Thursday, September 1, 2016

To Boldly Go Where No Responsible Journalist Has Gone Before

Political journalism faces a unique challenge of objectivity. We all vote or at least as an eligible voter, think about who we would vote for in any race. That makes every journalist suspect of bias in political reporting. In order to remove any possibility of biased reporting, responsible news outlets like the NYT and WaPo employ a traditional fair and balanced standard.

In practice, the fair and balanced standard looks like this:

When something happens, like a quote from a candidate at a rally, a release of emails from Wikileaks, the Supreme Court issues a ruling, it is reported straight - just the facts ma'am. In any situation deemed political in nature, the reaction of "both sides" is then sought and reported straight. It is up to "both sides" to challenge each others statements. Any evaluation of the quality of each side's response is left to the editorial page, but followup questions by the journalist can be ignored. OK, stop right there. That's a problem.  This means that the context - the setting- in which the story is placed is left to a battle between two opposing sides rather than an independent viewpoint. Why? Because we can not trust the independent journalist to fairly determine which issues are important and which are not, or which statements by one side or the other are misleading or distracting and which are right on point. That leaves a lot of room for one side or the other to divert attention away from issues that matter to people and toward issues that may be minor, but make a bigger splash in the news. Now, an independent competent journalist could pursue tough questioning on important issues, rather than gotcha questions that create excitement, but can leave a citizenry uninformed.

This fair and balanced traditional approach to objective reporting may have been effective once upon at time, but it has left an opening a mile wide for the Foxnews channel to report news as they see it, but still claim they are fair and balanced. Fox is news with a specific point of view that is favorable to Republican candidates which results in those candidates sometimes talking exclusively to Fox. Ironically, the NYT and WaPo traditional approach has not done them any favors - both are consistently accused of bias by the usual suspects and WaPo has been banned by the Trump campaign without that campaign having any concern about how that looks. Judging by the comments columns on NYT articles, many commenters accuse some writers of extreme bias ("in the tank for Hillary") while other commenters lament the failure of the NYT to take on objective analysis of political events.

Context is everything, but when the context involves politics, the NYT is deathly afraid of recognizing context and reporting it as fact. For example, anyone can see that while he was president, Bill Clinton and his administration were made subject to endless accusations and investigations. This was and is a simple fact. But NYT and other traditional media always feel compelled to place that fact in a "balanced" context, suggesting that it never would have happened if they (Bill and Hillary) somehow were better people or that they somehow brought it on themselves and therefore deserved it (ignoring the fact that democratic institutions are sorely tested by impeachment and other extreme events.).

The next Democrat to run and win the presidency was Barack Obama. No surprise, he too was made subject to an endless stream of accusations that were false, many of those appealing to the worst instincts among the population. Jumping ahead, we find Hillary Clinton subject to an endless stream of accusations of venality. Here we go again. So the pattern is clear. Every successful Democratic candidate for president, which usually means Dems who are willing to compromise with Republicans,  is being made subject to a series of extreme accusations that are given lasting life by Fox and others who set the narrative. That is a simple fact. The failure of the NYT to report that pattern as a simple fact due to fear of being labeled biased is an abject failure of the traditional objective reporting model. The NYT does not recognize this fundamental failure. It allows other, less responsible organizations to take control of the narrative as the NYT flounders. Meanwhile, no one actually believes that NYT news reporters lack their own points of view.

Wouldn't it make more sense for NYT reporters to constantly seek the truth, which means placing the fact within the proper context for understanding and try to keep their personal points of view from interfering with the search for truth. Then if bias creeps into individual reporting, deal with that as a problem, but do not avoid contextual reporting altogether, which has been the big problem.

 NYT risks being overtaken by the blogosphere.

There are many blogs that boldly go where no NYT piece has gone before.

West Coast Stat Views is one example.

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