The View From Somewhere: The Press Needs To Be Anti-Partisan, Not Bi-Partisan
from the read-this dept
For somewhere close to a decade we’ve talked about journalism professor Jay Rosen’s important concept of “the view from nowhere.” This is the “professional” stance that many media operations (mainly big time newspapers) take in reporting the news, in which they stupidly refuse to actually take a stand on truth and instead tend to report the news in a “he said/she said” fashion, never bothering to tell you which one is actually true. Indeed, we’ve long argued that if journalists want to actually be relevant, they need to have a point of view, and that point of view should be about what is true, not granting “equal weight” to both sides of a story that doesn’t deserve it. Taking the side of truth and pointing out lies for what they are is not bias, it’s real journalism.
If you want a recent example of the moronic “view from nowhere,” which is so frequently practiced by the NY Times, entitled Trump Now Says He Accepts U.S. Intelligence Reports on Russian Election Meddling. There’s nothing factually incorrect there, but it’s… complete bullshit in terms of what is actually happening. Yes, Trump says that, but an accurate report would explain why that’s almost certainly a false statement from Trump given everything else he said about the situation during his press conference with Putin. Joshua Benton succinctly summarizes just a couple of the many, many problems with the NY Times “view from nowhere” approach:
This story has 687 words and none of them give the reader any clue that everyone knows he's lying.
No "But one word change does not alter all the other things he said in Helsinki."
No "Trump has expressed doubts about the intel findings many times." https://t.co/WwZTgVMZzW
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) July 17, 2018
The problem is again not that the Times description is inaccurate, but rather that it is meaningless if you understand the actual context — with that context being that what Trump says this time clearly does not accurately portray the situation due to the many, many times he’s said the opposite, or attempted to undermine the investigation, let alone the fact that he seems incapable of even comprehending that Russian meddling may be a separate issue from “there’s no collusion!” But the NY Times insists that this is how it has to cover the President (even as the President likes to call the NY Times out as “fake news” pretty frequently), because it stupidly thinks that this “view from nowhere” helps them appear unbiased. But that’s dumb. It doesn’t make them appear unbiased. It makes them appear stupid and unwilling to do the job that reporters should be doing in helping to suss out the truth.
And “the truth” is not “just report the facts.” The truth means putting the facts in context so that the news is actually meaningful. That means dropping “the view from nowhere” and picking up the view from somewhere. And that somewhere should be reality-based.
Reporter Dan Froomkin has a long and fascinating post at Medium that has gotten much less attention than it deserves on this subject, and I urge everyone to read it (especially if they’re reporter). In it, Froomkin argues that the way past the “view from nowhere” is that newspapers (in particular, the LA Times) should take “the view from California”:
So from California, the view is clear: Trump is a profoundly regressive force whose actions and statements are dangerous. And he?s being enabled. Congress has abdicated its role as a check to presidential power. The Supreme Court is no longer committed to protecting minority rights. The result: an irrational and unrestrained president threatens the future of our country as a pluralistic constitutional democracy.
A bureau that openly embraces this view as a baseline, and is unafraid to call out assaults on pluralism, for instance, would cover Trump very differently from more typical DC reporters, who censor themselves for fear of appearing to take sides.
It would operate almost like a foreign bureau. That means no undue deference to authority and no allegiance to stifling local conventions.
Some will — incorrectly — argue that he’s suggesting they just take an “anti-Trump” stance, which would make them no better than various partisan news organizations that are either pro- or anti-Trump. But that’s not what he’s actually arguing if you read closely. He’s arguing that it’s time to take a reality-based approach. That’s not a pro- or anti- any particular party or politician. It’s just pro-reality.
And that takes us to what I think is the most important point in Froomkin’s article: there are publications that take partisan viewpoints, and a bunch that claim to be “bi-partisan” or “non-partisan.” Indeed, so much of the bad NY Times and Washington Post coverage we’ve seen tend to be them bending over backwards to try to appear “bi-partisan,” which usually means bringing on some “conservative” opinion columnists to supposedly “balance out” their “liberal” reporters (though all of those labels are pretty silly). But that just leads to more nonsense for everyone. It’s just reinforcing he-said/she-said. Instead, Froomkin says the good journalists today need to be anti-partisan:
I?m talking about being anti-partisan. Anyone coming to Washington who is not blinded by political ambition can see that both parties have failed and are corrupt and are out of step with most Americans.
That doesn?t mean they are similarly culpable. Other than sharing the Republican Party?s slavish devotion to money, the Democratic Party has an entirely different set of failings. Its leaders remain the same elitist career politicians who brought you Hillary Clinton and managed to lose to Trump. They are inconstant, hedging, observably insincere, and prone to seeing the least-popular political positions as pragmatic.
In spite of this, mainstream reporters continue to craft their articles to reflect the presumption that there are exactly two sides to each issue???one Democratic and one Republican???that they are facially equally valid, and that people with alternate views are extremists. This is what The Atlantic?s James Fallows and others have so aptly called ?false equivalence.?
But in reality, the American common ground may actually lie outside the current Democratic-Republican axis, rather than at its middle, which opens up a world of interesting political-journalism avenues.
In short, stop covering everything as if it’s a horse race, with two horses: one red, and one blue. Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are deeply flawed institutions, in different ways and (perhaps) to different degrees. But the real problem is the stupidly partisan nature of basically everything. We’ve long noted here at Techdirt that we’re not even remotely partisan. We try to avoid naming any politician’s political party because as soon as we do it seems to drop the intelligence level of any conversation as people immediately jump in with nonsense claims about “well, obviously he’d do something dumb he’s a [Democrat/Republican], they all believe in [pure anti-American nonsense].”
And yet, any time we criticize someone from either party, we’re also then automatically lumped in (falsely) as being a clear supporter of the other party. It’s this tribalistic nature of partisan politics that leads to an inability to actually tackle large issues. Being anti-partisan and focusing on actual truth, as Froomkin suggests, has to be the way forward for news organizations these days. Obviously, there will always be those who are clearly partisan on one side or the other, but the supposedly “bi-partisan” view from nowhere news organizations are doing everyone a disservice. In pretending to be unbiased and “just presenting facts,” they’re failing to present truth by failing to present actual context or any sense of reality.
Anyone and everyone working in journalism today should read Froomkin’s article (which is much longer and goes into more detail). I don’t necessarily agree with every point in there, but on the key point, I wholeheartedly agree. The press today needs to be anti-partisan and anti-tribal. It shouldn’t be looking for point/counterpoint on tough issues. It should be ferreting out the truth.