Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hyper-objectivity and a Failure of American Journalism

The events in New York this weekend where already restrained demonstrators were maced for no apparent reason have prompted a re-examination by at least one journalist of the role of journalists in reporting the news not just objectively, but fairly.

New York Times reporter Brian Stelter tweeted that a "battle" was underway on the streets.  Reporter Michael Tracey took exception to this characterization.
As I understand it, if a “battle” is taking place, that means at least two aggressors are “battling” one another. Which would seem to be an odd characterization of yesterday’s events. I wasn’t there, but all the first-hand reports, news stories, video, and eyewitness testimonies suggest that the NYPD was quite clearly responsible for escalating tension, at least in certain instances — such as when several female protesters were indiscriminately maced in the face.

So I had a question for Stelter — what evidence indicated to him that a “battle” had taken place yesterday, or in other words, what evidence indicated that protestors had “battled” police? Again, the term “battle” implies the participation at least two parties, but there is no reason (as yet) to believe that protestors attacked police. Here’s what Stelter said in response: “I used the word “battle” in an attempt not to judge either side.”

Let’s think about this. “In an attempt not to judge either side,” Stelter characterized both sides as “battlers.” How is that not a judgement in of itself? There is clear evidence that police attacked protestors, but no evidence that protestors attacked police, yet Stelter casts both in exactly the same light because he presumably feels that upholding a sacred standard of impartiality is his prime journalistic duty. Even with video evidence available, Stelter shies away from accurately conveying what transpired, because it’s of paramount importance to remain “impartial,” no matter what, always.

This is a perfect manifestation of the pathology of objectivity. Stelter evidently was not interested in accurately portraying the facts. Rather, he obscured them.
Spraying mace into a crowd of captive demonstrators isn't a battle, it's torture.

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