Sunday, October 5, 2008

object lessons in objectivity

It's about the methods, folks. Not some freakish sense of balance in the finished piece.

In class discussions on objectivity, I often quote something from a piece by Joshuah Bearman I found on alternet a few years back: "Contrary to dogma of J-schools across country, there are not always two sides to a story. Balance is often necessary and indispensable, but there are times when media might have to mediate a bunch of information and make a judgment. And in those instances, presenting contrasting information as if it’s equally important is, in fact, the false representation – more false than saying, 'I’ve gathered a lot of material and vetted it all, and here’s my assessment.'"

Take Sarah Palin's speech in SoCal on Saturday. She was quoted in the LA Times as characterizing Obama as someone who "pals around with terrorists". From the article: "Evidently there's been a lot of interest in what I read lately," she said. "I was reading today a copy of the New York Times. And I was really interested to read in there about Barack Obama's friends from Chicago. Turns out one of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist, that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the United States Capitol.' "

The LA Times piece balanced her claim thus: "The New York Times article, an investigation published Friday into whether Obama had a relationship with Ayers, concluded that the men were never close and that Obama has denounced Ayers' radical past, which occurred when Obama was a child. The article also said Obama 'has played down his contacts with' Ayers."

And then gave the Obama camp a chance to respond: "Gov. Palin's comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign's statement this morning that they would be launching Swift Boat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation's economic ills," said spokesman Hari Sevugan.

"In fact, the very newspaper story Gov. Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Sen. Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less 'pals,' and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was 8. What's clear is that John McCain and Sarah Palin would rather spend their time tearing down Barack Obama than laying out a plan to build up our economy."

Balanced, right? But objective? You decide. Here's the whole story from the New York Times to which Palin was referring.

One last exasperated riff: Today's "Lies, Half-Truths Outed" chart, a weekly compilation of campaign lies and misrepresentations in the San Francisco Chronicle, focused on Thursday's debate between Biden and Palin. Take a quick look at the chart and it appears as if both candidates lied and/or stretched the truth in equal measure. Really? What a coincidence. bk

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