You may never hear me say this again, but I am proud to proclaim that I am more progressive than my peers here at UVA.
When a group of twenty of us were asked whether it was worth making the effort to retain objectivity in the reporting of news, nineteen said yes: reporters and news organizations should strive for objectivity, and we should highly value reportage that we determine to be without bias.
The one dissenter was, as you may have guessed, yours truly.
And really, why should we continue the pursuit of this sham we call objectivity? By objectivity, I mean reporting news in such a way as to remove any preconceived notions or opinions from the selection or documentation of facts, conveying to the reader only the relevant information and allowing him or her to form an opinion.
I’ll say it as frankly as I can: objectivity in the media is a fruitless and unfulfillable pursuit that only the naive choose to perpetuate. The more realistic and – dare I say it – forward thinking among us have exchanged objectivity for transparency, and I submit to you that transparency is what we should begin looking for in our news. Call me a cynic if you will, but this is where the world is headed.
Why not value objectivity? The idea seems logical. We would love to have the facts packaged and delivered to us, allowing us to judge for ourselves what the best course of action would be in any given situation. For example, if any of us read a news story composed simply of the current federal budget, we would love to think for ourselves and conclude that cutting spending is the best way to go. Or, if you read a short news story telling you that millions of illegal immigrants come over our southern border every year, you would probably conclude that securing the border is the best first step toward solving the problem. Objective reporting sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
The problem is that no news outlet reports just the facts. If they did, we would be bored out of our minds. Take the budget example. Do you really want to read “just the facts” about the federal budget? Of course not. It is much more interesting to hear the two sides of the debate and cheer for whichever side has the best ideas. There is nothing wrong with that. But make no mistake: fair and balanced reporting is not objective. If we were given the option of “just the facts” objectivity, most of us would find it very unappealing.
In addition to being boring, objective reporting is a figment of news editors’ imaginations. If you watch any of the major network news outlets or read any of the major newspapers, all of which claim to be “objective,” “unbiased,” or even “no spin,” you know that unbiased reporting is not practiced anywhere and is, in fact, impossible. We have all heard about the New York Times‘ decline and slow, painful, impending death. I’ve got news for the Times: readers have realized that their claims of objectivity are hollow, and their subscriptions have been steadily cut off as a result.
What I encourage you all to do instead is to embrace and perpetuate a trend of transparency in the media rather than objectivity. Accept bias and subjectivity as par for the course. Watch Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, or Neil Cavuto. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Mark Levin. And, in addition, watch Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, and Rachel Maddow. If you have some obscure cable package that enables you, find Keith Olbermann’s show and become one of his ten viewers. Read RedState.com, the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, or this very blog.
All of these news sources come with bias, preconceived notions, and opinions. What’s more, they wear their subjectivity on their sleeve. They are by no means objective in the way they report, but they are transparent. If you want conservative news aimed at grassroots activists, read the American Majority blog or RedState.com. If you want a conservative take on your national news, watch FoxNews. If you want to find out what the people on the other side of the debate are thinking, turn on MSNBC and grab some antacids. Regardless of what a reporter’s perspective is, we should value his or her transparency rather than objectivity in reporting.
If we know a news source’s bias before reading, we know how much credence to give it while consuming it. For decades before our current one, Americans bought into heinous stories and philosophies because they received them from what they thought were “objective” news networks reporting the “facts.” We know better now. In this world of new media, social media, blogs, and do-it-yourself reporting, we know that objectivity is impossible and fruitless. What we need is transparency and honesty. May we pursue it, and may we become better armed as a result.