In a political back-and-forth on Facebook recently, I cited and linked to a New York Times article. My colleague retorted: “Sorry, I don’t subscribe to the notion that the New York Times prints impartial news.” This is from a college-educated public relations executive.
I must admit that it threw me.
There is no doubt that the New York Times has left-leaning editorial and op-ed pages, but it’s news coverage is among the finest in the world (which is why it has won 101 Pulitzer Prizes since 1918 – more than any other newspaper in history). It is far from perfect, but when did we reach the point where news articles in the Times were considered suspect?
And if news in the New York Times can’t be trusted then what news sources can be?
Have we truly reached the age of Post-Modern Journalism?
Postmodernism, among other things, is the denial of objective truths, so Post-Modern Journalism would be the denial of basic facts. A state in which baseline facts are in constant dispute. Post-Modern Journalism then is what happens when we – as a society – can no longer agree to these facts. When journalists can no longer collect, verify and report on the facts of a story – because the facts are in a constant state of contradiction – then we have reached the point of Post-Modern Journalism.
The result is multiple “news sources” claiming the mantel of objective journalism but with varying definitions of what the baseline”facts” and “truths” are.
The current political landscape provides an excellent example. How can journalists even begin to report on the policies and activities of President Obama and his administration without being accused of biased when there is such dispute about the basic, underlying facts about the president? A recent Harris Poll (which – in classic Post-Modern Journalism – is also under dispute) found that:
- 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that President Obama is a socialist
- 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
- 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president”
- 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is “doing many of the things that Hitler did”
- 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama “may be the Antichrist.”
It is any wonder that so many people no longer believe what they read and see from news organizations when we’ve reached this point? When basic facts about the origin and political beliefs of our highest elected official are under dispute how can we trust anything written about his policies?
A reader who thinks Obama is a left-leaning, centrist Democrat from Chicago might trust the New York Times, but certainly not the one who believes Obama is a foreign-born Muslim socialist with Nazi aspirations (and how Obama can be both a socialist and fascist at the same time when the ideologies sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum is not explained).
The result is news organizations with different factual foundations – and ever skewing toward their audience’s perspectives.
In simple terms: FOX-News vs. MSNBC.
Journalism as noise machine for a point of view. FOX-News, for example, reports on healthcare from a perspective that the bill is fundamentally unAmerican, unnecessary and communist while MSNBC sees the bill as inherently American, necessary and humanitarian. So we get “death panels” vs. “universal healthcare” when the bill is actually neither.
There’s been many pixels spilled worrying about how the Internet is destroying journalism, but this state of Post-Modern Journalism may be the real threat (and certainly the Internet plays an important role in this divisiveness).
What do you think? Can journalism be objective? Should it at least strive for objectivity? Or is this state of Post-Modern Journalism a permanent condition?