Objective reporting is the act of reporting objective fact. All other definitions are either error or falsehood.
The act of passing on known falsehood without noting so is not objective reporting. It is something, but it is emphatically not objective reporting. I don’t care what they told you in journalism school or the human resources department of your company.
I write to inform and I write to persuade. I admit it. I think humankind could always do better, and I write to suggest ways we might do so. I always hope to reach you, the reader, and to engage you with fact, with reasoning, and with opinion. All of it I do by the use of language. I am aware of my objectives when I write. Would my work be considered to be objective writing? No?
Well, then, how about this view: Objective is the opposite of subjective. To be subjective is to inject oneself into writing, to be objective is to keep oneself out of it. Most of my writing is subjective; I openly display my self, my ideas, my thoughts, and my perceptions of events in my writing. I make frequent use of the first person. So objective reporting would be reporting which carefully passes on descriptions of events and the words others say, for instance, without visible personal evaluation, sticking strictly to the third person. Is that correct?
I think most people in the news business today would say Yes, that is objective reporting. Keeping one’s self out of the picture.
This is one of the most harmful falsehoods of our time.
What American media does today is pick the wrong definition of the word “objective” and then perform to that definition. (In case you’re interested, my dictionary lists 8 separate definitions of “objective” as an adjective, plus another 4 as a noun.) Pretending to be an unbiased tape recorder, as if a human being could be such a thing, is not objective reporting.
Objective reporting is the act of reporting objective fact. All other definitions are either error or falsehood.
There is objective fact. Objective fact is, in the current buzzphrase, A Thing. There is empirical fact. Objective reporting would be reporting objective facts. How can it be that this must be said? We have people in our public conversation today (Newt Gingrich and Kellyanne Conway come immediately to mind) literally, specifically, and openly saying that empirical fact does not exist or does not matter. Since I originally wrote this a couple of weeks ago Kellyanne Conway has introduced the concept of “Alternative fact” into the pubic dialog. Since she’s with the
“Alternative right” I suppose she felt it was acceptable.
Empirical facts empirically exist. As an extreme example, people who die are empirically, factually dead. Empirical facts are the only rational basis for making public decisions.
It is not objective reporting to go on the air and say, “Donald Trump said the murder rate is up 956%. Hillary Clinton said it was actually down 3/10 of 1%.” Not even though, yes, he did say, if not those words, others as bizarre. Objective reporting would be, “Donald Trump made a ridiculous claim about the murder rate, which nobody even bothered to refute.” Objective reporting is reporting which is based on objective fact and truth. Constant reliance on and reference to objective fact is the only form of objective reporting which has any claim to the name.
If there is a news source in America which operates on this standard – “Constant reference to and reliance upon objective fact” – I am not aware of it.
If someone is reporting something to me without strict regard for objective fact that person cannot in any way be said to be objective. I refuse to play that word game. It offends me.
I see America as coming to a fork in the road. As of this writing the Trumpocalypse has not yet been formally ratified by the Chief Justice; I expect it to be; the road forks there.
One possibility is that Donald Trump will be a really poor President who steals everything that’s not nailed down but does so within a framework which can still be called on to produce reasonably legitimate elections in 2018 and 2020. In other words, throughout a Trump presidency we might retain a reasonable facsimile of a Constitutional Republic. That would be the best case. I’m no longer worrying about what damage they might do over four years. It is too late for that. If we still have a republic afterward we can fix it. If our future is to be a functioning republic the best we could do right now is to focus on a strategy to win elections. To win elections we must form and communicate a clear message. I have offered some specific recommendations. You can see those here and here.
There is no guarantee that we will remain a functioning republic. I have come to doubt that we remain one today. I think we are already controlled by one or a few men, ruling by decree, and that the recent election was theater. If so, and if we continue on this road, our governance will become more like that of Russia, regardless of who is the boss. If we do go that way the main worry isn’t whether we are ruled by Putin or by Trump or by Mitch McConnell or by somebody I can’t even see from here. (OK, that’s hyperbole. Trump is a raving lunatic; if he is king it will matter. That’s another whole topic.) It won’t matter what they call it, be it East Russia or The Great and Free Republic of America. Our ruler will be the one who vanquished his competitors; by definition the king is the guy who won. Conversion of our republic into a monarchy or similar rule by decree will be (or perhaps already was) a major loss for almost everybody in The United States. We will live under an individual man. He will be the boss, over everybody all the time. For convenience I will call this person “king.” He may be Dictator but likely will call himself President. He’ll call his system something, probably Free Market Capitalism, or Movement Conservatism, or Evangelical Christianity. Most monarchs these days like to get the adjective Democratic in somewhere, and often Republic as well. He will be king and we will be subjects.
We shouldn’t be that surprised. Throughout written history humans have mostly been ruled by kings. Our Republic was an experiment. It had never been tried on this scale before. It may have run its course.
When people tell you they are Conservative and want honor their European traditions what they really mean is, “We want a nice sensible king. We will be the nobles. Churches will be the police and pick up anything of value that we miss. The rest of you just… I don’t know. Eat cake.”
In a full out kingdom, election strategies as such aren’t very useful. Resistance will be everything. If we have a king today that doesn’t mean we can never have a republic again. Kings rise and fall; every self governed society on Earth was once ruled by a king. We just have a different problem to solve.
We can find lessons in history. The one I find most compelling is Ghandi. I believe that in today’s world only non-violent resistance has any possibility of succeeding. Arms are too powerful and too widespread to have any potential of success. As I look around today at the societies where people took up arms to free themselves, I see societies at war. Nobody ever wins. There are enough births and weapons are easy enough to manufacture that civil war can continue forever. It appears that Colombia is finally ending their 50 year war, but neither side is winning. People are just so tired, so very tired of war, and they have said, OK, we quit. Both sides. There is no possibility of victory.
The government in Syria has crushed their rebels in Aleppo, but that war rages on.
If our republic has been taken from us we cannot possibly free ourselves by arms. Any hope for a return to self-government lies in non-violent resistance.
And obviously my fork metaphor is just that, a metaphor. Despotic rule varies in detail and by degree. Our nation is geographically large. Ultimately one person or small group can only control a nation if they have the consent, or at least grudging obedience, of a majority of the people. It would be foolish to disregard elections as hopeless, or election strategy as useless. But there is more than one way to obtain obedience. Fear is one.
Kings govern by violence. Being king means never having to say Please. Murder, imprisonment, “disappearance”, and intimidation are among the means by which the monarch obtains obedience. We are already seeing this in the United States. Death threats were common in 2016 and show no sign of abating. How quickly we have become accustomed to them. Death threats have not always been a feature of mainstream politics in the United States of America. It used to be unheard of for reporters, scientists and college professors to be threatened. White people in this country didn’t used to use death threats against one another. It was America’s dirty little secret that death threats were a constant in the struggle for black freedom and equality, but since white people didn’t experience it we could pretend it wasn’t happening. Now death threat as tactic of governance has escaped from the racist underworld and become part of American mainstream politics. The nation is, right now, seeing governance through violence. “I will kill you” is government by violence. “Somebody should rape your wife and murder your children” is too. Sending epileptic reporters technological traps known to trigger seizures is too. Perhaps consent is too strong a word, but violence does discourage disobedience.
Kings, back in old Europe, had “Divine Right.” Listen to Steve Bannon. Is he not telling you that certain people (himself and his friends in particular) were ordained by God to rule over you?
For that matter, isn’t Ted Cruz?
The way a king established that divine right, most of the time, was by getting everybody else to agree he was the boss. Yup, that’s it. That’s all it takes.
Getting everybody to agree that you are the boss typically
requires a fair amount of killing people who refuse to agree. Competitors, princes and once-trusted advisers have a way of turning up dead. Rabble rousers, reporters, writers, and other individuals who threaten to persuade too many people at once to doubt the king’s divine right also tend to show up dead, or just never show up again.
Look all over the world, today and forever. What I am describing could easily be seen as the human norm.
I cannot tell, right now today, which of the two countries above we live in, or where we are on the continuum between them. I can tell you that from where I sit it doesn’t look good, but I must also admit that I can be a pessimist.
Personally I intend to participate in acts of public disobedience and rejection of the new king wherever and whenever I can. Ghandi’s followers threw off the chains of England by annoying them to death, by refusing in every way possible to consent to their rule. Yes, a fair number of them died in the process, but fewer than would have died in warfare.
I think I will also continue to write of campaign communication strategy as though the next election will be real. It might be. It behooves us to be prepared for that eventuality. However, at best I think it will be necessary to remind our current government on a regular basis for at least the next two years that we do not consent to despotism. I think we need to be clear that we will not willingly be ruled by decree and that we demand to have the actual, operational right to elect representatives and govern ourselves.
Keeping a republic is only possible if we do our part. Elections will only be real if we make them real. We must take care to elect people who will actually represent us and our needs. And that, again, will require a clear vision clearly communicated.