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Friday, February 10, 2006

Mainstream Media Journalist Says Time Has Come To Drop Pretense of Objectivity, Myth of Balance

G. Pascal Zachary is a veteran of Time and The Wall Street Journal. He's been there, done that in mainstream journalism. He's been listening closely to media critics on the Left and Right for a lot of years. Guess what he's concluded?

"Yet I must concede that critics of conventional journalism are correct on nearly all counts.
Trying to be fair and balanced, journalists have failed their subjects and themselves. In seeking to stand above the fray, journalists have denied the obvious. They have robbed themselves of credibility. They are getting torn to pieces fighting the wrong battles."

And his prescription for a cure? Admit that "the Myth of Balance" is a myth:

"Professional journalists can restore their status only by taking radical action. They are getting torn to pieces fighting the wrong battles. Journalists keep telling critics that they are committed to hearing all sides.

"That they are committed to 'objectivity,' which in practical terms means giving ink and airtime to various viewpoints in a fair and even detached way. This so-called balance is supposed to translate into the all-important objectivity.

"Veteran journalists know that the objectivity ethos is the 'big lie' of their profession. Actually, journalists are beholden to various points of view, and their commitment to balance is a convenient way of not talking about the rat's nest of commitments, concerns, biases and passions that animate the life of every good journalist and most of the bad ones.

"Commercial pressures also force journalists to choose sides, to root for one outcome over another, to seek out some sources and never even speak to others. Professional values, meanwhile, force journalists to routinely rule out certain points of view, notably those deemed 'irresponsible' or 'out of the mainstream.'

"In a world of complexity, journalists cannot square the circle; they cannot smooth the rough edges of reality."

Zachary goes on to outline a new journalist ethic that might be summarized thusly: "Hold accuracy, not intent, as the highest standard. Get the 'right answer.' If you can't, keep trying until you can."

He has much more to say and you can read it all here.