Is Objectivity Even Possible in Journalism?

Rashomon-posterAs I write this, I’m in the midst of reading a back-and-forth between proponents of so-called “objective” journalism and what I call “emerging” journalism, a brand that doesn’t mind revealing its voice or point of view and relies a lot on online publication.

These two proponents are Glenn Greenwald, he of Edward Snowden NSA-leak fame, and Bill Keller, with whom I’m not familiar but who appears to be as “old school” as it gets when it comes to reporting. (To note as an aside: Greenwald has just been promised $250 million from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to spread Greenwald’s brand of “activist” journalism.)

If the company’s paywall doesn’t block you, you can read “Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?” in today’s New York Times.

My Perspective

Fresh out of the Navy and Vietnam, I got a job as a cub reporter for the defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, and I’ve been involved in journalism in its oh-so-many (some odious) forms since. Let me get to the bottom line: There is no such thing as objectivity in journalism, nor can there be. Merely by the selection of the stories they report, the media of our day reveal their bias. On top of that, the slant they give to these stories is definitely left-friendly. →

If you watched “60 Minutes” last night, you would’ve seen proof of  what Republican critics have been contending for more than a year — that the raid on Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, was a premeditated attack by al Qaeda, of which the administration not only had ample warning but also knowledge of on the day of the event. In no way was it a demonstration against an allegedly anti-Muslim video produced in (where else?) good ol’ Republican Orange County, California, as the administration claimed for days on end.

Did the media ever give credence to Republican claims? You can answer that one yourself.

As for being objective in reporting, let me pose a question: Is it necessary? Can’t we just pick and choose which side of each issue we agree with and read that group’s reporting? As it is, if you pick up a mainstream newspaper or watch a mainstream news broadcast, you’re getting only one side of the news — the filtered side that is favorable to any Democratic or left-leading government, state or federal.

As I stated earlier, I don’t believe objectivity is even possible, just as it is virtually impossible for “he without sin to cast the first stone.” If you want to see “objectivity” in action, watch a copy of “Rashomon,” Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 masterpiece about a murdered samurai and the testimonies in court of various characters who claim to seen or even done the dastardly act. The truth is only resolved when the voice of the dead samurai speaks through a medium. Or not.

Anyway, as “Rashomon” shows, even “eyewitness” accounts can be profoundly different,, yet all reveal part of the truth.

Can we expect reporters covering news stories to be any different than the eyewitnesses and principals in “Roshomon”? Can any two people actually see the same event in exactly unfold the same way?

That’s why I say — without taking sides in the debate between Greenwald and Keller — that objectivity in journalism is impossible. So why not just reveal your starting perspective and get on with it?

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