Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Citations Needed

Feb 26, 2020

One of the most prized professional norms for journalists, particularly the United States, is the preservation of neutrality in reporting. While the concept of “objectivity” has fallen out of fashion among mainstream reportage in recent years, related concepts that convey a similar idea such as “impartiality” and “neutrality” have come to replace it. In their mission statements and codes of ethics, corporate and government owned outlets routinely proclaim the importance of impartiality and balance, in the sanctified pursuit of fair, unbiased reporting. 
In theory, this can be a healthy idea. Distinguishing between so-called opinion or editorial versus neutral, down-the-middle reporting –“objectivity” or “impartiality” can give the reader a sense that a series of facts are being reported rather than some guy’s opinion.
The fundamental problem is when this vaguely aspirational genre morphs into an unchecked ideology––an ideology that requires one to think we live in a world where said facts are curated and created outside of long-existing power structures; that those who produce, on an institutional scale, knowledge products via think tanks and academic institutions are without bias. That journalistic institutions, funded by large corporations and billionaires themselves, don’t decide which neutral facts are important and which aren’t.
“Objectivity” that doesn’t calibrate power asymmetries or attempt to account for its own institutional ideology isn’t a mode of reporting, it’s conservative conditioning that––if not in intent, in effect––does little more than advance prevailing ruling class ideology. Indeed, anyone who’s ever studied marketing or PR or propaganda will tell you the most effective messaging is that which appears unbiased and impartial. 
On today’s show, we’ll examine how objectivity came to be a defining principle of Western journalism and how U.S. media’s understanding of impartiality provides an urbane veneer for racism, homophobia, anti-poor policies and other reactionary currents.