Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

June 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PARTISAN HACKERY....Over at Tapped, the boys are discussing whether America would be better off if the media junked the fiction of "objectivity" and just adopted the European habit of sporting an open ideology. Ezra Klein suggests that although overt ideology might be OK, "A bunch of partisan outlets would be a problem. There's nothing honest or constant about their opinions, and so the whole advantage of knowing their beliefs evaporates when the beliefs become inconvenient and change."

Family honor compels me to disagree. Here is the notice in the Piatt [pronounced Pie'-utt, by the way] County Republican in July 1900 announcing the first issue of the Cerro Gordo Star, my great-grandfather's third newspaper:

Eli Drum has again resumed....Eli has been a republican and then a democrat and now has decided to become a populist and extract sweetness from both the old parties. In fact Cerro Gordo is not healthy place for a democratic paper.

Is Ezra calling my great-grandfather dishonest? Inconstant? Just because he apparently picked whichever party or non-party happened to be convenient depending on where and when he was setting up a printing press?

I demand satisfaction. Typewriters at twenty paces.

POSTSCRIPT: And what's this "Get there Eli" business all about? Beats me. A Google search informs me that Eli Perkins was the pen name of one Melville Landon, a stage humorist and author of Wit, Humor and Pathos. Apparently his catchphrase became popular to describe someone who was a striver, a go-getter, a person who never gave up. Eli Drum's second paper (the Democratic one, presumably) started up in 1890, but the phrase predates that. For example:

1883: Our people are free and untrammeled, and "get there Eli" every time.

1884: By his indomitable will, his sterling qualities, and his quiet, unassuming "get there Eli" and bound to succeed spirit, has kept climbing up the ladder round by round, until he is nearing the topmost.

1886: Belle Plaine is a get there Eli kind of a town, a sure go town, a good kind of a town to tie to.

1889: The people are glad to hear Colby is to have a mill. Colby knows how to get there, Eli.

1893: He was always one of the "get-there-Eli" boys.

1903: "'All right,' says he. 'I'll do it, and it's "Get there, Eli!" when I hook dirt....

1919: "Oh, I don't mind! Pick on me all you like, either of you. I suppose there are some frills I'm not onto, but I'm quick at catchin' on, and I'll get there, Eli!"

There is also a song called "Get There Eli," and a town in Nebraska named Eli whose residents are under the misimpression that it was originally named Get-There-Eli because that was the nickname of one of its original residents.

Wasn't that fun?

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

George W. Bush is a real "get-their-Allah" kinda guy.

Posted by: The Confidence Man on June 30, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

When will Kevin post on Lieberman/Lamont?

Posted by: gq on June 30, 2006 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

This is all so... so...
Aw, hell, I got nothin'.
--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on June 30, 2006 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

The junking of the fiction of objectivity is exactly what America should do. Members of the press obviously are not, and could not be, objective. So they should disclose their political leanings as part of full disclosure and respect to the reader. A good liberal or conservative reporter could still be a trusted source, but they would have to better earn their trust than simply standing behind the fiction of objectivity. For example, someone like Adam Nougoursey [sp?] at the times would be a better and more believable reporter if he disclosed his politics and then earned the trust of his readers.

For example, the lead in the WAPOST "news" story about yesterday's Supreme Court case described the decision as a "startling rebuke" of the Bush administration (or words to that effect). Why would a "news" story say that? The writer obviously was liberal and wanted to describe the decision in terms injurious to Bush.

Posted by: brian on June 30, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Best use of a blog this week. Thanks.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 30, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Ron's right, best blog post I've read all week. We need a new one for our times.

"Hop On, Punjab"
"Way to go, Monkeybrains"

Okay, sorry, I'm done...

Posted by: FuzzFinger on June 30, 2006 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

Friday Afternoon Eli blogging.

Another first for P.A.

Posted by: nut on June 30, 2006 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds to me like the Democratic Party could use more "get there Eli"...

Posted by: dr sardonicus on June 30, 2006 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

"America would be better off if the media junked the fiction of "objectivity" and just adopted the European habit of sporting an open ideology"

Once again the great gray lady shows herself to be WAYYYYY ahead of the pack!

Posted by: Zarqawi Done Dead on June 30, 2006 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Forget all this political nonsense. We're waiting for cats...

Posted by: SteveAudio on June 30, 2006 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

The writer obviously was liberal and wanted to describe the decision in terms injurious to Bush

Or it could be a reporter who was "shocked, shocked" to see any institutional criticism of 'dear leader' by the often complaint Supremes.

Posted by: SteveAudio on June 30, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Over at Tapped, the boys are discussing whether America would be better off if the media junked the fiction of "objectivity" and just adopted the European habit of sporting an open ideology.

*Snicker*. The American media is already partisan liberal!

New York Times - liberal treasonous traitors who published classified SWIFT program.
Washington Post - liberal
CBS - Dan Rather and David Letterman
MSNBC - Keith Olbermann
Comedy Central - Jon Stewart and Colbert

Why are liberals always pretending otherwise?

Posted by: Al on June 30, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, everything would be better if we cut the media down to two state owned news corporations. One for each major party and their largest campaign donors.

There is no such thing as objective truth. I say the dem corp gets Science and Physical Review Letters and the Republicans get Nature and PNAS. It's high time to cut the baby in half.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK
The junking of the fiction of objectivity is exactly what America should do. Members of the press obviously are not, and could not be, objective. So they should disclose their political leanings as part of full disclosure and respect to the reader.

Note that, IMO, doing so while making a good effort to separate statements of one's opinion from best-efforts to determine the facts would be a better way to acheive as close to useful objective juournalism as is possible with human journalistsfar better than the current "he said/she said" laziness-under-cover-of-objectivity rampant in the media.

Of course, doing that would require work; what is likely with overtly ideological or partisan media in the US is, well, see FoxNews.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 30, 2006 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Please, Al, as the scientific arguments about global warming are over, so is the tired meme that the news media is liberal.

In your world, there would be no WaPo, NYT, NPR, or LAT. I'm sure you'd even scrap the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There would only be Fox News, talk radio, WSJ (the editorial board that is), and the Wa Times.

You want propaganda, not facts.

When the NYT eats up and spits out administration falsehoods about nuclear tubes prior to the war, tell me again how liberal they are? Enough...

Posted by: FuzzFinger on June 30, 2006 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Al is correct in the sense that all these MSM folks who know they are very liberal, e.g., Rather, Brokaw, even silly Olberman, either deny it or at least refuse to admit it by using word games. I even heard Mapes refuse to admit she was a liberal.

There is a basic dishonestly to the person's image which, when you think about it, ought to cause an intelligent reader or listener to have doubts about the credibility or at least the slant of everything he says. On the other hand, a guy like Rather could have honestly admitted he was a liberal and then earned trust by still reporting the facts fairly and accurately. Liberals of integrity would welcome the opportunity to report facts contrary to a liberal politician's interest because it would increase their stature and respect, and the same in the other direction for conservative reporters.

The funny part is the best MSM candidate to do so is the NY Times. They have lost much of their reputation. Once their current publisher is kicked overboard, a new publisher could come in and announce that all reporters and columnists had to clearly state who they voted for during the past 20 years to bring a new honestly to the paper. It would be great for honest and respectful treatment of readers.

Posted by: brian on June 30, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

The American media has a bias all right, a rightwing Republican bias.

New York Times is Republican. Just remember Judith Miller's false stories, the false story smearing Wen Ho Lee, the phony TrooperGate stories, the other unsubstantiated stories promoting the War on Iraq

Washington Post is Republican from their numerous stories that failed to fact check Bush claims for war and other policies.

Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, New York Sun, New York Post, New York Daily News, The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and hundreds if not thousands of other weekly and daily papers that support Republican policies and politicians

Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC all with a heavy preponderance of rightwing talkshows and all with a pro-administration slant.

Talk radio 99.9% right wing.

Even with this corporate Republican control, Stalinist wingnuts only want to allow Americans to read the propaganda that the Bush government promulgates with its unconstitutional use of fake news stories.

Posted by: Mike on June 30, 2006 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK
Al is correct in the sense that all these MSM folks who know they are very liberal, e.g., Rather, Brokaw, even silly Olberman, either deny it or at least refuse to admit it by using word games. I even heard Mapes refuse to admit she was a liberal.

Granting, arguendo, that all that all those people are "very liberal" and that they all deny it or refuse to admit it, how would that be any different from how "MSM folks" like O'Reilly and others who know they are conservatives and partisan Republicans lie about it?

Frankly, it seems to me that what this is is yet another case of right-wing projection.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 30, 2006 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

If you want it from one media outlet, how about everybody? Brian says:

Once their current publisher is kicked overboard, a new publisher could come in and announce that all reporters and columnists had to clearly state who they voted for during the past 20 years to bring a new honestly to the paper. It would be great for honest and respectful treatment of readers.
Let's demand that from everyone at Fox News, shall we? Why don't we ask all the executives at NBC, CBS, and ABC do the same? And how about all the good folks at The Note?

Posted by: FuzzFinger on June 30, 2006 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Are the Universities bastions of conservatism also???

Posted by: Zarqawi Done Dead on June 30, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Someday sane people will look back at that popular cracker comedian whose catchphrase is "Git 'er done" and wonder what kind of inbred cretins found him humorous.

That day is today.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on June 30, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

So if I'm reading this right, "get there Eli" was a 19th century version of Git 'er done, a comedian's catchphrase...

Posted by: atlantan on June 30, 2006 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Point by point:

NYT? Judith Miller. Whitewater.
WaPo? Washington Times.
CBS? Dan Who, now?
MSNBC? Everyone *except* Olbermann.
Stewart & Colbert? Comic genii and truth-tellers, but hardly a match for the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Coulter, Novak, Buckley, Buchanan, Safire, Kristol, Hume, Snow, Ingraham, Stossel, Carlson, Goldberg, etc., etc., etc.

Posted by: Whatever on June 30, 2006 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

DUDES (trans. REGRESSIVE-DEMOCRATS):

We, the Patriots, have seen-through the fiction of MSM journalistic objectivity for a 60 years now; ever since Regressive-Democrats gained a virtual monopoly on large circulation newspapers and network television news. We can all see first hand what an ignorant buffoonish Regressive-Democrat Walter Cronkite always was by his post-retirement ad hoc, i.e., unscripted and hence undisguised, diatribes. It is only of late that We, the Patriots have decided we owe it to the U.S.A., all of its citizens, rich and poor (the poor you Regressive-Democrats devastated in the 1965-1980 era regardless of your misguided income level data), to respond to your deceptions with privately funded think tanks, our own pundits, redistricting justice, and politicians that have you talking to yourselves (Reagan, Gingrich, Rove).

Onward to victory!

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on June 30, 2006 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

'what....if the media junked the fiction of "objectivity" and just adopted the European habit of sporting an open ideology?
--Kevin Drum

Kevin, I think that "fiction" was junked a long time:

Apologies to Al

--NewsMax - Underwritten by Richard Mellon Scaife, full-time alcoholic and part-time rich, nutball publisher. Obesessed with Bill and Hillary Clinton's sex life.
--FoxNews - Underwritten by Rupert Murdoch, aging pervert and serial divorcee.'
--Washington Times - Owned and published (at a fiscal loss, I might add) by false messiah,money launderer and serial rapist Sun Myung Moon (and close Bush family friend also).
--WorldNetDaily - Owned by professional con man and full-time mustachio artist, Joseph Farah, who along with Christopher Ruddy, flogged the "Vince Foster was killed by Hillary Clinton" myth into a small fortune. Les Kinsolving, one of President Bush's favorite "plants" in presidential press conferences, "reports" for WorldNetDaily (which is really just a far right-wing propaganda outlet).

Need I go on? The Hearst publishing company? It goes on......

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on June 30, 2006 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Fuzzfinger,
I agree entirely. EVERYONE involved in shaping what the public reads or hears should declare their voting records and political positions -- let the sun shine in.

Someone said O'Reily and others at Fox hide that they are conservatives and republicans. I can understand why some fols don't like O'Reily, but he is pretty straightforward about his political positions. He does resist calling himself a conservative, because he explains that on stuff like capital punishment he is not for it. He denies that he is a republican, which is probably technically true, but my point is not to try to make media declare themselves the member of a party but rather who they voted for, intend to vote for, and their stand on political issues (e.e., death penalty, campaign financing, abortion etc.), which guys like O'Reily do. Even the other guys at Fox don't seem to make any effort to hide their conservative leanings.

I read periodically here how the NYT is conservative or pro- republican. There aren't really many people hear who believe that, are there?

Posted by: brian on June 30, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

brian: Members of the press obviously are not, and could not be, objective. So they should disclose their political leanings.

They usually do. First by picking the subject they choose to write about, then through the light they show the subject in: which aspects of a story get more prominence, which quotes are included and which omitted and, yes, the careful use of language, too.

Tough, obviously, language can be interpreted any way the reader wants to: "resounding" might have been more objective than "startling", but I wouldn't, necessarily, interpret the use of "startling" as a clue to a liberal-thinking writer. Could have been a Republican, who had been startled out of his socks by the sudden show of independence by the Supremes.

Nor do I see how the use of "startling" tries to put Bush in bad light, as you claim. Bush has shot himself in the foot vis-a-vis the Supreme Court when he tried to tell them that they had no right to rule on anything he didn't want them to rule on. And they told him "don't tread on me". Otherwise, Kennedy might have voted differently. Which would have given us the vote as 4:4, and the case would have gone back to the same federal court, which had already ruled the way Bush wanted and would, probably, do so again (even though, now, that court would no longer have Roberts in it).

I agree, BTW, that Adam Nagourney's politics is a bit difficult to pinpoint but, to me, it makes him more interesting to read, not less; I keep trying to guess what he really thinks :)

I would like for the journalists (I don't watch TV; all I know about TV-news is second-hand) to be less bland in the name of "balance" but I wouldn't want the individual newspapers to tack in only one direction. The danger there would be that I'd never read the right-wing ones and would have no idea what they thought. And that would be a mistake; if you don't know your enemy, how can you keep your eye on him?

Posted by: libra on June 30, 2006 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

What is that Fox news slogan?

Fair and Balanced? Something like that.

Yea, real upfront.

Posted by: jefff on June 30, 2006 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

libra,

good comments. On Nagourney, why "guess" about what he really thinks. Why shouldn't the Times require him to tell us, then we can factor it into our assessment of what he writes.

and btw, I would not envision that all reporters for a paper would be liberal or conservative. There could and should be a mix. So if Nagourney is a liberal, then there would be conservatives also writing about politics. In theory, at least, Nagourney and the conservative would be competing for credibility with the readership by the accuracy and insightfulness of their writing, not trying to slant the news to their viewpoint. Whichever side happends to be all wet, the reporter would be motivated to point that out, not just recite what each side says. Take the amnesty issue. For democrats who lionize Murtha to now stridently oppose amnesty is pure crock. Murhta withdrawal plan would already have our troops out of Iraq, which good or bad as a matter of policy, effectively would constitue complete amnesty for the insurgents left behind who killed Americans. A reporter who had declared himself a liberal would jump over this hypocricy to prove his trustworthiness and credibility, instead of dutifully reporting what the democrats said regarding how shocked they are about the possibility of amnesty and how they are opposed to it.

Posted by: brian on June 30, 2006 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK

If the MSM dropped the fiction of objectivity, do you really think they'd wind up on our side? What world have you been living in for the last 20 years? Has there been any indication that any media organ is constrained by convention from becoming MORE liberal? You have to be kidding me.

The only thing that would allow a progressive (major) media to grow in rough proportion to wingnut media would be a tectonic shift in the source of media's funding. As long as newspapers, TV, and radio are dependent on corporate advertising for their revenue, there is not a chance in hell those advertisers would allow an overt progressive point of view--assuming that the largely anti-labor, pro-globalist publishers that run them would allow it in the first place. We see this in the rare test case where some group (say, the Buy Nothing people) try to take out an ad in a major media market. They are invariably told to take a hike. Freedom of the press belongs the person who owns one. That's life under capitalism, baby.

Posted by: Potato Head on June 30, 2006 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

brian, you forgot about sexual orientation, religious indoctrination, meat consumption per anum, their relationship with their father, their financial status, and the last time they had oral satisfaction. When I read an article on Iraq I want to know whether I'm turning gay, being converted, or wasting my time reading what a fruity vegan chicken hugger thinks. If they praise Murtha is it just because they think he's a cute piece of ass? If they support Bush is it just because they belong to an apocalyptic cult? If they applaud the progress in Iraq is it just because the endangered Tigris snail darter has more habitat?

The media's ulterior motives go far beyond your black and white Bush lover/Bush hater vision of the world.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

Brian,

I think you're right in saying that Bill O'Reilly doesn't want to be pigeonholed into being labeled a conservative. I tend to think he's of a much more Libertarian stripe. Sort of an "a la carte" conservative they can throw up there at 8:00 and get ratings. The reason that Fox News keeps saying they're "Fair and Whatever" is that they don't want the Rubes to be able to break through the sheen and see that the network is nothing more than the media arm of the RNC. The false pretense is built-in there for a reason.

Besides, Bill O'Reilly has no jouralistic credibility. He's not a reporter, and he ignores facts whenever whenever he likes.

I know when I want the real deal I go to E.D. Hill, Brian Kilmeade, and fading ex-weatherman Ducey whoever. Fox & Friends rocks! Have three bigger clowns ever appeared on TV?

There's a reason that people think the NYT is "liberal". That's because conservatives have been shouting that battle cry for 30 years, and it's certainly not going to stop anytime soon.

Shouldn't we be reading and listening to journalists who are dedicated to the facts and the truth? As a viable democracy, isn't that where we start to form our opinions about everything?

I'll put it this way, would you trust Karl Rove to explain to you how a lawful election might work?

Posted by: FuzzFinger on June 30, 2006 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

The debate over "objectivity" vs "fair and balanced"
reminded me of an excerpt from the (pants-wettingly
hysterical) Unitarian Jihad Manifesto:

> We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called
> commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions
> of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance"
> by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring
> non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

I couldn't agree more. If "objectivity" is a myth, "fair and
balanced" is a worse myth. As Colbert sez, Fox gives you both sides
of an issue -- the president's side and the vice-president's side.

As for partisan journalism like in the good ol' pre-consensus
theory, pre-WW2 and media consolidation days -- it already exists.

It's called blogs.

I think we'd lose much if, e.g., the NYT dropped its measured tone.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on June 30, 2006 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

"Ezra Klein suggests that although overt ideology might be OK, "A bunch of partisan outlets would be a problem."

Kevin, where have you been? We already have a partisan press. The press has a pro corporate bias, promoting the interests of its owners which lean republican. What is missing is Dem leaning new organs. Dem leaning FOX, WSJ, Washingon Times.......

Posted by: Nan on June 30, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

I enjoy partisan hackery, of left, right, Democratic and Republican, and extremists. That's why I come here.

The most insidious form of hackery posing as "objectivity" is simply to ignore embarrassing stories. NYTimes, for examaple, isn't looking hard at representative (D, W. VA.) Alan Mollohan, and complementary claims could be made about omissions by Republican leaning news sources.

The cure for partisan hackery is to read the partisan hacks of all points of view.

Posted by: republicrat on June 30, 2006 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

FuzzFinger:

Tend to agree with your comments -- but one note.

O'Reilly ain't no Libertarian. He's a populist social conservative who gets most exercised by issues like child molestation, and loves little more than bashing advocates for free speech and the rights of the accused.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on June 30, 2006 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

libra,

Much of the language used to make up the headlines we see are editorial decisions. That is, editors, not the reporters who write the stories, choose what headlines we see. Upon reading them, you may or may not deem them as something as worthy of your time. And many times they're completely unrepresentaive of what lies beneath in the actual article (I find this all the time with AP articles). The headline isn't placed their to inform you, it's their to sell you on the story.

In getting back to the root of the discussion here, I can say I'm all in favor of national broadsheets that hew to a certain ideological view, as long as they're not sprinkled with the ravings of Ken Mehlman or Karl Rove, or that confirmed shitmouth Bob Shrum either.

God Bless America.

Posted by: FuzzFinger on June 30, 2006 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Bob:

I think you've nailed Bill-O to a T. He's the populist scourge. The Plentee-Plaint in 6 foot form. Bye Bill....

Posted by: FuzzFinger on June 30, 2006 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

In regard to "Partisan Hackery:" Having opinions should not deter a people from subjecting everything they believe to serious doubt and scrutiny. When anyone ceases to doubt themselves, and the meaning of the data, that is the instant when everything they believe is most doubtworthy.

This means that practitioners in our adversalial legal system, should pay more than lip service to being an officer of the court and seeking truth, rather than a victory.

This means that liberal papers like the nyt should have contrarian voices that engage every issue. And equally the national review. Fox should have to debate CBS when their coverage differs.

This means that Congress should have real debates and air all views.

It means that no religious point of view should be enforced or scorned by government.

That means that political contests should have a forum where all candidates can speak to their consituency without prohibitive expense and voters should scorn evasion and politicians who do not show up for debates and speak substantively about the issues and encourage follow-up questions.

Impossible dream!

Posted by: frank logan on June 30, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

yes it was.

Posted by: mestizo on June 30, 2006 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

What never ceases to amaze about the current critique of objectivity is how conservatives -- those tireless champions of moral clarity about the core values of our civilization -- have co-opted relativism to flummox liberals on their own turf.

Objectivity in journalism certainly isn't what most of us thought it was in the 50s (though the debate got started at the turn of last century with Max Weber's "fact/value distinction"). As we all acknowledge now, there are institutional biases. There are business perogatives and interests of the advertisers. And journalism as a profession tends to attract people with certain habits of thought; reporters and editors are also human beings with values and emotions.

Funnily enough, this perception -- which we're hearing so stridently now out of the mouth of righties like brian -- grew out of the leftist academic critique of institutions, which began in the 50s and probably reached its apotheosis with Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent.

Chomsky -- hehehe. Isn't the irony just delicious? :)

And -- as right wingers, dumb motherfuckers that they are -- have taken this critique to an absurd extreme. "Objectivity" is not an absolute. Rather, it's like scientific accuracy -- a goal to be striven for asymptotically. There are without question concrete criteria for objectivity which comprise much of professional standards in journalism: Factual accuracy, proper use of sourcing, un-coded language and rhetorical decorum.

But even those criteria can't be chiseled into lapidary absolutes. Huge controversies rage over the proper use of anonymous sources. The wrong set of adjectives can set people off into an orgy of speculation on the biases of reporter so-and-so.

But none of this somehow demonstrates that these standards don't exist in a meaningful way in the newsroom, or that objectivity -- as one value among other perogatives -- doesn't fulfil a useful function in separating out fact from fiction and rumor from truth.

But wingnuts, with their vastly funded PR apparatus, have managed to cast a deathly pall over the very possibility of "objective journalism." Again, if they knew this idea was perfected by Chomsky, they'd crap their drawers. Why? Don't right-wingers believe in standards? The possibility of objective truth? What ... have they all been reading Foucault and Derrida at the 19th hole over martinis?

What they've done is to make it impossible for any major, well-respected news organization to break a story critical of their interests without somebody going WELL THAT'S ONLY YOUR OPINION.

And they're banking on the fact that since their organs of news and opinion are better-funded and thus more ubiquitous than ours -- that they'll ultimately win the debate through volume alone.

What's truth got to do with it, anyway, eh.

There is nothing quite so culturally corrosive than a bunch of radical relativists with bottomless bank accounts.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on June 30, 2006 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, er, what exactly is the "fiction" of objectivity? If you don't believe in objectivity, I suggest you take a physics or math course. Or spend some time around the courts.

Science and our legal system are both triumphs of objectivity.

Perhaps somebody's falling prey to an old fallacy that goes like this:

No one is perfectly objective
Therefore:
No one is at all objective
Therefore:
Objectivity is impossible

Once the argument's laid out like that, I trust no one needs to have its weaknesses explained, but if you do, see Bob's sketch of an explanation above. Objectivity is a matter of degree. The point is to get more of it.

We've achieved an amazing degree of objectivity in an amazing number of domains. There's a long way to go--a VERY long way to go in politics and journalism--but we've done fairly well for a bunch of turbo-monkeys hardwired for nothing more abstract than survival on the savannah.

As Bob points out above, though not in so many words, relativism is the last refuge of scoundrels. The radical left has invoked it for years, and now the right is partaking, too.

Heck, why not just opt for radical skepticism? I'm not certain that I'm not a brain in a vat, so I needn't worry about any of this stuff anyway.

Posted by: Winston Smith on July 1, 2006 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't "Eli's Coming" a song by Three Dog Night, c. 1970?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on July 1, 2006 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

It is entirely possible to hold a partisan opinion and produce decent journalism. REAL journalists let the chips fall where they may (e.g. the liberal Bernstein and the conservative Republican Woodward taking out the felon Nixon) Faux journalists grind their partisan ax and are not practicing journalism at all. They're purveying propaganda (e.g. all Fox News reporters). The modern let's-be-fair reporters, the SCLM, corrupt their journalism in an attempt to achieve ``balance'' and mollify right-wing critics who have no interest in balance in the first place. It's none of anybody's business what side of the political fence a reporter or editor is on as long as the story's right.

Posted by: secularhuman on July 1, 2006 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, that was fun. Thank you, Kevin.

Posted by: buddy66 on July 1, 2006 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

Donald From Hawaii:

I dunno if Three Dog Night recorded it (tend to doubt it, because it's an ode to a male heartbreaker) -- but Laura Nyro both wrote it and recorded it in the early 70s.

I think her version was the hit.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

Winston: This post is pretty obviously about objectivity as it applies to political reporting, not its application to science or law. Sheesh.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 1, 2006 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

Laura Nyro shoulda had the hit, but it was indeed Three Dog Night who took "Eli's Coming" to #10 at the tail end of '69.

Kevin, what the hell are you doing this far down the comments page? Never let it be said again that you don't read the comments...

Posted by: dr sardonicus on July 1, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

..."the tail end of '69"...holy shit...

Get there Eli!

Posted by: dr sardonicus on July 1, 2006 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin?

Was that really you? You're snarking at a commenter for going ... off topic?

My goodness, that's the first remotely moderator-esque comment I've ever seen you make.

I have to side with Winston here, and not only because he reinforced my initial points about the conservative co-optation of relativism as a critique of objectivity.

If the point in the Tapped piece was whether or not to junk objectivity in journalism -- a counterargument might start by defending objectivity's relevance.

Science and law are two good examples.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

At the risk of getting too philosophical, I think there's a reason why it's fair game to draw science and law (e.g.) into a discussion of objectivity in journalism.

I don't believe it's possible to attack objectivity -- in journalism or in any other field -- without implicitly attacking the notion of a centered, trans-observable truth.

You really think there's no connection between the right-wing attack on objective journalism and the "teach the controversy" strategy to advocate Intelligent Design?

"We're an empire now. We create our own reality."

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 2:13 AM | PERMALINK

As a European journalist, I think I speak for a majority over here when I express bemusement at the premise of this whole debate. Firstly, the black-and-white world you guys speak of, in which Europe has "openly slanted" journalists while American journalists are "objective" simply does not exist. ( We in Europe always marvel out how soft and unquestioning your media is. Election 2000, anyone? Where is your modern-day Mencken? Or rather, why are your Mencken equivalents slammed rather than feted?)
But rather than get embroiled in the well-worn elements of this non-debate, let me suggest that you are missing the real story here. What's happening in America is that you journalists, and your art, are serving as a touchstone for a much larger national political metamorphosis. That is, US voters generally, it seems, are choosing to definitively nail their colours to particular political masts, and are happy to abandon the policy of judging issues on their particular merits in favour of blindly supporting a party line. This leaves us all, media and public, open to the the real threat - those who practice spin as a living. Instead of recognising the broader issue, you media guys seem determined to turn this into an exercise in navel-gazing. You shouldn't. Sure, ultimately you will probably have to face a different market place, influenced by how the newly politicised readership wants its news delivered.
But if the market starts calling for more Fox clones, does that mean you will all lose your "objectivity"? No. We in Europe still like to think of ourselves as objective, if human, journalists, even if our papers espouse a political line. And no matter how convenient it is for you guys to characterise European media as you do, you are no different. A good example of the principle is evident in your own Wall Street Journal. Right wing through and through in editorial tone, staffed by mainly "objective" journalists doing the best they can.

Posted by: billy on July 1, 2006 at 2:22 AM | PERMALINK

billy:

Good post. My European friends have made the same point. Having an acknowledged political line doesn't automatically preclude objectivity -- which if it truly died out, journalism would devolve into nothing more than polemics.

As for the WSJ, there's pretty much a firewall between their editorial page and their news coverage -- to the extent that they offer their opinion free on the net (opinionjournal) while putting their news coverage behind a paywall.

Sort of TimesSelect in reverse.

Now I don't read any news from the WSJ (or opinions, for that matter -- blech), but can't you say the same thing about The Economist? A fine magazine with honest reporters, yet which consistently tows a neoliberal (or in European parlance, liberal) line?

If that's indeed what you meant, then yes, agreed.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 2:36 AM | PERMALINK

My idea of a transaparently partisan press to some extent would be analogous to two lawyers arguing to a judge, with the lawyers being like reporters and the judge being like the public readership. The judge knows the bias of each lawyer, but the lawyers need to convince him of the "truth," so they must present credible arguments. It is not a perfect analogy, but it shows how a partisan press could respectfully present the facts to readers in a much better way than the current use of "objectivity" to hide bias.

Another partial anology would be how an opinion columnist, such as George Will sometimes and Kevin Drum sometimes, earns more respect and credibility by agreeing with someone on the other side, e.g., Will agreeing with a liberal or Kevin agreeing with a conservative.

Posted by: brian on July 1, 2006 at 3:19 AM | PERMALINK

brian:

Brian, we already have that model. It's called the marketplace. Fox beats out CNN in the ratings.

Does that mean that Fox is more accurate, that its analysis is more insightful, that it digs up more facts, that's it's in short ... better journalism?

Not necessarily. It *does* mean that Fox is more skilled at flattering the preconceptions of its audience.

Objectivity is a threat to this model. Because what's objectively true isn't dependent on it being the most commercially successful.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

bob,

I don't think the fact that Fox gets 2,000,000 views and CNN gets about 800,000 tells us much. One of the reasons I like O'Reily's show and Carlson's show is that they let liberals have their say in a mostly intelligent discussion.

Posted by: brian on July 1, 2006 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

brian:

Do you ever wonder why Alan Colmes looks like a space alien?

Do you think that was an *accident*?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 3:39 AM | PERMALINK

brian:

Seriously, "fair and balanced" isn't a producer who gets his marching orders from Roger Ailes booking guests from a pundit pool that ranges from tepidly moderate to frothingly outta control right wing.

The genuine liberal guests on O'Reilly are *foils*. They're there to be shouted down and skewered, not have anything *remotely* resembling "intelligent discussion" -- where they could, actually, have equal time to make their points.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

brian,

Sometimes reporters don't have a horse in the race (regardless of their voting record or party registration). . . and George Will or Kevin Drum (or John McCain or Joe Leiberman) shouldn't get points for simply agreeing with someone on "the other side". Honest people frequently have views that don't mesh with a single party's platform. Dishonest and manipulative people frequently support an opponent's arguments as a debate tactic or in order to gain an aura of objectivity for what they see as more significant partisan aims. Again, the world is not black and white.

Kevin,

The nation is increasingly more partisan than biased. One of these parties claims that academia, science, law school graduates, and journalists are against them. Considering the circumstances, there is a fine line between requiring respected journalists doing there best to write unbiased prose to declare their various affiliations and preferences and requiring the same of climate scientists, supreme court nominees, evidence experts, etc.

Requiring such declarations is simply a means of implying bias in a professional's work. As the people pushing such declarations are generally partisan hacks and the people being attacked generally have a track record of professionalism -- the whole discussion does absolutely no good.

Journalism is only worth while when it attempts to go after objective truth. Two partisan groups exaggerating, accentuating, omitting, and lying about events to further their own cause is not be the equivalent of professional journalism and would not result in a more informed electorate.

Solomon should not hand over objective journalism (or science or law) to an individual that doesn't believe in objectivity. It won't survive. To the extent that it already has been, it is suffering greatly.

Posted by: B on July 1, 2006 at 4:06 AM | PERMALINK

B:

Yep.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

"Get there Eli" is no more mysterious today than "You go girl" will be 120 years from now.

Posted by: Simon on July 1, 2006 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Simon:

Well, perhaps. But it's important to note how different those expressions are in cultural and political subtext. In a sense they are similar, because each of them has a subtext that contradicts their overt meaning.

(As a former American studies major, I love this stuff.)

"Get there, Eli!" is the rallying cry of self-reliance. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It lurks within every Horatio Alger novel, where the plucky poor lad eschews drink and idle pleasure, works his butt off, and -- with the indispensible help of a tycoon who, while employing him, sees the urchin's inner character -- winds up making a gazillion dollars, too.

"Get there, Eli!" is also precisely the rallying cry that steel, railroad and oil barons of the Gilded Age would like to hear out of the working class. Because this way, when the vast majority of them *didn't* "get there, Eli!", their conciences were clear as many died toothless in flophouses. Obviously those working-class failures didn't have what it takes -- that all-important inner character -- to "get there, Eli!" A deeply reactionary sentiment underneath the charm of its surface optimism.

"You go, girl!" is kind of similar in that it's also devoid of any genuine progressive content. It arose in the post-feminist era; it could be applied to the wearing of a snazzy new pair of shoes as it could to a step up in the career ladder. (And no self-respecting first-wave feminist would allow herself to be called "girl" as part of a rallying cry.) It came, of course, from black lingo (where "girl" has always been flattering). It has a certain degree of genuine charm; self-assertion in women is a good thing. But politically it's rather vacuous.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 1, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

He became a populist...good for him.

Posted by: Neil' on July 1, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

bob,

My guess is you don't watch O'Reily much. He has intelligent liberals who get to say their piece. And Fox generally has liberals who are smart and assertive -- Estrich, Williams, Bob Bechel, Wesley Clark. and others. He also is generally respectful.

Combs does lose a lot, but not for a want of trying. He often has a bad hand to play (in part because of the subjects he tries to defend). Hannity also is quite good in that format -- he hammers talking points relentlessly and controls the debate.

Posted by: brian on July 1, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

It's Colmes, for god's sake. He's such a sterling liberal you don't even know how to spell his name. And Estrich? Give me a break. Hannity's another low-watt right-wing bully. There's nothing worth watching on Fox, least of all O'Reilly.

Posted by: secularhuman on July 1, 2006 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

Someone drew an analogy with the legal system earlier, and it's an interesting digression. Is the law any more "objective" than the media? Can all judges be expected to make the same decision, given the same evidence?
As a species, we can only try to lay down guidleines as to what we believe in and what we wish to achieve, and hope to succeed despite our own worst excesses. Lord Denham, a key figure in British law, once famously suggested that the closest we could hope to come to a fair decision is to consider what "the man riding the Clapham omnibus" would consider reasonable. The point being, there is no objectivity, and the best we can achieve, a solution agreeable to the average person, is the diligent application of our own mutually agreed principles. (which is why it's so galling to see your president ride roughshod over your own constitution, surely the noblest statement of principle ever committed to paper.)

Posted by: billy on July 2, 2006 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

The analogy to the legal system was that the judge should be viewed by analogy like the consumer of information from the media and the lawyers should be viewed by analogy like the media. The judge knows that the lawyers are biased, so the judge can take that into account in receiving information from them and the lawyers have an incentive to be credible and straightforward with the judge, because they know that the judge knows their bias.

So if a New York Times reporter had full disclosure about his political preferences (historically and currently), the reader could take that into account and the reporter would be highly motivated to still demonstrate his intergrity and credibility.

Reporters pretend to be objective when they are not, so rather than withhold their political leanings from the reader, they should disclose them.

Part of Keller's problem at the Times is that no one really believes him when he claims that his decision about publishing classfieid national security information was not affected by his politics. Among informed readers, the jig is up about folks like Keller really being objective about what they do. It is one of the real contributions that the internet has made to our society. The facade of objectivity by powerful liberal media players has been destroyed. Folks like Keller probably don't recognize it, so the opportunity is there for a creative newspaper to jump on the full disclosure idea and start identifying the political preferences of staff at the paper.

Part of the reason Keller looks so foolish now is that he talks as though people believe that he is objective, when no intelligent and informed person believes that. I don't know for sure whether his bias affected his decision, but rather than claiming objectivity he should admit his negative view of the Bush administration and then make a forceful and persuasive argument as to why publication was justified. He cannot make that argument, so he falls back on his supposed good faith and objectivity.

Posted by: brian on July 3, 2006 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

brian:

brian, you seem like a sincere person, but you have completely drunk the right-wing Kool-Aid here. You are conflating concepts that are entirely separate.

First of all, you're the one who's looking to privilege ideological bias. The Wall Street Journal published the same set of facts as the NYT on the wire transfer issue. Somehow you aren't bashing them for "biased reporting." Gee, I wonder why.

The NYT is, and will always be, a more credible news source than NewsMax. CNN is more credible than Fox. This has nothing to do with ideological bias and everything to do with journalistic standards.

The NYT published Judith Miller's credulous WMD stories and pissed off the left to a fare-thee-well. They also held back the warrantless wiretapping story for a year, when publishing it immediately might've had an effect on an election. So you can't fairly accuse their news division (editorial page is another story, of course) of having a consistent anti-Bush agenda when publishing controversies arise -- as they always will in a free press, because these decisions are judgment calls.

Upholding journalistic standards is not a pretense of objectivity. Nobody believes that absolute objectivity exists -- but absolute objectivity is a straw man created by the right-wing media critique for the sole purpose of knocking it down. Anybody with a brain knows the NYT has an institutional slant, as does the WSJ, as does the CSM, LAT, WaPo, etc. etc. Their reputations have exactly zero to do with "liberal deception" and everything to do with a respect for facts.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on July 3, 2006 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Someone said O'Reily and others at Fox hide that they are conservatives and republicans. I can understand why some fols don't like O'Reily, but he is pretty straightforward about his political positions. He does resist calling himself a conservative, because he explains that on stuff like capital punishment he is not for it. He denies that he is a republican, which is probably technically true, but my point is not to try to make media declare themselves the member of a party but rather who they voted for, intend to vote for, and their stand on political issues (e.e., death penalty, campaign financing, abortion etc.), which guys like O'Reily do. Even the other guys at Fox don't seem to make any effort to hide their conservative leanings.

我向大家推荐:您想要了解 注册公司 吗?请到中国注册公司网来寻找注册公司。中国 注册公司 网,打造注册公司领域专业搜索平台,提供全球注册公司品牌公司及产品展示。中国 条码打印机 网,打造条码打印机领域专业搜索平台,提供全球条码打印机品牌公司及产品展示。北京 拓展训练 厂向广大客户提供拓展训练产品及拓展训练服务。注册公司 网上批发市场,为您提供优质低价的注册公司,丰富注册公司行业资讯助您成交。注册公司 网上批发市场,为您提供优质低价的注册公司,丰富注册公司行业资讯助您成交。

Posted by: sam on July 3, 2006 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly