Smith: Don’t seek unbiased reporting from left or right; form your own conclusions (column)
August 30, 2018
Editor's note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
Recently, CNN.com reported that the Boston Globe initiative to fight President Donald Trump's "War on the Press" resulted in about 350 articles published by media outlets around the country.
The articles often carried familiar themes: "strong democracy needs a free press," "we're a check on government," "press isn't the enemy of the people," "Trump is the source, not subject, of fake news," "we stand for press freedom." None of these articles, however, make any admission that there may be bias in political reporting, nor is there any recognition that media bias may be part of the reason why people at Trump rallies chant "fake news."
Vail contributor Jay Wissot ("Propaganda and media bias are not the same," Saturday, Aug. 25) dismisses this sort of viewpoint by asserting that persons holding such viewpoints are "low information" voters, highly susceptible to "American propaganda" put out by various so-called right-wing news outlets, such as Fox News, as well as Donald Trump.
Wissot suggests that these sources have been successful in getting people to believe fantasies, misinformation and Trump's "version of reality." Linda Carr, of Eagle, writes that, "I find it unbelievable that you can't recognize the lies coming from the right-wing media and the current president" ("Truth or consequences," Wednesday, Aug. 28).
The bias in these comments is sadly not uncommon. These types of comments suggest, if not declare, there is no conservative point of view that has any merit. These comments, among many others I have read, also tell me that the left still doesn't understand how the 2016 election was lost or how 45 percent of the country sees the world.
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I totally accept there is bias in political reporting. But I accept there is bias in both right-wing and left-wing political reporting, and I don't tell my neighbor that he has "low information" views when he differs from me.
James Baker in a recent tribute to John McCain noted, "Objective journalism is increasingly hard to come by as the line between commentator and reporter is too often blurred." Since it is clear to me, at least, that neither the left nor the right can be counted on for "objective" political journalism, I think it is incumbent on all of us to learn how to critically observe when objectivity is exchanged for commentary.
As a law student and then as a practicing attorney, I was exposed to many of the techniques of persuasion used to try to win an argument: Ignore facts that are harmful to the conclusion you want. Give greater weight to facts that are helpful. Deny facts that are contrary to your argument. Mislead, if possible. In law, however, there is an opposing party present who uses the same techniques. With media, there is often no counter available in the same edition. One has to search to find the counter.
Liberal commentator James Galston writes that "it's usually not hard to tell the difference" between whether misconstruing facts is inadvertent or deliberate. Obviously many liberals and conservatives think they can tell the difference and yet arrive at different conclusions.
Galston also says that deliberately misleading someone is "deceit." He notes that an "individual fact is usually one strand of a complex ensemble of acts" and that using one fact to make an argument while leaving out others is "a strategy of concealment." Make up your own mind about media bias.
I learned in law to always take the other point of view seriously. If we expect to get a resolution of any problem, it is better to know everything. Bias (meaning commentary over objectivity) is dangerous. "This is why deliberately escalating the culture wars is irresponsible and dangerous," Galston says. Baker says, "… this partisan divide, which, if left unaddressed, threatens to undermine our democracy."
We should not assume that either the left or right can report or even discuss political matters without inserting their own point of view. They both claim to be purveyors of truth. A free press, after all, allows for commentary to be dressed up as objective, just as it allows Trump to trumpet "fake news."
It is up to us to stop the invective, separate objectivity from commentary, understand all points of view, and then force our politicians to actually accomplish something. In the meantime, Jay, my opinions were not formed by Trump or the right-wing "propaganda." I can read and think for myself, thank you.
Geoff Smith is a Vail resident.
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