Should Or Can The Media Be Impartial?


What might be an alternative to objectivity, a better way to understand the role and responsibilities of a free and independent press? Theodore Glasser

There seems to be a requirement that the media (television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) should be objective, impartial, neutral, fair. Some even claim that it is. Why should reporters be objective when no one else is? This blog is the result of my reading an article by Theodore Glasser, The Ethics of Election Coverage. In Stanford Magazine.com – Medium, Aug. 31, 2016

We don’t expect Supreme Court Justices to be objective and impartial. Liberal judges and conservative judges are not objective by definition. How about salesmen, police officers, CEOs, your neighbor or some family members? And how about a politician running for congress or for the presidency?

Today with the rise of rapid computerization of communication and social media, we may need a new view of the media ethics of objectivity. What should be the role and responsibilities of a free and independent press?  Do we need to reject the ideal of a detached and impartial reporter? If we have too much objectivity, does it render the media incapable of identifying falsehoods? If we have too little of it, what does that do to the norms of professionalism?

In closing, Glasser asks the following question: What might be an alternative to objectivity for understanding the roles and responsibilities of a free and independent press? Some suggestions by him and others:

We might acknowledge journalists as writers whose stories interpret the world they live in and care about rather than as reporters whose reports describe a world to which they have no apparent commitment. Glasser

 There are no finally “correct” or “accurate” accounts of the world; all descriptions are interpretations in the sense that everything can be redescribed.  Richard Rorty

Depict news not as a fixed thing, a collection of precise dates, facts and events that add up to a quantifiable, certain, confidently know truth but as a mysterious and malleable thing, constantly changing, not just as new information emerges, but as our own interests, emotions and inclinations change.  Ken Burns

 It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary  to report the truth about the fact.  1947 Report on a Free and Responsible Press




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  1. Eugene Unger says:

    H, the truth as I see it is, thus was a much appreciated Blog. What is truth? The world as I saw it and as I interpret it. Unfortunate as truth key be😏 thanks buddy. See you soon. Gene

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Fontana says:

    An interesting blog. The New York Times has responded to the potential law suit from Trump by saying it only reports the news. However, it seems to me the number of articles the paper chooses to write about any one person or event surely sways the reader. But except for their OPED, it is reporting the news. Looking at the impartiality this way, one sees the number of articles–usually about the bad things of an event or really good things of a person or event, can’t help but sway the reader. And, I have to admit I like reading papers that obviously agree with my opinion. So, as Gene said, “what is the truth”. and as H B says, “It’s all the eye of the beholder”, “-)

  3. Bob says:

    Hello H,
    I receive your blog emails, and often read them with great interest.
    This one in particular immediately reminded me of something Noam Chomsky wrote/said in a 1986 interview, and although that was 30 years ago (in fact, exactly 30 years ago today!), it is even FAR more relevant today.
    So, I will paste it here for you to read.
    Thought you might want to pay special attention to the last paragraph (starting with “Then comes the question of the individual journalist…”), as it pertains to exactly what you’ve written about above.

    Non-Conspiracy Analysis of Propaganda System

    October 24, 1986

    Barsamian: … [W]ho are the mandarins, or to use Gramsci’s term, the “experts in legitimation”?

    Chomsky: The experts in legitimation, the ones who labor to make what people in power do seem legitimate, are mainly the privileged educated elites. The journalists, the academics, the teachers, the public relations specialists, this whole category of people have a kind of an institutional task, and that is to create the system of belief which will ensure the effective engineering of consent. And again, the more sophisticated of them say that. In the academic social sciences, for example, there’s quite a tradition of explaining the necessity for the engineering of democratic consent. There are very few critics of this position. Among them is a well-known social scientist named Robert Dahl who has pointed out — as is obviously true — that if you have a political system in which you plug in the options from a privileged position, and that’s democracy, it’s indistinguishable from totalitarianism. It’s very rare that people point that out.

    In the public relations industry, which is a major industry in the United States and has been for a long time, 60 years or more, this is very well understood. In fact, that’s their purpose. That’s one of the reasons this is such a heavily polled society, so that business can keep its finger on the popular pulse and recognize that, if attitudes have to be changed, we’d better work on it. That’s what public relations is for, very conscious, very well understood. When you get to what these guys call the institutions responsible for “the indoctrination of the young,” the schools and the universities, at that point it becomes somewhat more subtle. By and large, in the schools and universities people believe they’re telling the truth. The way that works, with rare exceptions, is that you cannot make it through these institiutions unless you’ve accepted the indoctrination. You’re kind of weeded out along the way. Independent thinking is encouraged in the sciences but discouraged in these areas. If people do it they’re weeded out as radical or there’s something wrong with them. It doesn’t have to work 100 percent, in fact, it’s even better for the system if there are a few exceptions here and there. It gives the illusion of debate or freedom. But overwhelmingly, it works.

    In the media, it’s still more obvious. The media, after all, are corporations integrated into some of the major corporations in the country. The people who own and manage them belong to the same narrow elite of owners and managwers who control the private economy and who control the state, so it’s a very narrow nexus of corporate media and state managers and owners. They share the same perceptions, the same understanding, and so on. That’s one major point. So, naturally, they’re going to perceive issues, suppress, control and shape in the interest of the groups that they represent: ultimately the interests of private ownership of the economy — that’s where it’s really based. Furthermore, the media also have a market: advertisers, not the public. People have to buy newspapers, but the newspapers are designed to get the public to buy them so that they can raise their advertising rates. The newspapers are essentially being sold to advertisers via the public. Since the corporation is selling it and its market is businesses, that’s another respect in which the corporate system or the business system generally is going to be able to control the contents of the media. In other words, if by some unimaginable accident they began to get out of line, advertising would fall off, and that’s a constraint.

    State power has the same effect. The media want to maintain their intimate relation to state power. They want to get leaks, they want to get invited to the press conferences. They want to rub shoulders with the Secretary of State, all that kind of business. To do that, you’ve got to play the game, and playing the game means telling their lies, serving as their disinformation apparatus. Quite apart from the fact that they’re going to do it anyway out of their own interest and their own status in the society, there are these kinds of pressures that force them into it. It’s a very narrow system of control, ultimately.

    Then comes the question of the individual journalist, you know, the young kid who decides to become an honest journalist. Well, you try. Pretty soon you are informed by your editor that you’re a little off base, you’re a little too emotional, you’re too involved in the story, you’ve got to be more objective. There’s a whole pile of code words for this, and what those code words mean is “Get in line, buddy, or you’re out.” Get in line means follow the party line. One thing that happens then is that people drop out. But those who decide to conform usually just begin to believe what they’re saying. In order to progress you have to say certain things; what the copy editor wants, what the top editor is giving back to you. You can try saying it and not believing it, but that’s not going to work, people just aren’t that dishonest, you can’t live with that, it’s a very rare person who can do that. So you start saying it and pretty soon you’re believing it because you’re saying it, and pretty soon you’re inside the system. Furthermore, there are plenty of rewards if you stay inside. For people who play the game by the rules in a rich society like this, there are ample rewards. You’re well off, you’re privileged, you’re rich, you have prestige, you have a share of power if you want, if you like this kind of stuff you can go off and become the State Department spokesman on something or other, you’re right near the center of at least privilege, sometimes power, in the richest, most powerful country in the world. You can go far, as long as you’re very obedient and subservient and disciplined. So there are many factors, and people who are more independent are just going to drop off or be kicked out. In this case there are very few exceptions.

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