Mike Kueber's Blog

May 30, 2012

The media – fair or objective?

Filed under: Media — Mike Kueber @ 5:42 am
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A couple of weeks ago, Don Imus interviewed Jeff Himmelman, the author of a new book on Ben Bradlee, the estimable erstwhile Washington Post editor of Woodward & Bernstein.  The book is quite controversial because it failed to genuflect in front of Bradlee, and Himmelman went out of his way during the Imus interview to assure viewers and listeners that the book should do no serious damage to Bradlee’s reputation.    

During the Imus interview, however, Himmelman made a point about the media that intrigued me as a journalistic wannabe.  According to Himmelman, Ben Bradlee often instructed his reporters that they needed to be fair, but not necessarily objective.  That’s interesting – and because I’m not the greatest at diction, I decided to learn the distinction between fair reporting and objective reporting.

According to the dictionary, fair means equitable, honest, or just; free from bias, while objective means unbiased or impartial; not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.  Obviously, there appears to be some overlap because both definitions refer to bias, which means “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”  This is getting pretty circular, isn’t it?

Fortunately, I was able to find a website that contained a thorough discussion of fair vs. objective in the context of the media.  According to this discussion:

  • Objectivity means that when covering hard news, reporters don’t convey their own feelings, biases or prejudices in their stories. They accomplish this by writing stories using a language that is neutral and avoids characterizing people or institutions in ways good or bad.
  • Fairness means that reporters covering a story must remember there are usually two sides – and often more – to most issues, and that those differing viewpoints should be given roughly equal space in any news story.

Based on these definitions, I understand why Bradlee felt that fairness should predominate over objectivity.  Although reporters can’t help having feelings and prejudices, they can’t ensure that both sides have an opportunity to defend their position.

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5 Comments »

  1. how about “fairly obective”? naw, they aren’t even that.

    i think you give the press a pass on objectivity. i learned long ago that i could be objective by recognizing that different priorities enable different views and many can simulteaneous views can be correct. for example, i stopped viewing one culture as being superior to another and strated viewing the diffedrent cultures as each having pros and cons. the american culture has distinct advantages if you want to acumulate wealth. if you want to just enjoy life without worring about having a lot of things, then other cultures have and advantage over the american culture.

    in other words, when someone says x is better than y they are revealing not just their judgement of x and y, but what they think is important in making the judgement, sometimes they make it easy by sharing their assumptions, sometimes you have to calculate or decode their assumptions. this is the key to objectivity.

    it seems to me that reporters i typically view as unobjective tend to be unaware of their personal assumptions.

    Comment by q — June 3, 2012 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

    • Q, you make a good point. Because I don’t personally know any journalists, I am not prepared to say whether they are unobjective because they are unaware or because they don’t aspire to unobjectivity.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — June 6, 2012 @ 10:59 am | Reply

  2. wow, too much coffee. if i could i would come back and correct my 15 grammatical and speeeling errors…

    Comment by q — June 3, 2012 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

    • I thought you were texting from your phone while drunk and in the dark 🙂

      Comment by Mike Kueber — June 6, 2012 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  3. […] recently blogged about the difference between fair and objective reporting.  The Express-News article’s author […]

    Pingback by Aphorism of the week #14 – throwing good money after bad « Mike Kueber's Blog — June 19, 2012 @ 9:24 pm | Reply


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