Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fair 'N Balanced!

Yet another example of what passes for journalism today. Check this story out:

Report: Hundreds of WMDs found in Iraq,2933,200499,00.html

Holy Joe Moses! That's a blockbuster story! The President was right all along, we weren't misleading the world and using phantom intelligence to mask our nation-building neocon rationale for war! Heck, let's read the lead paragraph, to further make our point.

WASHINGTON — The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.
"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Wow! It's the smoking gun! Vindication for the Bush foreign policy all along! What a blockbuster story broken by FOX News. So why isn't this getting more attention?

Well, let's mosey down the story a little bit, past the ads for "Screaming Stock Picks" and "Lower Blood Pressure" (I'm not making this stuff up) and read on to paragraph eight.

The weapons are thought to be manufactured before 1991 so they would not be proof of an ongoing WMD program in the 1990s. But they do show that Saddam Hussein was lying when he said all weapons had been destroyed, and it shows that years of on-again, off-again weapons inspections did not uncover these munitions. (Emphasis added)

Oh ... so the hundreds of WMDs that were found were over fifteen years old, and don't have a thing to do with the rationale for the war. Yes, of course there were WMDs in Iraq. But that was never the issue. The issue was that Saddam's Iraq was suddenly a grave threat to the United States because he had a WMD program and was producing them.

That was the Bush rationale for the war. And if you read the headline and the lead for the story, wouldn't you think this story justified that rationale? I sure did, until I read the rest of the story. But not everyone WILL read the rest of the story, that's the point. Some will just see the misleading headline and lead and form an opinion from that.

This isn't really about the war. This is about journalism. It's not just FOX News, although they are the most blatant offenders. The point of a news story is to present in as neutral and objective a manner the facts about an important issue, and let the readers or viewers use that information to form their thoughts and opinions.

This piece is blatantly misleading. Whether it was done for political reasons or just to get schleps like me to go to their website isn't really relevant. This story is a symptom of a broader problem, namely the death of objectivity as a goal in news.

Perfect objectivity is, of course, impossible. Everyone looks at a story or an issue through the lens of their own bias and history. But a news organization should at least have objectivity as their goal and, recognizing their biases, work towards putting news out that is close to objectivity.

I'm not convinced that's a goal anymore. FOX News is the most clear in abandoning objectivity (just like Margaret Thatcher, if you have to SAY you're fair and balanced, then you aren't), but there's plenty of other outlets that aren't far behind.

News and opinion are quickly blending into one indistinguishable soup. As this process continues, conservatives and liberals will each be pushed to getting their "news" from sources that slant things their way. As this trend continues, American society will only continue to become more polarized. Now, we may look at the same facts and draw different conclusions. With the death of objectivity as a goal, we won't even be able to agree on what the facts are to disagree about.

Or, as Pilate said to Jesus, "what is truth?"

In essence, the two sides of the political spectrum won't be speaking the same language. They will each be getting their own "news" from their own spin-doctors, further reinforcing their own pre-conceived opinions, and furthering the ideoligcal chasm in our society.

Maybe I'm just naive, but I like to hold out hope that reasonable minds can look at a set of facts, discuss intelligently the points of an issue, and reach a reasonable consensus. In the Federalist Papers, the framers of the nation put the institutions of American government together to force this kind of compromise and avoid what they called the "dangers of factionalism."

This FOX News article is just one more small example of how far away from that goal we've come, and how fast we are moving further from it.


Scott Miller said...

If I remember right, (my memory is bad, and I'm not prepared to actually do any research at the moment), but wasn't the feeding of misinformation one of the central tenets of the book "1984"?

With the "soup" of opinion and news mixed together, it becomes much easier to add the next ingredient, the above stated misinformation, with not enough people able to notice.

Kelly said...

Let's hear it for truthiness! Yeah truthiness!