Monday, October 19, 2009
We were talking about this in Journalism Ethics today, though I confess it was one of my high RPM days, and I did not do a good job of promoting discussion, and the class was left hanging because after much prodding of them, and some confusing of them, I chose not to sum up, thinking it vain to hog all the brilliance.
If I had summed up, I would have insisted that we should put the O-word beside the N-word and leave it right out of civilized discourse. As that fulmination turns to ash, I concede that I am inclined to pursue some of (expletive deleted's) constituent elements as one might the Pole Star. Though Fox has certainly wiped its ass on the slogan "fair and balanced," I am not uncomfortable saying that a journalist should aspire to such.
Fairness is a kind of schoolyard virtue, the implication being it is a quality driven by fundamental character, not deracinated brainpower, an act both simple and elusive.
As for "balanced," once you get past the idea that everything in your story must contradicted, like matter and antimatter in one of a hundred Star Trek episodes -- sometimes it shouldn't be; sometimes there's one true thing so leave it alone, uncontradicted -- and once you accept there are times where a statement *should* be balanced but that balancing may be a *mosaic* of alternatives and not just the old two-ended seesaw, well, with all that stipulated I really do like the notion of pursuing balance.
As long as you accept the responsibility of refusing to juggle every ball thrown your way in the name of a "balanced story." If you're asked to juggle a rotten egg, throw it back. What I'm saying with that little comparison is simple: We have a responsibility to be accurate. You may call it facticity or naive empiricism, but it's where we start. Even 10 years ago that seemed less urgent. It seemed the greater problem was the unwillingness to sift the facts and arrive at an opinion. But in this age of Fox's Ministry of Truth and bloggers who certainly *can* function as reporters, and deserve the title, but just don't bother, given the fact that facts muddy their opinions, I have a renewed respect for simple facts. (Facts are such a speedbump, aren't they?)
I understand selective presentation of accurate information can be deeply dishonest, but that pales besides all those voices -- the lazy, the incompetent, the shameless liars -- that are out there right now just making shit up.