Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Defense of the Gray Lady

The “liberal media” seems to have become a favorite whipping boy for the average American conservative. Conservative news sources have thrived on the ability to accuse the liberal media of overt bias, violating their presumed commitment to “fair” and “objective” journalism. The latest of this attack comes from Fox News’ recent article exulting in the New York Times’ fall from credibility, citing its role as the “mouthpiece of Obama” as well as polling data indicating that conservatives and independents may not view the Times as credible.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a staunch defender of traditional conservative values, and if I were to take a political platform quiz alongside the reporters from each news organization, I’d probably come down firmly on the side of Fox News. And yet, my Firefox homepage (though slightly defunct since my recent conversion to Chrome) still boasts the N.Y. Times. Why?

Some might suspect a conservative like me of employing a classic “know thy enemy” tactic in regards to Times journalism. Others might think that it’s a sort of brand loyalty -- I read the Times because every self-respecting coffee-swilling college student reads a prominently displayed copy of the Times at their local Starbucks.

But it’s actually neither. It’s because I actually believe that the Times puts out generally decent journalism, liberal bent notwithstanding. Let me explain.

The old school of journalism emphasized values such as fairness and objectivity. A good journalist always went to the both sides of the debate for his quotes and attempted to make sure that he presented things in as strictly factual of a light as possible. The problem is, the journalist isn’t objective, and his story won’t be either. He must make certain assumptions in order to communicate to his audience at all, and the most biased article is the one in which the journalist doesn’t realize that he’s making these assumptions. So the supposed “methodological objectivity” upon which big media built its empire started to unravel and journalists started looking elsewhere.

The New Journalism focused on telling the story from the perspective of the newsmaker. A pair of articles from the Washington Post’s coverage of the Red Line Metro Crash of 2009 shows the difference between the old, methodological style of journalism and the new immersive style of reporting. Marvin Olasky, chief editor of World Magazine, wrote a book entitled Telling the Truth which called for the direct application of a Christian journalist’s Biblical worldview to his reporting. And the advent of the internet trends propelled the blogosphere, in all its biased, loud, and obnoxious glory to the forefront of the media’s “great conversation”

Some dissenters remain, such as Kovach and Rosenstiel, whose manifesto-like defense of objective journalism in The Elements of Journalism defeated itself by overtly extolling the virtues of a free press and condemning government interference in a way that makes Homer’s coverage of the Trojan War look restrained. But by and large, the media has come to the realization that a journalist’s worldview will seep through, whether he wants it to or not. So how has the media responded to this?

Well, some still tout the empty promise of “fair and objective” journalism and accuse other media outlets of failing to produce. But more recently, we’ve seen news organizations attempting to facilitate conversation on the issues of the day and serve as a sort of marketplace of ideas.

To that end, the N.Y. Times has done a superb job of bringing conversation up for discussion. Their reporting blew the lid of the Stuxnet issue, their human interest stories continually bring fresh perspectives to New York City social, cultural and political life, and their columnists feature both the nauseatingly liberal Nicholas Kristof and the refreshingly sarcastic Catholic conservative Ross Douthat.

Now I don’t think anyone’s denying the N.Y. Times’ slightly liberal slant, or the fact that their journalists occasionally parrot the White House’s PR department. But hearing the accusation from FoxNews is a lot like the pot calling the kettle black. If we want our overtly conservative media to critique the President to the extent you see on Fox, we should be prepared to see a similar amount of pushback from liberal news agencies as well. And if we see through the very liberal bias that we give the N.Y. Times so much grief about, isn’t it likely that the average reader does too?

by Nick Barden

1 comment:

  1. I disagree. The NYT is going downhill because of their shoddy journalism and obvious liberal bias. They're not "slightly liberal." NYT is anti- American and has an agenda, one which is on display in almost all of their reporting, down to which stories they cover and which they don't. I for one am glad that readers are becoming more discerning and abandoning this sinking ship.

    And here's a recent example of some of the NYT anti-Americanism "selective journalism:"

    ~Will Estrada