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5/25/2004

Objective and Professional v. Fair and Balanced

Campaign Ads Are Under Fire for Inaccuracy

Much has already been written about this NYT article. Campaign Desk has written about it, as has Nick Confessore at Tapped. Both of them criticize the NYT's handling of the story, turning what should be an empirical dispute about the accuracy of political ads into a "he says - she says" story.

In light of the new David Brock book, The Republican Noise Machine, the NYT's framing of the story this way moves from an issue of institutional incompetence to evidence of a sinister degradation of the media. Brock devotes significant sections of his book to the Right's efforts to shift media standards from objectivity and professionalism to "balance." In a balanced press, every issue has two sides, and the only obligation a journalist has is to seek them out. Scientists say global warming is happening, industry think tanks say it is not. The journalist reports "both sides," and the audience decides, one might say.

The problem with all of this, of course, is that the audience usually isn't able to evaluate the merit and qualifications of two competing voices, absent background information. The idea of balance is really, ironically given the Republican spin machine, indistinguishable from empirical relativism. In a discussion about Fox News, Brock says:

"Yet the question of FOX's politics was almost a distraction from the more grave matter at stake: Ailes was not wiping out liberal opinion, which was heard on the channel. "Balance" was beside the point; Ailes was wiping out news itself. The process that the highly rated FOX set into motion within the entire TV news industry - observers began to call it "FOXificiation" - ultimately meant that news was being replaced by partisan opinion about the news. And should it ever come, the end of news - the end of true facts and good information absent spin - would mean the end of democracy." [317]
Brock has better quotes about the phenomenon elsewhere in the book, but I suspect you get the point. The Right, knowing that the facts couldn't support its program, cynically assaulted the very idea of "facts." It explicitly began badgering and hectoring media to include "balance" - to include an alternative opinion, an opinion from the Right - even where there is no reasonable grounds for dispute. They merely wanted to "expand the spectrum," by granting validity to fringe interpretations about reality. The Right spearheaded a parodic postmoderinzation of the press.

 

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