Friday, August 26, 2005

Taking the Fight to the Right

The new unabashedly and zealously political right-wing/conservative media explosion, whether on the television, radio or the Internet, with its admixture of opinion and reporting, facts and spin, is motivated by the conviction that all journalism, one way or another, is political—and this fact should be made transparent, says Hugh Hewitt, the subject of Nicholas Lehmann's article in the New Yorker, titled "Right Hook: Going After the Liberal Media." (The actual article is as yet unavailable online. Hewitt mentions the article on his blog here.) Sometimes journalism fares better by our forgetting this, at least temporarily, but the enemies of so-called liberal and mainstream media wish to remind us of this fact 24/7. Journalism is a battle, always, and one is obliged to pick sides, to decide who is Christ and who is Satan. In turn the competitors justify their arguments and try to deny the other party's goodness and legitimacy.

This sounds true enough, but in fact it is empirically false and morally unsound. Just as juries are prepared to be fair and instructed to retain the presumption of innocence unless convinced otherwise, so there is room for fairness in journalism. This is not a political or moral judgment, but a very practical social stance. But by Hewitt's basic assumptions and outlook, the jury is inherently partisan, period, and it would be quite digusting to think otherwise. Hewitt's sin is not only that he denies that there are two sides to every question, but he would deny us our right to hear about both sides and our right to choose (don't get me wrong, this is not to say that Intelligent Design creationism should be taught in science classes, that is quite a different matter). If journalists are not allowed to be objective, to point out the, say, good and evil results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then why should anyone not of their political persuasion sit down to read what they say?

Journalists, while they might be wrong, should and often do their best not to be biased. Even Hewitt's blogosphere ally praises this virtue in Lehmann's article, and yet can't see the problem with Hewitt's ideas about journalism.

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