At least we're TALKING about media bias

At least we’re TALKING about media bias
Since I’ve been writing about this subject for over 10 years, I want to add my voice to those who’ve commented thus far about Tim Rutten’s Los Angeles Times column, “Fact or opinion? Yes, it really does matter.” The piece is important, because it advances the debate over whether an objective press is a) possible and b) desirable in a democracy.

At issue is the question being posed with increasing frequency by right- and left-wing partisans: Have the American media simply failed in their decades-long effort to separate facts from opinions and to make impartial reporting the governing ethic of their news columns? Or, alternatively, has American society’s changed nature simply made the whole project irrelevant?

This assault on the ethic of impartiality has two sources, one intellectual, the other social.

Firstly, it’s interesting to note Mr. Rutten’s use of the word “impartiality” as opposed to “objectivity.” The two aren’t necessarily synonymous, and this is a clever way of softening the discussion for the writer to make his points. As I’ve noted many times in the past, objectivity is the artificial hegemony governing the professional press. It is pure bullshit. There is no such thing. “Impartial?” Oh jeez. Where’s George Carlin when I need him? Secondly, Mr. Rutten’s notion that there are only two reasons to explain the current discourse is flawed, because it misses the ultimate reality that the concept of objectivity is a Modernist invention, and we live in Postmodern America. That’s why this is happening, not because the media has failed (although it has) or that society makes it irrelevant (although it, too, has). Tim, it never was real. It was an invention to create a sterile environment in which to sell advertising. It has nothing to do with reporting the news. That requires argument, backing up your assertions and assumptions, including the “why” of a story’s newsworthiness.

“It’s certainly true that we are now two Americas,” said CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, who is also a leading scholar of public opinion. “We’re seeing this with greater clarity as we move further into this election cycle. There is no attempt to find a center. On the left, the Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean, wants to purge the party of its centrists, to repudiate the ‘Third Way’ Bill Clinton advocated. On the right, not even President George W. Bush talks about compassionate conservatism anymore. Look at the bestseller lists. They’re dominated by people like Al Franken and Michael Moore on the left and Bill O’Reilly and Anne Coulter on the right.”

Our nonfiction literature, in other words, is today a shouting match.

This is absurd. As Jeff Jarvis notes, the American people are not Ann Coulter or Michael Moore. Jeff argues that the changes are occurring because people are demanding it. I agree, but here’s my take on the whole “divided country” suggestion. We’re not divided. We’re just changing, evolving if you will. Mr. Rutten takes a typically ignorant swipe at Postmodernism by painting it into an extremist corner.

Liberal and conservative intellectuals who have sipped more Kool-Aid than they realize from the post-modern punch bowl insist that because pure objectivity does not exist, only pure subjectivity remains.

Give the guy an F in debate. Pomos are extremists only in the minds of those who are extreme in the Modernist view — people like Mr. Rutten. It is the utter failure of Modernism to deliver on its promises that has given rise to Postmodernism, just as the science of Modernism replaced faith in the church many centuries ago. It is the cultural change that’s driving all of this angst over objectivity, so it’s much, much bigger than journalism.

Finally, Mr. Rutten argues that the revenues generated by objectivity’s sterile environment have been a boon to publishers, who have reinvested in newsgathering methodologies and technologies, and that we’re better off for it. I agree completely, but in saying this, he also reveals his ignorance about Postmodernism and the cultural shift. Pomos will gladly use the technological advances Modernism has given us, and nowhere in my view of the new world do I see a wish to dismantle science and technology. Postmodernism only demands that it take its rightful place, somewhere BENEATH God status.

I hope Mr. Rutten and others keep writing about this, because this discussion has been long overdue.

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