of the most prized professional norms for journalists, particularly
the United States, is the preservation of neutrality in reporting.
While the concept of “objectivity” has fallen out of fashion among
mainstream reportage in recent years, related concepts that convey
a similar idea such as “impartiality” and “neutrality” have come to
replace it. In their mission statements and codes of ethics,
corporate and government owned outlets routinely proclaim the
importance of impartiality and balance, in the sanctified pursuit
of fair, unbiased reporting.
theory, this can be a healthy idea. Distinguishing between
so-called opinion or editorial versus neutral, down-the-middle
reporting –“objectivity” or “impartiality” can give the reader a
sense that a series of facts are being reported rather than some
fundamental problem is when this vaguely aspirational genre morphs
into an unchecked ideology––an ideology that requires one to think
we live in a world where said facts are curated and created outside
of long-existing power structures; that those who produce, on an
institutional scale, knowledge products via think tanks and
academic institutions are without bias. That journalistic
institutions, funded by large corporations and billionaires
themselves, don’t decide which neutral facts are important and
“Objectivity” that doesn’t calibrate power asymmetries
or attempt to account for its own institutional ideology isn’t a
mode of reporting, it’s conservative conditioning that––if not in
intent, in effect––does little more than advance prevailing ruling
class ideology. Indeed, anyone who’s ever studied marketing or PR
or propaganda will tell you the most effective messaging is that
which appears unbiased and impartial.
today’s show, we’ll examine how objectivity came to be a defining
principle of Western journalism and how U.S. media’s understanding
of impartiality provides an urbane veneer for racism, homophobia,
anti-poor policies and other reactionary currents.