Comment Of The Day: “On The Plus Side, At Least There’s No Reason To Hold Any Illusions That American Journalists Will Even Try To Be Ethical Journalists In The Foreseeable Future…”

No, the former CNN host of “Reliable Sources” isn’t necessarily the most biased, hypocritical and unethical journalist I could use to illustrate Curmie’s Comment of the Day but he is the most ridiculous, as the hack whom mean wags on the right call “Potato” regularly flaunted his biases while he was allegedly examining the ethics of his profession, a task he was spectacularly unqualified to perform. His real job, as anyone could discern after about five minutes of listening to him, was to obfuscate regarding his employer’s manifest breaches of fair and objective journalism, and to impugn CNN’s competition, especially Fox News, regularly calling the kettle black in strong terms.

When I read Curmie’s typically adept commentary, I realized that a regular reader here might be able to program a computer to write a response to an Ethics Alarms post on rotting journalism ethics (and, to be honest, many other recurring themes here) that I would almost be certain to select as a Comment of the Day. That would be unethical, of course, and I can vouch for the fact that Curmie isn’t a computer, having had the pleasure of meeting him in person.

Here is real, live, human being Curmie’s Comment of the Day on objectivity, subjectivity, the nature of bias, and the post,  “On The Plus Side, At Least There’s No Reason To Hold Any Illusions That American Journalists Will Even Try To Be Ethical Journalists In The Foreseeable Future…”


I dabbled in journalism as an undergrad. Admittedly, that wasn’t exactly last week: the newsroom was stocked with manual typewriters, if that gives you a rough idea. There was no journalism department, and, I believe, only a single introductory course–which virtually no one on the staff of the newspaper took. A bunch of my colleagues turned out okay, though: three that I worked with ended up in senior management positions: one with the Wall Street Journal, one with the International Herald Tribune, one with Newsweek.

I did some day editing, mostly on the arts page; I had a weekly column, and I did a little news reporting. I never sought an upper-level editorial position. It’s possible, perhaps even probable, I could have been arts editor if I’d really wanted the job; I didn’t.

But I did have a lot of conversations about journalism with some people who were subsequently to be very successful in that business. The consensus was that objectivity was a goal, but one it was impossible to achieve. The reasons for this were two-fold. First, you can’t entirely suppress your own life experience, perspectives, and (yes) prejudices. Second, you inevitably interpret the significance of events. If X happened and Y also happened, there are manifold ways of framing the story, using variations on the theme of “despite” or “therefore,” for example. Even saying “X and Y” instead of “Y and X” often betrays a bias.

The solution wasn’t to pretend to be objective, but rather to examine one’s own subjectivity. To use a hot topic in sports of late as an example: the winning field goal in the AFC championship game was set up by a personal foul penalty in the closing seconds. It was, depending on one’s personal perspective, either protecting the quarterback and a penalty that gets called virtually all the time, or a ticky tack foul that needn’t (shouldn’t) be called, especially under the circumstances. Both perspectives have some legitimacy, but even describing the call as “controversial” carries connotative meaning. Ultimately, though, ardent fans of either team are likely to view the events according to result rather than the event per se.

What we were told, all those many years ago, was to examine our own perspectives, then invert them, imagining what people who disagreed with us would think. Then, write the story about the points of agreement.

In other words, we were encouraged to examine our subjectivity as a means of counteracting it. Now, it appears, that paradigm has been completely inverted. Subjectivity is to be flaunted, while at the same time the claims to “truth” are bellowed louder than ever.

I did my MA in England. This was before the internet, and I didn’t have a TV, so my news sources were BBC radio and a local commercial station… and newspapers. I alternated back and forth between the Telegraph and the Guardian; the former leaned right and the latter leaned left. It became something of a game for me to guess what one would say about a story I’d read in the other. But both newspapers were reputable. Yes, there would be a little difference in the reporting, but if you only read one or the other, you’d be fine.

I don’t follow the English press enough to know if that’s still true, but it sure as hell isn’t on this side of the pond. Pat Moynihan’s famous line that “everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” seems quaint now. We can’t read the New York Times or the New York Post, can’t watch MSNBC or Fox: we’d never get the full picture that way. And few of us have the time or the energy to seek out all the available sources.

Journalism has let us down, and the primary reason for that is that journalists have let us down.

12 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “On The Plus Side, At Least There’s No Reason To Hold Any Illusions That American Journalists Will Even Try To Be Ethical Journalists In The Foreseeable Future…”

  1. A friend from college is a Columbia Jornalism MA. He told me the “no one’s objective,” line. Unfortunately it’s been warped to be an excuse or even justification to be as biased as possible in favor of lefty BS.

  2. “The consensus was that objectivity was a goal, but one it was impossible to achieve.”

    Yes, the response to that should be: “but that is the goal.”

    The response they gave: “so, why even bother.”

    They should just designate this the Rashomon Method of Journalism.


    • A perfect illustration of my point: “objectivity is the goal, but we’ll never get there” and “we’ll never get there, but objectivity is the goal” are denotatively indistinguishable.

  3. Do you think the problem is exacerbated by the type of people who want to go into journalism? A while back I read an article that included information from some poll or survey of journalism students concerning why they wanted to be journalists. The prevailing answer was some form of basically saying “So I can tell people the right way to think about issues.” It’s difficult enough to approach the truth; even harder when you’re already more strongly inclined than most to assume your truth is the same thing.

    • Do you think the problem is exacerbated by the type of people who want to go into journalism?

      Absolutely. For one thing, that group just isn’t very bright, with a few exceptions…but they labor under the delusion that they are.

      • But Jack they have advanced degrees from elite schools. When you get a diploma from one of those schools you are entitled to be considered expert in all things. Anyway that’s what I learned working alongside PhD’s at a community college.😝

  4. I heard that, after Watergate, many people going into journalism said they wanted to do it so they could “change the world.”

    Journalism was about activism, not observation.


  5. “No one is objective” just like no one is born a master musician or craftsman or is born able to focus through prayer and meditation—these are skills that take constant work and dedication, just as real writing and journalism should.
    But as we all know at this late date, “no one is objective” along with other thought-negating slogans like “The Personal is Political” or “all art is political” are not actual positions but political tactics designed to stifle debate and dissent and to give a pretext for the ideological takeover of thought and culture.
    As for objectivity/neutrality, I saved this great article last year that explains why these should be the goals of any writer who wants to honestly inform to the best of their ability, and not just preach to the choir and publicly display their “moral clarity”.
    It is long but well done:

  6. Having been a hard science major in college, I never had much use for the humanities — which is ironic, because when I (finally) did take Freshman English, my professor was so enamoured of my writing that he spent a lot of time working with me to iron out rookie mistakes; comma splices (a fault which plagues me even now), subject-verb issues and a few other more minor failings. I came away with the highest grade in the class and a new appreciation for both the written word in particular and the humanities in general.

    The point of the previous paragraph was just to illustrate how far removed and clueless I was about the nuts an bolts of news reporting back in the day of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (demonstrating also that most of my exposure to news at the time was via television). It wasn’t until after I entered the US Navy that I began reading newspapers. It was probably not until I separated in 1986 that I actually began noticing the difference between how outlets would report, and even then those differences were neither profound nor obviously partisan.

    Which brings us to now, and the death of news. I have often said it is impossible to get fair news from any source. Curmie illustrates exactly the progression of my understanding of news when I came to finally care about anything other than television in my late 20’s. As time went on, the bias of the largest news source became more an more of an issue, and the the mid-1990’s we saw the start of Fox News, which illustrated the mainstream news bias in high relief. The divergence between what we once understood as “unbiased,” or as Fox would have it, “fair and balanced” news and simple partisan standard-bearing grew ever smaller until now, it is a distinction without a difference for both Fox and its competitors. The exact same can be said of the print/web outlets.

    Thanks, Curmie, for that interesting read. As anyone can see, it brought back memories of my own.

  7. Curmie wrote, “The consensus was that objectivity was a goal, but one it was impossible to achieve.”

    This really isn’t hard.

    This is how a lack of objectivity is used to intentionally manipulate media consumers…

    Yes we’re all human and bias can creep into our objectivity; however, I don’t believe for a minute that this blatantly obvious lack of objectivity that is intentionally presented to manipulate the public is impossible for ethical and moral people to overcome.

    The problem as I see it is that unethical behaviors and moral bankruptcy is actively being promoted by the unethical and immoral mainstream media complex and stupid sheeple are eating it up like it’s candy. Irrational, unethical and immoral “journalists” at Pravda-USA currently have the reigns of our culture with some isolated sane people flailing around trying to grab at the reigns. The unspoken plan to dumb-down the population and turn them into a herd of stupid controllable sheeple is working. The constitution will be effectively be eliminated and our democracy will fall if this trend isn’t reversed very soon.

  8. This article might be behind a paywall, but here goes anyway:

    Following on Curmie’s position, the NYT does not disappoint with “perspective” reporting. The article is filled with pejoratives (“hard-right” . . .) about ousting the most unfortunate Rep. Omar from the foreign affairs committee. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez gave an “impassioned” defense of her colleague on House floor.


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