the journalist or editor (what stories to cover, how much space to allot, what page to run it on, what size headline it will have, etc.) is colored by his or her background, education, what he or she ate for breakfast or drank the night before. Yet the myth of objectivity continues, because it suits the owners of newspapers and magazines.  (The owner doesn’t sit in the editor’s chair, but he fires him if he does not perform as expected.)

Now there is the deliberate confounding of equal time with so-called objectivity.  Television, where most Americans get their news, bends over backwards to devote equal time to the two candidates, but they can only tangentially doctor actual coverage (such as turning down the applause for Obama and turning it up for McCain.) It is not the press’s fault that Obama is inspiring, nor can individual reporters be expected to sound like robots.

When jaded reporters cannot hide their enthusiasm, you know something big is happening.  But the emotion that cannot always be stifled even by the most experienced journalists, does not alter the fact that under the guise of objectivity, the American press has become the docile lapdog of government and business, both of which include the military.  Skeptics need only consider the latest example: last Friday’s House Judiciary hearings on the use of power by the executive.  The hearings were neither announced nor covered by the major television networks, and they were not reported by the New York Times, whose motto is “All the news that’s fit to print”. According to the on-line new source Scoop, the only mention of the hearings in the Washington Post was a derogatory quote by a republican witness.

The hearings were in response to Representative Dennis Kucinic’s long list of articles of impeachment, read on the House floor a couple of weeks ago. To get around Nancy Pelosi’s anti-impeachment stance, the articles were boiled down to one, and the day-long hearing eschewed the word impeachment in its title.  The title which dared not say its name was “Executive Power and its Constitutional Limitations”.

If hearings by the country’s elected representatives on possible reasons for impeaching a president with a 30% approval rating are not news, what is? And if the American public is not informed that far from requiring a lenghy procedure, impeachment could be voted for the executive’s failure to respond to a congressional subpoena, how would it know to urge its representatives to hold properly labeled impeachment hearings before they are confronted with a “preemptive” attack on Iran?

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