In order to serve their role as social and political watchdogs of the American system, we have long depended on US journalists to eschew bias in favor of reporting the facts. In truth, it is impossible for a human being to be perfectly unbiased, but the explicit agreement has been that this is the ideal to which journalism, as practiced in America, must aspire.
Objectivity is Dead
Commitment to that ideal has eroded over time, even more so over the past decade as editors and publishers have eschewed objectivity in an effort to cater (pander) to declining audiences. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have become respectively Left and RIght of center, and neither Fox News nor MSNBC have ever made a pretense of objectivity in their programming.
This more European form of journalism, intentionally building editorial bias into new reportage, can be disorienting for those of us who have grown up believing that US reportage is unbiased. There is no longer a single, reliable source upon which we can depend to give us a clear picture of what is the truth.
What then shall we do?
The burden is now upon us. We must now rely on a combination of four approaches:
- Diversify: reading from a range of news sources, even those you know will disagree with you;
- Source: knowledge of where there are unbiased sources of facts, like the CBO;
- Analyze: the rigorous application of analysis to each fact, regardless of who presents it, and a personal commitment to be a filter, not just a parrot; and,
- Be Intellectually Honest: the understanding of your own biases, your readiness to seek challenges to them, and the ability to admit when your point of view is disproven. Being open to challenge – from ourselves and others – is the determining factor of whether any of the above will work.
That’s a lot harder than just taking what the world feeds you, but that is the price of the information revolution: it obliges each of us to serve as a thoughtful the arbiter of truth.
And, in the end, this should be the standard to which we hold ourselves, our allies, and our opponents alike. It was once, and must be again, the hallmark of the Republican Party.