OPINION: Two-Party Politics Has Completely Destroyed Journalistic Integrity
Press and media reports of political affairs from different sources often differ so much that the average American cannot tell what really happened or whether the incident is truly important. For example, if all reporting sources are taken at face value, neither the purpose of the House committee that heard Hillary Clinton’s recent testimony nor her role or actions as secretary of state in the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya is understandable.
Some media outlets characterized the Republican-led House investigation committee as politically motivated to damage Clinton’s reputation and her run at the presidency. Others see the hearing as an honest effort to get new information and the truth, despite multiple prior congressional investigations.Some sources reported that the hearing and Clinton’s testimony were boring and offered nothing new. Other sources found Clinton’s testimony to be poised, professional, and truthful. Yet other sources found bombshell revelations that Secretary Clinton lied or distorted facts for political reasons, which allegedly raised serious questions about her judgment and her suitability to be commander-in-chief.
The various media reports were so contradictory that the media was almost completely useless as a source of information or unbiased insight (here, here, here, here, here, here). Partisans who like or are sympathetic to Clinton and her opponents could easily find content to reinforce their beliefs by simply relying on a proper source who “got the facts right”.
Open-minded people or objectivists, without a political axe to grind who simply want to know the unbiased truth are out of luck. For politics at least, objectivists have to somehow figure things out for themselves. Unfortunately, that is an impossible task. Too many things need figuring out and there is too much complexity.
Press treatment of Clinton’s questioning and her testimony is yet another example of how unconscious biases lead people, including people who generate press or media content, to see very different things in a given situation.
Most media outlets, especially partisan outlets, usually fall into one of the two endlessly warring sides for most political issues. Conservative outlets uniformly argued that Clinton’s testimony revealed her mendacity and her unsuitability for being president. Other media outlets saw it very differently. Shades of gray in reporting were limited.
Because that situation is the norm, finding objective truth in two-party American political rhetoric or American press-media content is hard. Facts and logic or common sense are subjective and in the eye of the beholder’s political-religious ideology. and that includes journalists and media content generators.
Subjective ideologies are potent known sources of fact and logic distortion. Personal ideological biases shape perceptions of reality. That aspect of normal human biology is the basis for most of the differences in how various media sources describe things.
Is this as good as it gets?
Could the American press do better for politics? Not under current circumstances. Spin, including nearly all lies, distortions and misinformation, is constitutionally protected free speech.
With free speech, a free press, politics dominated by subjective ideologies, and economic pressure to survive, media outlets will continue to see things very differently. Reporting on Clinton’s testimony, her interrogators’ true intent, and her role in Benghazi is a good example.
The situation may satisfy partisans on the left and right and it certainly makes the two-party system happy. Regrettably, chaos in media content doesn’t help objectivists looking for unbiased truth.Reporting on Clinton’s Benghazi situation from all sources cannot be objectively true, -- e.g., the House investigative committee could not be purely on a partisan witch hunt (the liberal perception of reality) and purely looking for truth (the conservative perception). One version of reality has to be more wrong than the other.
Is the effect of all press and media reporting beneficial or detrimental to an objectively defined conception of the public interest? Shockingly, that is not an easy call from an objective point of view. Partisans or subjectivists on both sides routinely accuse the other side and the media of being biased and spinning the truth (here, here, here, here).
It is possible that both sides could be substantially correct. Although some data suggests that Republicans spin significantly more than liberals, which presumably includes partisan journalists, fact checkers find a lot of misinformation in political rhetoric from both sides. One could therefore argue that despite a free press and freedom of speech, all the thunder and fury confers no net benefit to the public interest.
The press could do much better if it adopted a truly objective, nonpartisan, and less combative point of view about politics. That would appreciably decrease fact and logic distortion. This would require the press to largely abandon constraints from the subjective ideological points of view that now dominate politics and political thinking.
Since abandoning political subjectivity for most media sources is neither economically nor ideologically (psychologically) possible at present, objectivists looking for unbiased truth will remain on their own. From an objective point of view, it is fair and rationally defensible to conclude that press and media reporting on politics harms the public interest more than it helps.
Dissident Politics leaves it to professional educators to decide if the media gets a D or an F using a scale where a grade of C means a neutral overall impact on the public interest. Whether free speech spin or “dark speech” in politics deserves the same or maybe an F- for being incontestably awful is also open to debate.