It is “trendy” in contemporary journalist ethics to eschew objectivity as an unattainable ideal, a damper on journalists.
In a way, this is rational. The veneer of objectivity goes a long way towards exerting a subversive version of Truthful reporting which, when examined, carefully picks and chooses which facts it promotes, which stories and covers and, by exclusion which is invisible to the viewer, skews the narrative. Logically, keeping subjectivity in the open is better for viewers who then know they should be checking a media narrative against other sources.
Then, facts themselves are not objective. They are a positive, not a neutral, statement; they influence events in an absolute manner. But they can be woven together in a way that is subjective. And this is all the more dangerous because it appears objective. Case in point: the debate coverage.
Before every debate sponsored by both political parties in this election cycle, the host networks run an introductory production package. Replete with swelling music, touching images of sunrises, children playing and adults smiling, a deep emotive voice laments the challenges that face the country and talks hopefully of future promises.
The most recent Fox Business debate, for instance, opened (approximately 2:18 in video) with a description of how the race’s “twists and turns have captivated” the nation and noted the South Carolina primary was necessary to the success of the eventual nominee before touting a thriving industry and growing employment:
There are obvious problems here. First, the narrative surrounding economic stability and growth, even at a state level, rings hollow against plunging stock prices and the walking back of last month’s seemingly positive jobs report. Second is the network’s promotion of certain ideas: the importance of South Carolina, the fascination of the nation with the election. While these things may be true, they are facts subject to interpretation and contextual change. Nor is it the prerogative of the network to point them out. Put together, this frames the debate, creating a certain mindset in the viewer which will influence how they view the debate.
As yellow journalist Gail Wynand states in Ayn Rand’s epic “The Fountainhead”:
“News is that which will create the greatest excitement among the greatest number. The thing that will knock them silly. the sillier the better, provided there’s enough of them.”
That is precisely what is at play here. Ratings are driven by piquing interest in events, by heightening emotions. Any time this and information mix, there’s a danger that the facts will be overrun. When public opinion, which influences national policy and government action, is involved, this is a particularly exigent danger.