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Journalism

2011.02.9

 

I would just like to offer a couple observations about journalism.

Take the following sentence:

“Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.”

That is reporting. It is a fact. Is is a completely value-neutral statement. It is also value-neutral to ask the Nobel Committee why they chose to do this. Reporting their response:

“Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.”

This is also value-neutral. (The reporting of the statement, not the statement itself.) It is fair to ask why Obama won from the governing body presenting the award. It is fair to report their reasons. Now let’s consider the following statements made by reporters about this incident:

“The Nobel committee gave Obama the prize because he isn’t George W. Bush.”

“It is surely good for the world that this has happened.”

“The Nobel committee blundered the Peace Prize pick.”

This is not reporting. These are not value-neutral statements. You may agree with one or more of them, but that does not make them journalism, and it does not make them information. (It does not make them true.) If you encounter a news source utilizing any of these statements, you should be very wary of any information provided by those sources. It would be different if the above statements were presented in the context of an op-ed piece; they were not. The preceding statements offer information wrapped up in an opinion–which, for those without the intellectual capacity for filtration, may be mistaken for actual facts.

Now, let’s take a look at three more statements:

“George W. Bush’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction was false.”

“With the release of the revised statement by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 2007, no remaining scientific body of national or international standing is known to reject the basic findings of human influence on recent climate change”

“Barack Obama ended his first 100 days with a 69% approval rating; his disapproval rating increased from 12% to 29% in the same period.”

The preceding statements are neutral. They are facts. You cannot agree or disagree with them; they simply ARE. Perhaps you can like or dislike these particular facts, but you cannot deny them. We should all be trying to find neutral reporting, should we not?

How do we find neutral reporting? I offer a summary of the following study:

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), in the Winter 03-04 issue of Political Science Quarterly, reported that viewers of Fox News, the Fox Broadcasting Company, and local Fox affiliates were more likely than viewers of other news networks to hold three misperceptions:

  • 67% of Fox viewers believed that the “U.S. has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization” (Compared with 56% for CBS, 49% for NBC, 48% for CNN, 45% for ABC, 16% for NPR/PBS).
  • The belief that “The US has found Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq” was held by 33% of FOX viewers and only 23% of CBS viewers, 19% for ABC, 20% for NBC, 20% for CNN and 11% for NPR/PBS
  • 35% of Fox viewers believed that “the majority of people [in the world] favor the U.S. having gone to war” with Iraq. (Compared with 28% for CBS, 27% for ABC, 24% for CNN, 20% for NBC, 5% for NPR/PBS)

A copy of the study, which begins on page 581.

You tell me. Which news source has the fewest number of people believing untrue things?

Addendum:

What with the folks at NPR recently referred to as Nazis and apparently involved in some vast left-wing conspiracy, I would like to offer these parting thoughts.  If a news source simply supposes the existence of man-made climate change, the congenitalness of homosexuality, evolution via natural selection, the deism of the founding fathers, or the fact that X-rays have a wavelength of between .01 and 10 μm, you should not assume that the source has a leftist bias.  You should assume that sometimes something is true, and legitimate news sources will report reality.

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