August 11, 2004

Confessions of a Lazy News Reader

Apologies for posting on the most boring, done-to-death subject in the known universe--bias in the media--but I think I've finally shaken out of my head where I stand on the whole deal:

I want some attempt at objectivity back, damnit. I'm tired of doing my own legwork. If I have to read six competing sources just to sift the facts from the opinion, just to find out the who-what-when-where-why-and-how instead of the who-mighta, who-shoulda, who-coulda . . . then for what, exactly, are we paying journalists?

Oh, I know we're not paying them much*, but see, no one's paying me anything just to figure out what the hell's going on here, and [something] - [nothing] = [something], so where's all that something going?

When the whole bias-in-the-media thing became a case of the dueling bestsellers awhile back, some people suggested that maybe news consumers should just accept that bias exists; let the biases of reporters out of the closet, let the public choose their sources according to their own slants, let the consumers put their critical thinking caps back on for a minute and sort it all out, because bias can't ever truly be masked and objectivity never really existed anyway. Let's just accept it, embrace it, and move on.

You know what that sounds like to me? That sounds like a tailor-made excuse for journalists not performing up to standard.

You think about it with regard to any other profession, now. Do we let attorneys openly display bias? Or more specifically: Do we let public defenders flaunt bias? What kind of piss-poor public defender would you be, in fact, if you told your boss "I can't take this one, the guy's obviously guilty," or "Sorry, I don't defend Republicans" every time you were assigned a case?

My uncle is a criminal defense attorney. We always used to ask him if he got many guilty clients. He'd answer, yes, most of them. You ever get any guilty ones off the hook? Yes, many of them. Okay . . . how do you do that and, uh, sleep at night?

Then my uncle would reply that his job was to ensure his client received a fair trial, that the foundation of our country's legal system was its assertion of the right of every citizen a fair trial, that he believed this was important enough to make his job worth doing to the best of his ability, and besides, some of his clients were innocent. (No patriotic music played while he was saying all this, but wouldn't it be hysterical if it had?)

That's really the only professional answer to give, isn't it? You tuck in your feelings and just do your job as well as you can. It seems so obvious I'm embarrassed I ever asked my uncle dumb questions like that.

You don't get to display your prejudices openly, to wear your politics on your sleeve, as a caterer, a nurse, a customer service representative, a licensed contractor (imagine: "I'm sorry, I can't help you with that addition; I don't work with Democrats"), a massage therapist--no one else gets away with this nonsense. Everyone else learns to suck it up and do their jobs.

And I know what you're thinking--that it's not an exact analogy, that it isn't as though the New York Times will only sell papers to card-carrying liberals, or as if FOX News found a way only to broadcast to Republicans (not that I think non-Republicans would mind if they did).

That said, is it so much to ask that you cheer for Kerry on your own time?**--Or that you start defining your "own time" the way most of the rest of us do, with the knowledge that anything you do publicly has the potential to reflect on your profession as a whole?

Could you do your job with a modicum of professionalism? Some of us are starting to really pine for the days when you at least tried to fake it.

UPDATE: Then again, the pursuit of objectivity does seem to require at least a nodding acquaintance with the world outside one's own coterie, and we all know how difficult that can be to attain some days, huh? (Link via Kesher Talk. Read Judith's letter to ABC News; had I voted for Gore in 2000, I'd be writing a similar missive myself.)

*Am I the only one who is driven mad by misspellings in url's? Starting saleries? Celeries? What?

**See also here; relevant paragraph about 11 down from the start. (Which is another complaint I have about the news recently--I simply don't have four hours in which to read every piece all the way through to the interesting bits, which are increasingly buried deep in the article. If that makes me a McNews type, so be it.) Anyway, both links via a terrible awful biased (but nonjournalist) site that you should never read under any circumstances because doing so could turn you into a racist and/or Zionist oppressor.

Posted by Ilyka at August 11, 2004 08:37 PM in news

It gives a different meaning to the term "news aggregator". You really do have to look at the same story from several viewpoints just to figure out what the core facts are. I think I'd really like a news source that just put out articles of bullet points.

Just the facts, Ma'am.

Posted by: Jim at August 12, 2004 01:32 PM