NPR decides to be "fair to the truth".
February 28, 2012 11:50 AM   Subscribe

The beginning of the end of "he said, she said" journalism? NPR decides to be "Fair to the Truth" instead of simply reporting both sides of an issue.
posted by asavage (68 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a radical concept.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Related: New York Times, Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
(not an Onion article)
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:54 AM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was just thinking about that article. NPR was pretty unhappy with it when it came out, but maybe they have realized there is something to it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2012


Read the article this morning. Filed under A for About Goddamn Time.
posted by Mooski at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some say this is a good thing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2012 [56 favorites]


On the other hand, some critics have claimed that NPR's DC headquarters are actually the citadel of Rabbath of the Ammonites, whose righteous destruction at the hand of the LORD is prophesied in Ezekiel 21.
posted by theodolite at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2012 [31 favorites]


In other words, NPR is going to do their job. That's nice. But, how will we know that the truth doesn't have a liberal bias? Are they just supplementing "Both sides," with "Stenography?"
posted by Chuffy at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Now let's see the trend of pledges and donations to NPR over the past few years as they've thrown their standards to the side.
posted by rhizome at 12:05 PM on February 28, 2012


It's absolutely not the beginning of the end, but good for them for standing up for actual journalism. Of course, Fox et al. will paint them (even more, now) as the propaganda wing of the Obama occupation, so...
posted by Huck500 at 12:05 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Oh, all those times we called it 'enhanced interrogation'? It was actually 'torture'."
posted by Trurl at 12:07 PM on February 28, 2012 [26 favorites]



Reporters doing their jobs ? That's crazy talk.

Take this story for example, that lately has been making the rounds.

You read that entire article and no where do they point out that Jessie Sansone is a felon convicted of Assault and Attempted Burglary.

In fact, the reporter says this :"Sansone had a scrape with the law five years ago, but has since turned his life around..."

It doesn't matter what NPR does. This sort of farcical reporting is pervasive and it is killing us.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:08 PM on February 28, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's interesting here in Canada to observe how CBC radio is approaching reporting and commenting on the news, now that we have a Conservative government. I don't have any data, but there seems to be a greater amount of deference to the troglodytes who run this country at the moment.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:15 PM on February 28, 2012


I really hope they hold true to this.

News has a "Librul" bias inherently, the reactionary Right isn't living within a fact-based world. The policies they advocate fall down when confronted with the facts, so rather than accepting the way the world actually fucking works they call the facts "facts" and blame the libruls and their pet librul media for manufacturing the "facts".

I hope they listen to their increasing listener-ship (and subsequent jump in revenue) rather than the easily swamped feed-back system.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:16 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


And from that homeless vet in "The Wire," "A lie ain't the side of a story."

Does this mean NPR will start doing basic math and fact checks? (Mitt Romney paying 15% in taxes and giving 15% to charity is both not a total of almost 40% and not a statement about his tax burden. The math is wrong and his personal contributings are not him paying taxes.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:17 PM on February 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


No one can argue with the concept that journalists should strive to present factual, truthful accounts to help readers better understand important issues. Journalists shouldn’t try to artificially create “balance” by pressing one side of a scale in either direction if the facts overwhelmingly support a particular perspective.

However, I hope this doesn’t lead to more opinion journalism dressed up as “fact checking.” Jill Abramson, the editor of the New York Times, was right when she said:
We have to be careful that fact-checking is fair and impartial, and doesn't veer into tendentiousness. Some voices crying out for "facts" really only want to hear their own version of the facts.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with this reform, if reform it is.

However, I'd suggest two caveats and one caution. The caveats are that NPR and the NYT should now be even more vigilant about recruiting for intellectual and other forms of diversity, since I think it's quite likely that one's priors influence one's judgement about which side has the stronger argument or which side is distorting the truth; as a related matter, their decisions about which stories to cover also take on greater significance and should be even more neutral.

The caution is that there will be more of an echo chamber effect and defection from popular media if these caveats aren't adopted, since I have a feeling that "liberal media bias" will get trotted out even more often.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Surely this will mean there's never going to be a need for another piece from FAIR's NPR coverage meticulously detailing NPR's biased selection of talking heads, difficulty doing critical reporting on sponsors, and so on.
posted by RogerB at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2012


Just this morning, NPR was quoting The Center for Competitive Politics (a firm that lobbies for lobbyist freedom) during a story on Citizens United. Way to get that contrasting viewpoint!
posted by benzenedream at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2012


Just this morning, NPR was quoting The Center for Competitive Politics (a firm that lobbies for lobbyist freedom) during a story on Citizens United. Way to get that contrasting viewpoint!

The Center for Competitive Politics filed an amicus brief (.pdf) in the Citizens United case. I’d be curious to know your rationale for excluding their viewpoint.

You’re proving the point I highlighted above: people aren’t interested in facts per se; they’re interested in their version of the facts.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:27 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, so this this is what happens when Fox news no longer wants to disembowel your funding. You become 'fair and balanced'!
posted by Catblack at 12:33 PM on February 28, 2012


That it's even a question says volumes about both NPR and NYT. What did they think people wanted from their news?
posted by doctor_negative at 12:34 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


At last.

Now let's see the trend of pledges and donations to NPR

If they quit with the bogus "he said, she said" -- or better yet, stop balancing one Republican critic of a Democratic proposal with another Republican critic of a Democratic proposal, as they did at least once during the health care debate -- I for one may start donating again.
posted by Gelatin at 12:34 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great.

Next, could we reduce the endless stream of reporting on politics as horserace? Does it really matter who's up and who's down at any given minute of the day?

I would like to see more effort to explain what will change if this person is elected to office. That means more aggressive questions like:

- what candidates are proposing to do on specific issues;
- whether they are likely to actually do what they promise;
- what the the impact of those proposals might be; and
- what we can learn about this policy from the candidate's past.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:37 PM on February 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


There is a difference between thoughtfully presenting two sides of an issue and presenting two extreme views of every issue.

"Fair to the truth" appears to ignore Lenin's dictum that a lie told often enough becomes the truth.

Surely the pinkos at NPR haven't forgotten their Lenin!
posted by three blind mice at 12:45 PM on February 28, 2012


Speaking of which, I've heard that quote attributed to Lenin many times, but never with citation. I can find no evidence he ever actually said it. However, it serves enormous progagandistic value to attribute it to him ...
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:51 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now if only NPR would actually do journalism instead of alternating between toothless just-so stories and equally toothless yet turgid academia. Neither is informational nor nutritious.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:57 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that Politifact has recently been getting flack from both sides of the political punditry landscape --- most recently, Rachel Maddow was railing against them for fact-checking a self-promotional commercial featuring Laurence O'Donnell for MSNBC. Though I doubt it would do any good, I wonder why no one bothers to factcheck Rush Limbaugh. I can't believe some of the distortions he gets away with, day in and day out.
posted by crunchland at 1:01 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jessie Sansone is a felon convicted of Assault and Attempted Burglary

Well, sure, with all those unarmed Canadian homeowners, who can blame him for attempting a little burglary?
posted by designbot at 1:02 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


But how will I know how sane I am without being able to hear what the idiots on the other side of the issue believe?
posted by pmbuko at 1:03 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Though I doubt it would do any good, I wonder why no one bothers to factcheck Rush Limbaugh. I can't believe some of the distortions he gets away with, day in and day out.

You're not familiar with Media Matters?
posted by Jahaza at 1:03 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's my favorite NPR standard as quoted in the lnked article:

At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

How utterly refreshing. I am very tired of cable "news" which consists of people literally yelling untruths at each other.

Maybe some of this strange concern with truth may overtake other news providers. Wouldn't that be nice.
posted by bearwife at 1:07 PM on February 28, 2012


The Matt Thompson in this article is MetaFilter's own grrarrgh00. And he's awesome.
posted by cgc373 at 1:14 PM on February 28, 2012


To paraphrase one of the greatest movie lines ever: NPR can't handle the truth.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:27 PM on February 28, 2012


You're not familiar with Media Matters? --- That really only scratches the surface.
posted by crunchland at 1:31 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does this mean NPR will start doing basic math and fact checks? (Mitt Romney paying 15% in taxes and giving 15% to charity is both not a total of almost 40% and not a statement about his tax burden. The math is wrong and his personal contributings are not him paying taxes.)

Got a link to an NPR news story where they make either of these errors?

In general, I don't get the feeling that the commenters in this thread actually listen all that much to NPR news. If you're hearing a lot of "some say X and some say Y and who can judge?" coverage on your local NPR affiliate you're probably hearing that local station's own reporting and not NPR reporting--which is generally excellent.

There are, of course, cases where all we have are "opinions" and a news organization, quite rightly, ought to report the opinions of people who may be in a position to take actions based on those opinions and ought not to weigh in with the reporter's own opinions in return. Take abortion rights, for example. There is no "fact" about whether or not freely available abortion is a "good thing" or a "bad thing." There are only competing moral judgments. And I want to hear what politicians think about these issues without having a reporter tell me whether or not they, personally, agree. On the other hand, if someone makes a false statement in conjunction with offering their opinions (as, for example, that 95% of Planned Parenthood's business is providing abortions) I would like my news service to point out that this is not true. Of course, when that statement was made, all of the news services I rely upon (including NPR) dutifully pointed out that it was not true.
posted by yoink at 1:32 PM on February 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is great, hope it starts a trend. We'll see how long it lasts after a liberal holy cow gets gored, (I say that as a lib myself) but I'd love to see more rationality in reporting; we need a higher bar.

But to be honest, I see more of the he-said-she-said in the opinion shows. I stopped listening to Diane Rehms after the umptillion iteration of "Today, Is Global Warming real? Bob Smith of the Heritage institute and Jane Doe of Greenpeace discuss the issue." To me, two talking heads flinging fossilized talking points at each other is not a debate, it's paid monkeys flinging poo. I see way too much of that crap in media today, and I refuse to watch or listen to it.
posted by Mcable at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2012


This the heels of that idiotic report that painted the SOPA debate as between "content creators" and "free-loading pirates" in two different geographies of southern California, without even bothering to challenge the merits of SOPA the legislation itself, or report on legal expert opinions about the matter.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.
posted by odinsdream at 2:03 PM on February 28, 2012


that idiotic report that painted the SOPA debate as between "content creators" and "free-loading pirates"

Link?
posted by yoink at 2:29 PM on February 28, 2012


It's amazing to me how much of this criticism is a product of people's tendentious imaginations. When someone critiques the media's coverage of the "troglodytes who run this country," it's fair to say that they aren't 100% focused on quality journalism.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2012


It's too late for me. Inspired by a comment Jessamyn made a while ago (that I can't find now) I weaned myself off of NPR. When I occasionally catch a report, I'm jolted at the underlying assumptions that now seem so foreign to my reality. It feels like Fox News for the less gullible.

The last thing I heard was the start of some report about a third-world politician who recently came to power and "in an effort to jump-start the economy, slashed government jobs ...". *click*
posted by Manjusri at 3:13 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's ultimately a smaller part of a problem caused by the fact that lots of reporters are just lazy. And not that they are personally lazy, but rather that they need to produce 24/7 news on a tight budget. Rather then doing research and finding out what's actually going on, they just find some random democrat and some random republican to argue. If republicans and democrats aren't arguing about it, it's not news.

Look a couple weeks ago when everyone was talking about the birth control deal. It's something that was only going to affect a handful of employers, and it's something those employers weren't even that upset about. But the republicans (lead by Rick Santorum) decided to freak out about it, so it was 'news'.

But at around the same time there was another 'deal' The mortgage fraud settlement. Essentially the big banks just decided to start ignoring state laws and centralized all their mortgage records. They stopped keeping the paper records they needed to forclose on people, so in some cases they actually had people sign fraudulent affidavits. We all know their records weren't that good, and there were articles in the news about them trying to foreclose on people who didn't even have mortgages, with anyone. Or about them sending cleanup crews to people's houses to do a 'trash out' on people who were up to date on their mortgage payments, but had missed paying some fee that the bank added and never told them all about.

Anyway, they paid a few billion dollars (the total settlement was 24 billion, but my understanding only about $5 billion or so actually comes from the banks) and all the illegal stuff they did gets brushed under the table. Compare that with the $750 billion of taxpayer money allocated to help them in 2008, plus massive ongoing infusions from the federal reserve.

That's a much larger story, but it was nowhere in the news because it was something both republicans and democrats (both servants of wallstreet) were happy with.

Or look at SOPA. Before the protests really got going it had been mentioned only once on mainstream TV. Again, because republicans and democrats weren't arguing, the media had no interest in covering it. And of course because the media companies themselves supported it.
---
Take this story for example, that lately has been making the rounds.

You read that entire article and no where do they point out that Jessie Sansone is a felon convicted of Assault and Attempted Burglary.

In fact, the reporter says this :"Sansone had a scrape with the law five years ago, but has since turned his life around..."

It doesn't matter what NPR does. This sort of farcical reporting is pervasive and it is killing us.
"Hmm, is this a story about a politician or athlete where their criminal history should be relevant? Let me see..."
OTTAWA - Jessie Sansone and his family are reeling after he was arrested and strip searched by police after his four-year-old daughter drew a picture of a man with a gun in her Kitchener, Ont., kindergarten class.
Wat?
Waterloo Police met Sansone at the school when he tried to pick up his kids he was told he was charged with possession of a firearm. He was then handcuffed and put him in one of the several squad cars waiting outside, he said.

"When I was finally able to see my family, after this ordeal was over, my little girl ran up and gave me a hug me and asked: 'Daddy, are you mad at me?'" said Sansone, his voice choked. "How could she ever think that I would be mad at her? She knows this has to do with her drawing."
Is it what he was guilty of? The reporter didn't seem to think so. And did the school know about his history when they called the police? Why would you even need to strip search someone to find a gun? I realize this thread isn't about that but I just found I really bizarre that your one complaint about journalism is that a you think a newspaper article is insufficiently disparaging to someone who was mistreated by the police for no reason. Having a felony record doesn't (or shouldn't) mean you give up your rights not to be harassed by the police for no or little reason - so the precise nature of his crimes isn't really germane to the story anyway.
Ultimately, the article is also completely irrelevant to the discussion about 'he said/she said' reporting where they just report what different people say, rather then the truth, If one person is lying. It also happened in Canada, while this story is mostly about the U.S. and the way US politics is covered locally.
posted by delmoi at 4:19 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is great. I hope they hold their religion reporters to the same standards, Barbara Bradley Haggerty.. I (and others in the liberal blogosphere) had a run in with their ombudsman like 8 years ago over a story she did that seriously breached journalistic ethics and I am not bitter (but I am a little bitter.)
posted by Biblio at 4:57 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


If this means they're going to stop relying on pundits instead of reporting the news then I may start listening again. I mean I get that it's easiest to go to a spokesperson from a thinktank sponsored by X industry/ideology because that is what they specialize in and they are ready and willing to give a nice soundbite, but how is that reporting?

I don't like listening to talking head shows so it was a bummer when that crept into the news.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:51 PM on February 28, 2012


Just this morning, I heard NPR refer to the Citizens United decision as the one that let "corporations and unions" donate unlimited funds to campaigns.

WHAT THE FRAK IS UNIONS DOING IN THERE? CU has NOTHING to do with unions. It's about corporations, purely, 100%. The fact that unions could form corporations to donate money is completely frakking irrelevant. Dairy farmers could form PACs, why weren't dairy farmers mentioned? Or bicycle repairmen? Or Starbucks baristas?

It was totally a false equivalence to try to make their reporting seem balanced, and to try to make CU seem like a good decision.

That one sentence did more to undermine my belief in NPR than anything else in the last ten years.
posted by Malor at 5:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Well, okay, that and 'enhanced interrogation techniques' instead of torture. That was about equivalently mendacious.
posted by Malor at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2012


[Citizens United] has NOTHING to do with unions. It's about corporations, purely, 100%. -- "But the ruling also changed the rules for unions, effectively ending a prohibition on outreach to nonunion households. Now, unions can use their formidable numbers to reach out to sympathetic nonunion voters by knocking on doors, calling them at home and trying to get them to polling places. They can also create their own Super PACs to underwrite bigger voter identification and get-out-the-vote operations than ever before." (NYT, 9/25/11)
posted by crunchland at 6:09 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Link?

A California Civil War Over Internet Piracy

Yeah. Civil fucking war. Some quotes:
And to Polone and other southerners, taking that property without permission is a criminal act. That's why Hollywood has used the law to try to shut down the revolving door of sites that traffic in music, movies, television and film, from Napster to Megaupload.

But up north in Silicon Valley, in the hub of technological innovation and newly minted millionaires and billionaires, techies like Tim O'Reilly have a different view.
...
"We do it for the art, we do it because we want to tell our stories, express our stories," Chey says. "I, as a filmmaker, am not in it for the money."

But he's got to pay his bills. So he was not happy when he saw his film up on the Internet for free before it was even released. "It can make you cry, as a filmmaker. It can make you cry. I mean, all of that work," Chey says.
...
"They'll be the same as these media companies that they're rallying against right now. And they will also start to look at this very expensive property as property, and they're not going to want to have it stolen from them," Polone says.

But both sides continue to wage war using the weapons they know best, whether it's the courts or the Internet.
No mention of the fact that of course copyright law and protection is left perfectly in place without SOPA or PIPA. Nope. It's just those poor, sad independent crying filmmakers against the world.

The whole framing is completely fucked, even without considering the factual inaccuracy part.
posted by odinsdream at 6:31 PM on February 28, 2012


Does this mean that David Brooks gets the boot? That would bring me back to donating.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2012


This is great. I hope they hold their religion reporters to the same standards, Barbara Bradley Haggerty.. I (and others in the liberal blogosphere) had a run in with their ombudsman like 8 years ago over a story she did that seriously breached journalistic ethics and I am not bitter (but I am a little bitter.)

I'd love to hear more about this. Memail me if you think it would be a derail.
posted by odinsdream at 6:38 PM on February 28, 2012


[Citizens United] has NOTHING to do with unions. It's about corporations, purely, 100%. --- And if you don't want to take the New York Time's word for it. the word "unions" appears in the first line of the first paragraph of the SCOTUS's ruling, for pete's sake.
posted by crunchland at 6:39 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


That one sentence did more to undermine my belief in NPR than anything else in the last ten years.

Once you read crunchland's comments, I suggest it might be time for you to become an NPR member once again.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2012


Well, okay, that and 'enhanced interrogation techniques' instead of torture. That was about equivalently mendacious.

Who can forget the time they actually broadcast testimony extracted via torture as if it was credible?
posted by odinsdream at 6:47 PM on February 28, 2012


WHAT THE FRAK IS UNIONS DOING IN THERE? CU has NOTHING to do with unions. It's about corporations, purely, 100%. The fact that unions could form corporations to donate money is completely frakking irrelevant. Dairy farmers could form PACs, why weren't dairy farmers mentioned? Or bicycle repairmen? Or Starbucks baristas?

You are very, very wrong.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 7:43 PM on February 28, 2012


Related: New York Times, Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?

We don’t need truth vigilantes, But we do need good political reporting, and the media's rote repetition of Santorum's JFK lies fell short
posted by homunculus at 9:02 PM on February 28, 2012


You are very, very wrong.

Which is why I'm a little ambivalent about the attitude of it, even though I think it is the pendulum swinging back in the right direction. People are wholly capable of being wrong about both the truth and about their opinions about facts. What I really would prefer is if people just openly declared the argument they preferred, and marshaled as much convincing argument for it as they are capable.

Saying, "well now we're taking the gloves off! We're going to call a lie a lie!" ... So you thought it was a lie earlier but you kept your mouth shut because you are just so knowledgeable that for other people to have the right to their own opinions, your glorious perfection had to remain veiled? But sadly, we've lost the right to ruin any more rooms by flinging our creationist climate change denying idiot bullshit over all the walls. The Republican primaries were the last straw and now the parents are angry. (This is why the right thinks the left is arrogant. Anybody would be pissed who felt they were being treated like this.).

Hey, it is a change for the better, because the left is correct, and it shows some respect for the other side to say "you're wrong" instead of "your fascinating opinion adds beauty to our rainbow of diversity" But this is why I prefer the "obnoxious" atheist left, because I don't feel like they worry about this sort of thing.
posted by SomeOneElse at 9:13 PM on February 28, 2012


"The last thing I heard was the start of some report about a third-world politician who recently came to power and "in an effort to jump-start the economy, slashed government jobs ...". *click*"

That's kind of an interesting example because I'd like to know the exact wording of that. As you quote it, there's no bias at all in it and that's how I'd prefer something like that to be reported. That is, I read that quote as "in an effort to strike the Moon, threw a rock at it" which, true, we recognize as being an absurd effort doomed to fail, but it's still strictly true (assuming we actually know the rock-thrower's intention).

If, as I suspect, you wanted NPR to point out that this wouldn't jump-start that economy, then while I agree with your opinion on the subject, and that it's supported by many facts, it represents an opinion about reality that is highly contested and highly complex and if a journalist takes any stance on it as a factual claim, that's a mistake. I probably agree with your view as much as anyone can and, while I don't know this, it's possible I know more about the subject than you do. I think we can safely generalize that this belief (slashing government jobs will jump-start the economy) is false; however, I can imagine certain exceptional cases where it would be true. So, as a categorical statement, both formulations (it does/it does not) are false.

And this points to the heart of how this stuff (journalistic integrity) is more complicated and difficult than a lot of people want to believe.

We should keep in mind the historical evolution about all this. The notion of a journalistic integrity of reporting "truth" is fairly recent and, especially with regard to anything remotely political, is a moderately American exception to the rule of there being no such expected thing most elsewhere. Previously here, and most elsewhere, media outlets are expected to have partisan/ideological biases and those media outlets pretty much play their role as journalists according to that. There's no "fair and balanced" presumption, they're mostly just like Fox News (in terms of overall bias) without pretending to be something they aren't (as Fox News does).

For reasons that I am not that clear about, because I'm not a student of the history of journalism, only someone with a mild interest in it, at some time around the WWII era, American newspapers moved toward a stance of actually (supposedly) reporting "the truth". As being "objective". Of course, they weren't.

One of the things that people don't talk about when they talk about how journalism in the US has devolved into "he said/she said" reportage away from a supposed past of being more objective, is aside from the fact that there were always actually partisan/ideological biases operating anyway, but more clandestinely rather than openly as before, is that there are even more important, systemic biases that have existed all along and continue to exist and will continue to exist no matter how much things move in the direction that NPR is.

Anyway, the appearance of objectivity was always a sham, even when it was at its height as a supposed strongly shared ethos, and so it was ripe for being attacked by political partisans. And it was. It was always attacked from the left, but no one cared because the left has little real political power in the US. On the other hand, once there grew a sufficiently large and financially powerful right-wing media structure, in the form of AM talk radio, then, over time, this pretense of objectivity was profitably attacked from the right. And they were right to attack it, because conventional journalism wasn't actually objective. The left saw it as right-wing, and the right saw it as left-wing; and just because this was the case that didn't prove that it was actually objective and it was doing its job, though we'd like to sort of believe that. No, it suggested that they were both valid criticisms. You can find all sorts of examples of both right wing and left wing bias in conventional "objective" journalism and the New York Times has long been the most notorious example of this.

So, what happened, is that once these right-wing critics had a big enough megaphone to be actually influential and damaging of the credibility of conventional "objective" journalism, then basically what conventional "objective" journalism did was throw in the towel and just decide to follow the easiest path and just do "he said/she said" "balance".

And so here we are.

I don't know that there's ever been an example of reportage that meets the expectations of what we're talking about here. To be sure, I know that I want such reportage. Well, I say I "want" it, but that may not be entirely true. I'm so skeptical that everyone else really and truly wants objective reportage that's "fair to the truth" that I can't be sure that I truly want it any more than anyone else. I think the quote above is a good example of this. While the truth may have a liberal bias in general and relative to what the right is peddling as "truth" these days, there's numerous examples where it will have a conservative bias and we liberals and progressives aren't going to be happy to hear those things. The quote above doesn't really have a bias at all, as far as the truth is concerned (assuming the politician actually believed, or claimed to believe, that cutting government jobs would jump-start the economy), but we're still going to be annoyed that NPR didn't go on to explain that the politician had a mistaken belief. But, had NPR done that, it would have been wading into something where the actual objective truth is only vaguely understood and presenting one opinion or the other would actually be the bias that we are claiming we don't want.

Even providing a sidebar, somehow, that explains how it's likely that the politician is mistaken, but all such beliefs aren't necessarily mistaken, would be rightly seen by conservatives as an implicit bias by virtue of the fact that such a long complicated explanation was merely deemed necessary. That is, if journalists are going to start supplying all the long-winded context-providing-stuff, with lots of qualifications, such as someone like, well, I provide, then they'll have to decide when and when not to provide such explanations. Because reality is complicated and if they attempted to provide adequate context for everything, the NYT would be a 2,000 page book issued daily that couldn't actually be written and no one would actually read. So they'd have to pick and choose what to explain in detail and what not, and that's going to necessarily involve some bias.

So, this is my concern about this, really. I like, ideally, being "fair to the truth". But I honestly don't think this will work at all unless someone, somewhere, decides what qualifies as "the truth". Which is to say, and which reminds me of the recent discussion about the fictional non-fiction essay, what NPR would have to do to make this work, is to decide just where they are drawning the line on what they consider to be factual truth that they have to be fair to, and what is ambiguous enough for it to be more trouble than it's worth. And then they have to communicate that distinction, where they draw that line, to their audience.

I have some strong doubts that they will do this. I think that, mostly, this being fair to the truth is more lip-service than anything else. However, it's still sort of a good thing because the whole "he said/she said" thing has gotten badly out of hand. Krugman's caricature of it isn't even really a caricature, it's the sorry state of affairs now. Anything that calls the status quo into question is a good thing. That we could actually have something remotely close to the objectivity in reporting that we claim to want, is another thing entirely and I'm skeptical.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:16 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking of which, I've heard that quote attributed to Lenin many times, but never with citation. I can find no evidence he ever actually said it. However, it serves enormous progagandistic value to attribute it to him ..

Well see, the idea is that if you hear it attributed to him enough times, it becomes the truth, n'est-ce pas?
posted by ShutterBun at 5:01 AM on February 29, 2012


The caution is that there will be more of an echo chamber effect and defection from popular media if these caveats aren't adopted, since I have a feeling that "liberal media bias" will get trotted out even more often.

You know what else sometimes sounds like an echo chamber? People reaching a real consensus about things that are really true. Like the earth is round, for instance. Everyone says that. For good reason.

Do we really need to keep a few token flat Earthers around, just so we don't run the risk of sounding too much like an echo chamber on this point? Or just because, from a certain over-thinking-a-plate-of-beans perspective probably best left to academic philosophers, it's theoretically impossible to have perfect epistemological certainty about our knowledge of the world? I don't know. Everyday I open my front door and step outside, fully expecting the world to remain constant and not just disintegrate when my foot first touches the ground, even though I know (and fully concede) from my studies in the philosophy of epistemology that I can't justify that belief to any degree of certainty solely with recourse to logically rigorous a priori reasoning. I also don't feel the need to formally prove all over again that 1 + 1 = 2 when I'm figuring out how much cash I'll need for a cup of coffee.

Anything that calls the status quo into question is a good thing. That we could actually have something remotely close to the objectivity in reporting that we claim to want, is another thing entirely and I'm skeptical.

I don't think "commitment to truth" = "objectivity." All that reporting really has to do to improve considerably in my book, is not let itself be used as such an uncritical conduit for other people's deliberate, deceptive perception management techniques.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:28 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


BTW, I think it's an awesome coincidence that NPR seems to have adopted this new policy on the same day my new little girl was born. Thanks NPR!
posted by saulgoodman at 6:29 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


All that reporting really has to do to improve considerably in my book, is not let itself be used as such an uncritical conduit for other people's deliberate, deceptive perception management techniques.

That's some pretty loaded language. Rather than improving journalism, it sounds like you're trying to "take the politics out of politics."

I question whether intelligent people of good faith will always, or even frequently, agree on what constitutes "deliberate, deceptive perception management."
posted by BobbyVan at 6:54 AM on February 29, 2012


That's a valid point, BobbyVan, but I do think that just resisting in the cases that are not ambiguous, but egregious, would be reasonable and a big improvement over the status quo all by itself.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:58 AM on February 29, 2012


Then we're agreed. "Down with unambiguous bullshit!"
posted by BobbyVan at 7:14 AM on February 29, 2012


Hopefully this will help end the subjective notion of fair and balanced, a position that blatantly assumes that mass media is politically owned instead of dedicated to honest and objective reporting.
posted by Brian B. at 7:17 AM on February 29, 2012


No mention of the fact that of course copyright law and protection is left perfectly in place without SOPA or PIPA. Nope. It's just those poor, sad independent crying filmmakers against the world.

What you originally referred to was an "idiotic" report "that painted the SOPA debate as between "content creators" and "free-loading pirates." What you've linked to is a report that, quite accurately, refers to a struggle between two different industries with a high profile in California: Hollywood in Southern California and Silicon Valley in Northern California. That's what the "civil war" referred to in the piece is about (not the fight between "pirates" and "content providers").

The piece is commenting upon the fact that SOPA and PIPA became a bone of contention between two major industry lobbies--with Hollywood and the music industry pushing for the legislation and internet businesses pushing against it. This is exactly correct. It quotes representatives of the internet based industry giving the "piracy is no big deal" point of view (""If things are being pirated, people want them, and I would far rather have one of my products, discover that it's highly pirated than that it isn't, because what that tells me is a lot of people want it," O'Reilly says.") as well as quoting someone in Hollywood giving the anti-piracy point of view.

I find threads like this rather dispiriting because they show that what people really want from their news media is just an echo-chamber for their particular worldview. You're not upset that the piece is "unfair"--you're upset that it gave any voice whatsoever to the "anti-piracy" side of the argument.

Suffice it to say, that there's absolutely nothing in the piece you linked to that would be affected by this new NPR policy.
posted by yoink at 9:06 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"That's kind of an interesting example because I'd like to know the exact wording of that."

I can't find the report now, but I think that's pretty close if not dead on. To be fair, my wife listened to the whole report and said they presented both "sides". My problem with it is that I find these sorts of unasserted assertions to be a particularly insidious way to disseminate disinformation.

"I read that quote as "in an effort to strike the Moon, threw a rock at it"

I read it as: "in an effort to jump-start the car, emptied the gas tank".

"I think we can safely generalize that this belief (slashing government jobs will jump-start the economy) is false; however, I can imagine certain exceptional cases where it would be true."

I'm not at all an expert, but I am having trouble imagining a plausible scenario. Please elaborate.
posted by Manjusri at 1:48 PM on February 29, 2012


I can't find the report now, but I think that's pretty close if not dead on. To be fair, my wife listened to the whole report and said they presented both "sides". My problem with it is that I find these sorts of unasserted assertions to be a particularly insidious way to disseminate disinformation.

Can I humbly suggest that if we can't come up with the actual text of the report, arguing over its contents from memory is kind of a waste of time.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:23 PM on February 29, 2012


So don't argue, or be humble and go away. I'm genuinely interested in Ivan's point of view.
posted by Manjusri at 2:36 PM on February 29, 2012


Would have been nice to have "this" NPR during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion...
posted by melt away at 7:06 AM on March 8, 2012


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