10.24.2004I had a conversation last night with the editor of the school newspaper, about the state of journalism and journalistic integrity. Apparently a few years ago there was some really just tragic racial shootings by a white supremacist who was driving through the midwest just letting minorities have it, and passed only a few miles from campus on his crusade. Tragic, heartbreaking stuff, and the DI, which has been known for running ads of an anti-semetic nature, decides to publish a series of letters on the issues involved and such. They published around 40 of these letters to the editor, running the gambit all up and down the spectrum.
The last letter they ran was a particularly gruesome example of racism and zionist conspiracy theory.
So I am at this party last night, and I am drunk and high, and I run into the editor who decided to run this article, and he was cornered talking to one of the more obnoxious of the grad students, talking about like marxism and the failures of capitalism, you know, like the kind of conversations subversives would have had a good 40 years ago but is just passe nowdays. And so anyway, I try to butt in on the conversation, because my extent of knowledge about journalism comes from Hunter S. Thompson, which isn't exactly hard hitting stuff, so I ask him about what kind of journalism theory he gets in his classes, and he says 'well theory is practiced in the newsroom', which is a good, practical answer, but I decided to press on and see if he had anything to show for it.
So I push the idea of the philosopher king, with reference to the fact that perhaps it isn't journalist's responsibility to publish the various view points, or take opinion polls or whatever, in order to let the public make their own decision, because the public really isn't in any position to deliberate on the matter; but instead to actually figure out who is right and who is wrong and tell us, because after all they (the journalists) are the ones who are elbow deep in facts and whatever, and it seems like they are in a much better position to decide which is actually better.
I mean, you know, make no bones about it. State very clearly 'this is my criteria for judging, these are the facts, this is how my criteria would evaluate these facts, therefore this is what I think is right for the people'. Which is exactly what bad journalism doesn't do nowdays- instead you have "here is an out of context fact, here is what this known liberal said, here is what this known conservative said, here is this piece of dirty laundry that might be tangentially relevant. YOU DECIDE"
So apparently this journalist guy is used to fending off attacks that 'journalists aren't objective', so he starts off saying 'of course we aren't objective, we never claimed to be'. Which of course misses my criticism, because I am accusing him of not even trying to be objective. I am accusing him of trying to simply give a pluralism of view points and meaningless facts and expecting an ill-equiped public to do something with it. So I am suggesting, instead of saying 'we aren't objective' and taking that as a free pass to do whatever biased thing you want, perhaps you should actually strive towards objectivity in some meaningful sense. And sometimes that invoves telling people what is the truth and what is a lie, and sometimes it involves not letting certain views have equal play simply because they are opposing and you think that 'objectivity' means letting both sides complain.
So then he starts talking about the market place of ideas, and gives me this sob story about being crucified by a bunch of jews for running that anti-semetic letter during a panel discussion on 'free speech' that he had to give a lecture on. And he says that, in the interest of being objective, it is not for him to decide what is right and what is wrong, so he must publish all views.
I say, sure, figuring out what is right and wrong is hard in the average case, but in the case of crying zionist conspiracy and saying jews are inferior (or whatever) is a pretty open and shut case of 'bad'.
I have to go study, I'll be back.