Archive for Thursday, February 17, 2011

Media overcorrect on objectivity

February 17, 2011


Arguably, he should have chosen a more diplomatic word.

Arguably, he should have said statements from the regime of now-deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak were “misleading,” “untrue” or “deceptive.” Arguably, he should not have accused the government of “lies,” a word that is as judgmental as a guillotine blade.

On the other hand, it is ultimately not how he said — but what he said — that has drawn criticism of CNN’s Anderson Cooper this week from several of his fellow journalists. In his reports on Egypt’s crisis, Cooper repeatedly scored Mubarak’s government for untruths. He did it in pointing out that journalists had been beaten and detained, in contradiction of the government’s contention that they were being allowed to report freely. And in discussing a claim that the government had directed that protesters not be pursued or harassed. And in dismissing a government statement that only 11 people had been injured in the protests when an independent human rights group put the figure at close to 300.

For that, Cooper was ridiculed by James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times.

CNN media critic Howard Kurtz questioned whether Cooper should be “taking sides.” And one Liz Trotta said that “any correspondent worth his salt knows that you shouldn’t be making editorial comments.” She, amusingly enough, is employed by Fox News.

All three critics concede Cooper was accurate: the regime did lie. Yet they question whether it was journalistically ethical to say it.

Take a close look. You will seldom see a clearer portrait of the timidity and obsequiousness that have infected and, increasingly, defined, American journalism.

Here is my pet theory: After years of criticism for their liberal bias — some of it merited — news media, eager as a puppy to be liked, have corrected by overcorrecting. Which is to say that in the search for that mythical beast, objectivity, they have sought to banish from the news gathering process an indispensable element: judgment. Excluding, of course, Fox, for which a reluctance to judge has never been a problem.

The rest of the journalistic world seems to have embraced its own version of those robotic, idiotic zero tolerance policies where some kid gets suspended for bringing Midol to class. Meaning, in other words, a paradigm from which human reasoning and common sense are exiled. So on any given story, a reporter is encouraged to get the facts, make sure the liberal and conservative talking points are represented and, once those boxes are checked, to feel as if she has done her job, has been objective. No thinking required.

Me, I have no idea what objectivity means, at least insofar as news reportage goes. What I do understand is fairness, the requirement to give voice to both sides, all sides, of a given issue: abortion, immigration, gun control, the budget, whatever.

But I also understand this: Though the axiom says there are two sides to every story, that is not always the case. What was the other side of World War II? The civil rights movement? Watergate? Would Liz Trotta have lectured Walter Cronkite for questioning the Vietnam War? Sometimes there are not two sides, or at least, not two sides both consonant with our broadest understanding of human rights, human wrongs and human reason. To chain reporters to some model of ethics that does not acknowledge this is to make reporters ridiculous and irrelevant.

Especially in an era where American politicians take ever more brazen liberties with the truth.

I intend no defense of the intrusion of opinion into the space reserved for news. But I do defend the transmission of verifiable, quantifiable facts. Even his critics concede that is what Cooper did. Back in the day, we had a word for that.

We called it reporting.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on


DeaconBlue 6 years, 10 months ago

Vice President Joe Biden said that Mubarack was not a dictator. Is that overcorrect?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

The US policy of the last 40 years or more has been propping up the Egyptian military and autocratic government/dictatorship it controls- to the tune of well over $50 billion during that time.

Obama and Biden with very few exceptions have continued the status quo of US foreign policy, including continued propping up of those dictators that are on "our side."

Just like no one saw the collapse of the US-installed dictator in Iran in 1979, none of your "intelligence" services really saw this coming either, and Biden, Obama and Clinton were struggling mightily to find a way to respond.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

It was actually a typo, but, really, no, they are not "my" intelligence service. They are more like Exxon's or Lockheed's or Goldman Sachs's intelligence service.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

Is there something wrong with unions and minorities, Tom?

Or do you just have a particularly soft spot in your heart for dictators?

Frederic Gutknecht IV 6 years, 10 months ago

-Knock Knock Who's there? -Tom's perception of reality! Really? Well I smell a smoking bag of used dog food!~)

Olympics 6 years, 10 months ago

cognitive dissonance with reality for Tom.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 10 months ago

Hats off to Anderson Cooper.He's always been my favorite anyway.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

Is a mainstream media which refuses to tell any truth and which is owned, increasingly, by fewer and fewer multinational conglomerates really indicative of a liberal bias? Who benefits from telling you that lie?

Tom, Fox is no pioneer. The Nazis were doing the exact same thing in the middle of the last century.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

It is completely bizarre that a journalist is criticized for telling the truth, especially on ethical grounds.

That's exactly what I want journalists to do, and I'd say it's the most ethical thing for them to do.

jd 6 years, 10 months ago

"What I do understand is fairness, the requirement to give voice to both sides, all sides, of a given issue: abortion, immigration, gun control, the budget, whatever."

You understand it, you just don't practice it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

I bet you believe Fox when they say they are "fair and balanced."

Brent Garner 6 years, 10 months ago

Actually I think they are less biased than any other news outlet except for a few I find online such as the DrudgeReport. Notice, I said less biased. I do think Fox News is more accurate than other broadcast news outlets. I also understand the tag line of "fair and balanced". Most of you would agree that Fox News takes a more conservative position than other media outlets. In fact, among broadcast/cable outlets they are probably the only "conservative" viewpoint there. Everyone else is definitely on the left hand side of the ledger. Therefore, I find it interesting that with Fox being the lone voice of conservatism in the broadcast/cable media world, that the other folks just can't seem to avoid trying to dish dirt on Fox, even to the point of advocating for public laws--Fairness Doctrine--to silence them and other conservatives. Yet, I hear no such demands made by conservatives that leftist or liberal outlets be silenced. I conclude, therefore, that liberals and leftists really are not interested in free speech but only in speech that agrees with what they believe and, further, that given the power they would compel all others to believe their way. Such is not freedom but tyranny and slavery.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

The Fairness Doctrine actually prevents the sort of silencing of opposing views that we already see exhibited on Faux "News" and AM radio.

Right wingers don't have to demand that liberals be silenced. They already are largely absent from mainstream media. Your conclusion is faulty.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

A star? Looks to me that he wants to govern like Mubarak did. Only Americans aren't going to put up with it as long as the Egyptians did.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

"I do think Fox News is more accurate than other broadcast news outlets. "

And I happen to think this is a very inaccurate assessment.

For instance, has Fox ever aired a retraction over the many staged and/or false reports on ACORN?

And if they really cared about accuracy, they'd run a half-hour of retractions after every show Glen Beck does.

Olympics 6 years, 10 months ago

December 15, 2010 |
Study Confirms That Fox News Makes You Stupid

Yet another study has been released proving that watching Fox News is detrimental to your intelligence. World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation. .....

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