A 2009 story in The New York Times about a dispute involving Fox News described the cable network as "a channel with a reputation for having a conservative point of view in much of its programming." Join the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #NRTruth
That phrase "with a reputation" put the reporter, and the newspaper, at arm's length from the fact that the Fox News Channel does have a conservative point of view, and proudly so.
What was the purpose of that distancing phrase?
A 2011 New York Times article, typical of many others, referred to Jared Loughner as "the man accused of opening fire outside a Tucson supermarket." Whether the Tucson shooter is guilty of murder is a legal question, but there is no question at all about his identity as the man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people. We don't have to say "accused of"—he did the deed in front of dozens of witnesses.
I'm not picking on the Times—the newspaper I read most carefully as well as the place I worked for 40 years. And although it is attacked, most often from the right but not infrequently from the left, for various kinds of bias, it actually, in both its performance and its ideals, epitomizes the commitment of mainstream journalism to the goals of fairness and objectivity.‘We may not have a journalism of truth because we haven't demanded one,' the cultural critic Neal Gabler wrote in response to the media's performance in covering the health care debate.
This is nothing new. Adolph Ochs, the founding publisher of the modern New York Times, whose byword was "without fear or favor," believed that a responsible newspaper should "report all sides of a controversial issue, and let the reader decide the truth," according to a reminiscence written a couple of years ago for internal distribution to the Times staff.
In this article, I will raise some questions about the assumption behind that credo, as well as the utility, in this media-saturated and cynical age, of the siren call of "fairness and objectivity."
Inside the profession of journalism, there has been a lively debate going on for years over whether the "he said, she said" format, designed to avoid taking sides on contentious issues, impedes rather than enhances the goal of informing the reader.
This debate comes up most often during political campaigns, and many press critics and commentators have pointed out how superficial and subject to manipulation that format can be in the context of a campaign. For that reason, many news organizations now publish or post "fact-check" boxes that vet the accuracy of political ads or of candidates' assertions during debates.