The Myth of Newspaper Objectivity
In case you haven’t heard about Dave Weigel’s departure from the Washington Post, read about it here.
There are lots of things to talk about from the story. I’m particularly interested in the epistemic closure arguments against Journolist and how that damaged WaPo’s and the Left’s credibility.
Karl over at Hotair.com has a post touching on that. Maybe I’ll write up my own thoughts about it later.
In short, the people whining the loudest about “epistemic closure” on the Right find themselves utterly blinded when Weigel advocated it for the Left, and had to resign due to the “epistemic closure” that was inherent in JournoList itself. I think there’s a hip term for that…
The other thing that interests me is the idea that both the Right and Left have about objectivity in reporting. They both assume that a person can write and report objectivly. I find this not only amusing but also absurd.
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
– Thomas Jefferson
Newspapers have always and will forever be biased. Why, beause there is money in it. Newspapers and journolists are not some sort of Ubermenchen, they fall prey to the same ill, vices and evils that befall all men, they are greedy. The newspaper company want to make a buck. The reporter wants to make a name, so that they can also make a buck. Of course, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but then again I’m not under the illusion that newspapers are actually telling the 100% truth either.
There have been many studies done about media bias. There are two sources for bias, be it Left leaning or Right leaning bias; Supply-Demand driven bias or the plain old fact that people can’t be 100% objective about anything.
It’s easy to see why Supply/Demand might lead to bias. People want to confirm their a priori beliefs and are willing to pay for it. These are really the criticism the Left has to Fox and the Right has to MSNBC. Fox caters to a crowd that wants to hear things from a conservative perspective. MSNBC does the same with the Left. The truly intellectually honest person should recognize this, but when it comes to politics we rarely deal with intellectually honest people.
Is it any wonder that Washington Post chose to hire a Left leaning reporter to cover Republicans? The Washington Post caters to a Left leaning audience. Why else would they publish anything by Eugene Robinson? Why does the NYT publish anything by Krugman? Because they are trying to cater to the Left. So now think about why they are both losing money hand over fist while Wall Street Journal isn’t?
The other source of bias is the human factor, people are intrinsically biased. This is the reason why the Suppl/Demand model above works so well. People want to confirm their biases. Well who actually does that? Reporters do. So why do people become reporters? That’s a hard question. It could be for money, prestige or the desire to do “good.”
If it’s for money, then the person has to sell his writing to someone. Again we fall prey to supply/demand. If the person writes an article critical of Obama, do you think he will be able to sell it to a paper that caters to the Left? This touches on the basis of the epistemic closure argument, which I won’t get into. Yet, what would make him/her write an article critical of Obama? I think the simplest reason is that the write has an ideological bent.
Take the recent “Kick Ass” comment made by Obama. Would an Obamaphile use that in a negative way at all? Probably not, but an anti-Obama person will use that negativly, which is exactly what a lot of them did. Either way, if you write about Obama’s comment, you will put your own ideological slant to the story. There is simply no way to be completely objective, except to quote exactly what Obama said, and nothing more.
Is it for the prestige? Again you have to have an audience to gain the adoration of. You have to play to the biases of that audience in order to gain any amount of prestige.
Is it because you want to do good? Well since the definition of good varies by ideology, that seems to be the most explicit argument for biases in reporting. It’s also the best reason not to trust anything you read from that kind of reporter. They have an agenda to sell.
Of course there is a lot more than just that. The whole point is that when you have a person writing about something, that person has to but some of his/her a priori biases to the story.
Also Remember there is nothing better to show bias than by not reporting on something. A quote from Orwell is appropriate here.
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. … [Things are] kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.
Anyway, anytime I hear anyone talk about “objective reporting” you should think of how foolish that statement really is.