Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Neutrality vs Objectivity in News Reporting

How refreshing when one watches a reporter who actually knows the difference between neutrality and objectivity.

On Monday I was watching "Fox News Live", the 2pm show hosted by Martha MacCallum, and she brought on one of their reporters who was in Baghdad to give the latest update. I was not able to get the reporters name, and have been unable to find it on their website. But what happened during that update was positively amazing.

His report was on Operation Matador, the operation by the Marines that is currently in progress along the border with Syria. It's objective is to root out terrorists and their supporters who are crossing the border into Iraq.

He referred to American troops as "our boys", and did so several times. None of the usual "men and women", either. The entire report seemed deliciously old fashioned.

The Rest

So many in the news media seem to think that is they refer to American troops as "our boys" they are being A) Jingoist, B) violating precepts of objectivity, and C) sexist. They act as if they are reporting on foreign troops, and as if each side were morally equal.

These reporters seem to think that they should adopt a stance of neutrality. They are wrong and show moral confusion when they do.

They ought to adopt a position of objectivity. This, as we shall see, is a far different thing.

Proper Definitions

Neutrality is properly defined as "not engaged on either side; specifically : not aligned with a political or ideological grouping"

Objectivity is properly defined as " a : relating to or existing as an object of thought without consideration of independent existence -- used chiefly in medieval philosophy b : of, relating to, or being an object , phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind "

Note the difference; being neutral means not taking sides, not favoring one over the other, or even admitting that you are on one side or the other. Objectivity, however means that you can admit that you want one side to win, but you will report on a fair and balanced manner. In other words, you will tell the truth no matter what it is.

Imagine that you are given a research project. You are tasked with answering the question: "Why did certain Germans join the SS and murder Jews in the Holocaust?"

Certainly no one in their right mind could be neutral with regard to the Holocaust.

But as a researcher you have a duty to approach the question with an open mind. You must not allow preconceptions cloud your research. The reason some Germans did what they did may come as a surprise to you, and whatever ideas you had about it beforehand must therefore be discarded.

Back to the News

The way this plays out in the news media ought to be simple; reporters admit that they are Americans and they want to see our side win. They do not send reporters to "hang out" with terrorists and "get their side of the story". They are not neutral, as there is nothing to be neutral about.

They also report the truth as they see it. During World War II, reporters savaged U.S. military leaders who they believed wasted lives in pointless operations. At the same time it never would have occured to them to send proxies to be with German or Japanese troops, as Associated Press and others have done with the terrorists in Iraq.

Redhunter Update

As visitors to my regular site have noticed, I've stopped posting there for a bit while I finish up a few projects.

One is that I'm moving my site off of blogger to Hosting Matters. The new site is not quite finished, and when it is I'll let all of you know. Thank you to Marvin Hutchins for his invaluable technical assistance with Moveable Type.

I'm also working with Marvin and Bill Rice ("By Dawn's Early Light") on a project called Threats Watch. The site is in beta now, so we haven't officially rolled it out. It is viewable, however, so if you have a minute take a look and let us know what you think.