I listened to the latest episode of On the Media last night, which is an amazing show from WNYC that I highly recommend to everyone—especially now that we are in the era of “alternative facts.” The second segment of this episode dealt with objectivity in the media and asked the following questions: “Is it okay for journalists to participate in protests or marches? In this current political environment do you think reporters should be neutral all the time, or free to express their opinions?” The segment questions whether or not neutrality in reporting is possible and asks if it is “even the correct journalistic value versus, perhaps, intellectual honesty and rigor.”
I felt like this married neutrality to objectivity as though to be completely neutral and wholly impartial is the only way to be objective. And I take issue with this assertion. There is, for me, a disconnect between the aim of being neutral—or, at least, perceived as being neutral—and the goal of objective reporting. Personally, I value intellectual honesty and rigor far greater than any perceived “neutrality.”
Objectivity isn’t neutral, that’s the thing. Neutral means to be not in favor of one argument versus another, but objectivity demands that the most honest, factual, and truthful argument be favored over the lesser or least honest, factual, and truthful. Objectivity demands empiricism. Neutrality demands all viewpoints, no matter how false or absurd, be given equal playing time. Neutrality is the participation trophy, objectivity is the Olympic gold medal.
I don’t want journalists to do neutral reporting. I want vociferous objectivity! We should demand and expect nothing less than objective journalism. It is objectivity that informs us, that inspires us, that teaches us. Neutrality can’t do that.
Journalists shouldn’t have to excise their opinions and interpretations of the world and the events upon which they are reporting. They should strive to be as objective and dispassionate in their reporting of the facts as their own humanity will allow, yes, but it’s the reporting of the facts that is important. Whether or not the reporter has participated in a protest or a demonstration shouldn’t matter and I think they should be free to do so.
Now, having said that, I fully recognize that objectivity can be difficult to maintain. But I submit that neutrality is impossible and irresponsible. Neutrality is the Fox News motto “fair and balanced.” But as we all know, Fox is anything but neutral. You can’t be fair and balanced, the two are diametrically opposed. Fair ranks arguments based on their merits, it is objective reporting. Balanced is equal time for each argument, it is the neutral perspective. But Fox is a right-wing soap box, which certainly doesn’t present the news in a fair, objective manner nor in a balanced, neutral manner. But I digress…
The Fourth Estate is supposed to serve as a check on the branches of government, that’s why a free an independent press is protected in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I don’t think that’s possible if the media is consumed by neutrality at the expense of “intellectual honesty and rigor.”