October 27th, 2008
A friend forwarded me Orson Scott Card’s recent essay Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?, in which Card complains about journalistic bias (in this case, concerning the causes of the mortgage loan crisis).
If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth — even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate.
Because that’s what honorable people do. Honest people tell the truth even when they don’t like the probable consequences. That’s what honesty means. That’s how trust is earned.
Card is a great science fiction writer (if you haven’t heard of him, go read Ender’s Game), but oddly, he seems to expect journalists to care about the truth.
I’m guessing he didn’t study journalism in school.
Professional journalists are trained to worry about “fairness”, not truth. Reality, they are told, is socially constructed, and there is no such thing as objective truth.
Fairness means reporting “both sides” of a story even when there are 3 or 4 sides, or when it’s obvious who is lying and who isn’t.
If journalists were interested in truth, they wouldn’t pretend to be impartial (they’re human, of course they have opinions of their own). Instead they’d openly admit their viewpoint and let the reader judge their arguments.
There are still countless newspapers in the US with “Republican” or “Democrat” in their title. I suspect the relatively high esteem which journalists enjoy is a legacy from the era when these newspapers were founded.
Before the rise of “professional” journalism in the middle of the 20th century, truth was assumed to exist (even if it was difficult to find), and publishers were proud to announce their political allegiance.