Friday, May 5, 2017

The New York Times with Gloves On

The New York Times has a relatively new feature "Right and Left: Partisan Writing You Shouldn't Miss" introduced with this tag:
"The political news cycle is fast, and keeping up can be overwhelming. Trying to find differing perspectives worth your time is even harder. That’s why we have scoured the internet for political writing from the right and the left that you might not have seen."
NYT has sought more feedback on this feature than is normally their custom, so here goes.

Most of us do our own curating of articles from around the internet - much of that comes from Twitter suggestions from pundits we like.  This NYT feature could introduce us to new and valuable sources.  What could be wrong with that?

Well, nothing really, but I wonder about the perspective that prompted this.
Is this another case of both sidesism?

The logic of both sidesism:

1. Objective journalism is the goal.
2. To be objective, journalism must be fair and balanced.
3. Based on 1 and 2, every issue in politics has two equal and opposite sides deserving of equal amounts of respect. Similarly, the Democrat and the Republican in a campaign deserve equal treatment.
4. Balance in a political news article about a campaign requires that any story that suggests a negative conclusion about one candidate must cite similar observations that can be made about the opposing candidate.

Proper context gets lost in that environment. Underhanded political tactics and lies (what NYT sometimes called "Mr. Trump's mischief") are left to thrive.

The biggest problem with journalistic false balance/false equivalence is that Republican strategists are expert at using these journalistic shortcomings to their advantage.

The strategy of deny/deflect/distract/accuse was finally widely recognized following the 2016 election campaign because Trump was such an extreme case, but his methods were merely an extension of existing Republican strategy.

Virtually every statement by Trump and any House Republican about the health care law now needlessly repeats the refrain "Obamacare is such a disaster". Spicer's stand-in today, Huckabee Saunders did the same thing. This art of repetition of a campaign slogan as if it were an objective statement of fact,  left unchallenged - or even when challenged --- leaves lasting subliminal effects on the willing listener and distracts from the specific goals of the legislation. Republicans never have to talk about their goals for health care if they can just repeat that refrain.

One reason these lies and distractions are subjected to only minor challenge on-the-spot is the journalists clinging to their "objectivity" based on the "fair and balanced" approach.

So I am left wondering if the NYT curating articles for us comes from a perspective of - "We, the NYT, know that you are probably intensely partisan in these polarized times, but here are articles from "the other side" that may help you to learn about what others think and maybe change your mind on some issues. "

The Times feature includes articles from "the Center". Under this framework, "the Center" (not to be confused with "the Center" to which the Soviet spies on "The Americans" report) represents a position that is granted a leg up on credibility by not being either demonstrably left or right -- but that is not how truth and understanding work.

I have written previously on this, as in Normal Times and For Propaganda 101 we need Journalism 2.0. and "Waiter There's False Balance In My Soup" and "To Boldly Go Where No Journalist Has Gone Before".

My first reaction to this "Partisan Writing You Shouldn't Miss" is not that it is a bad thing. But it is an exercise in avoidance. Long ago, in the early 2000's Fox News showed itself to be a major force on the political scene. Posing as a straight news source, Fox functioned during the Bush administration as an instrument of the State and, during the Obama administration, as an opponent, in both cases, willing to promote a point of view with lies and distortions. That was a big news story with implications for American politics that the Times avoided to confront directly in context in order to bend over backward to sustain the appearance of objectivity. Gloves off would have been better.

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