Blogs will save us from objective journalism.

June 28, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

Bill O’Reilly hates the blogosphere. He hates many things, of course, among them Pepsi, rapper Ludacris, a wide array of conventional media outlets, and even some of his own guests. But today I focus on an entire media outlet that O’Reilly labels as biased, lacking in evidence, and in large part sensationalized: political blogs.

Of course, O’Reilly doesn’t oppose online journalism on his own. Even more mainstream news anchors (if you can call Mr. O’Reilly a news anchor) tend to scoff and roll their eyes at the notion of “the blogosphere” or the opinions expressed over the internet. O’Reilly has led the most outspoken movement against internet editorialism, though. In June of 2003, Bill had this to say about bloggers:

“Nearly everyday, there’s something written on the Internet about me that’s flat out untrue…the reason these net people get away with all kinds of stuff is that they work for no one. They put stuff up with no restraints. This, of course, is dangerous…”

By July of 2005, the “blogosphere” had become a common slang term for the mainstream news media, and became the focus of one episode of O’Reilly’s Factor program:

“Personal attacks lodged through the internet! How are so-called “Web logs” being used as ideological weapons? And who’s behind the smear campaigns? We’ll have a No Spin look at a dangerous new weapon in the culture wars!”

But as “dangerous” as these “weapons in the culture wars” may seem to some, online outlets such as Media Matters and Think Progress have called O’Reilly out on lies, poor interviewing tactics, poor taste, and misinformation nearly countless times. With the exception of Al Franken, who shook his finger at the Fox News Channel host for claiming to have earned a Pulitzer when he earned a Peabody, who in a conventional setting has held this raging ideologue to any standards?

Indeed, who holds Fox New Channel to any standards? We all know that this horrendously slanted news network carries bias under its weak claim of “We Report, You Decide”, but only by inspecting it critically ourselves. Occasionally the Channel receives an obvious attack from the likes of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, but in the mainstream news, silence.

Meanwhile, the Fox News talking heads delight in accusing their rivals in television and print of clear, corrupted liberal bias. The moderately liberal press goes about its way without a response, still maintaining its own facade of near-objectivity. Fox can openly claim pure truth while disseminating spin, so deeply does the rest of news media fear seeming overly catty or slanted. Why does moderate liberal media, like moderate liberalism in general, lack backbone?

At some point, after Hunter S. Thompson and the movement of personally-influenced, “gonzo journalism”, bias became a sin to news sources. Opinion now seems un-newsworthy, and reporting cannot come to a conclusion or have a decisive point, even if all evidence points in one direction. It makes sense at some level, of course. We all want the truth rather than spin, right? The second an individual’s view comes into reporting, that destroys the pure truth, right? It seems that this philosophy lead to the fever for “Fair and Balanced”, and for reporters of every stripe striving for objectivity.

But beneath the veneer of a detached reporter, bias still necessarily lies. As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “How can you be objective about Nixon? About Clinton?” As the author of their own work, a journalist still chooses which facts to include and omit, whom to interview, which quotes to use, and how to use them. No one can ever include the full array of perspectives to create a truly objective article. This gives us a news media wherein faux-objectivity can flourish, where a reporter can claim utter honesty but construct a very calculated presentation underneath.

Except on the internet. Political bloggers write in a way much like a decent full-time editorial writer: expressly opinionated, proudly biased. Rather than seeing an opinion as a gaping flaw, a blogger celebrates personal thoughts and observations. If a blogger has an opinion, they write with the purpose of relating it, spreading it, and typically building it with sources and logic. All of the successful political blogs feature opinion balanced with fact in this way: Wonkette, Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos, and so on. A successful blog journalist thrives on their stance, and manages to bring constructive criticism to their writing as well, making an interesting and intellectual overall presentation. The average journalist for a paper or news outlet must hide the element of their own thought, to the extent that it kills any sense of voice, opinion, or human authorship- all for the sake of appearing unbiased, which Fox viewership demonstrates many peopld don’t want.

O’Reilly claimed that the problem with blogs lies in that bloggers “work for no one” and “have no restraints”. But for that very reason blogs work. The independence and the blissfully admitted biases create an invaluable check on the rest of the news media, and simultaneously provide authentic reporting with stances both obvious and rational.


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Current Events, Media, Recommended Reading/Films/Sites, Uncategorized, Web Site, Writing

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Public communication is severely dysfunctional. Why do I say this? Because politicians, corporate spokespeople and mainstream journalists don’t publicly communicate with the same as they privately communicate. In public, they are incredibly measured, stilted, and yet hopelessly vague. Nobody (and I mean nobody) communicates like this with their trusted friends in private. If I tried to talk like this with my friends, even for ten minutes, they’d disown me.

    Herculean attempts to be unbiased, washed as they are with corporate advertising dollars and corporate political contributions, are so fundamentally lacking in voice as to be dishonest. The mainstream media has turned into something like this: we are going to go to some trouble to tell you part of a story, but we’re not going publicly disclose the punchy version, the version with a real voice or a version with a passionate perspective that shows whether, how or why they actually give a damn.

    When they are no longer in the public spotlight, politicians, corporate spokespeople, and journalists all talk differently. They privately talk with each other like the rest of us talk.  Anyone who deals with any of these sorts of people in private knows this.

    I blame big corporate money (which is thoroughly woven to federal political power) for this immense disconnect between public and private dialogue. Although journalists and politicians present their polite and “unbiased” ways to us as their attempts to be unbiased or “professional,” this explanation is usually a façade and a cop-out. How could it be otherwise, given the MSM’s silence in the face of the long parade of misdeeds and lies of the current administration? The president has taken at least 100 major positions that should have had the media after him like a wild pack of dogs. A justifiably wild pack of dogs. I’m referring to Bush's lies regarding global warming, stem cells, domestic spying, intelligent design, Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. The media should have run Bush out of town a long time ago but, with very few exceptions, they’ve politely sat on their hands.  They present the world to us as inexorable insanity instead of doing their job of putting the spotlight on genuinely intelligent people (not extremists) who speak for the people in this country who work hard to move past the MSM to stay informed.

    I don’t know who’s going to save the ignorant public from this terrible situation. An unleashed media could save us, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    In my opinion, listeners and readers respect genuinely passionate voices backed up with facts, but they simpply aren't getting solid information packaged in this straightforward and understandable way. Bloggers have stepped up valiantly, though most bloggers lack the fact-finding resources of the mainstream media. Fact-finding is critically important, but drilling down to demonstrate the facts requires a lot of work. Bush can easily claim that he fulfilled his guard duty, for instance, while (due to the destruction of evidence and that fact that the evidence is controlled by Bush himself) it takes immense effort to dig out hundreds of documents to show the lies.

    Erika, I believe that the best approach lies in the direction you have suggested, though I am not at all clear on the details of how this will be accomplished in an environment so incredibly contaminated by big corporate money.

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