Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The He-said-she-said Press is Specific to the 20th-century U.S.

Another bold of lightning. Odyssey, a Chicago Public Radio show, has a beautiful hour-long history of he-said-she-said "objectivity" in the American press and in democracies throughout the world -- and the history is basically that he-said-she-said objectivity -- indeed, any objectivity at all -- is unique to 20th-century America. Host Gretchen Helfrich interviews communications historian Michael Schudson of UCSD and NYU Journalism Chair Jay Rosen. The audio is here (streaming). If you just want to skim the best bits:

For the history of the U.S. press, skip to

10:00 Schudson: "The 19th Century press in America was overwhelmingly partisan."

For elucidation of why "objective" journalism is so far from being objective:

41:27 Rosen: There are in fact these critical decisions that go into reporting any event, even when the reporting is later judged to be objective. Questions of "Why are you going to this meeting and not that?" "Why are you writing about this event and not that?" are in fact undecidable in the language of objectivity. There's no explanation possible. You would have to go to some other set of ideas or concerns. And by accepting, themselves, this description of what they're doing journalists have declined to talk with us about all kinds of judgments that they make. And this, I think, intuitively people know is dishonest, And in reaction to that they accuse the journalists of not being objective. But what I think people are really saying is "You're not leveling with us."
45:30 Rosen: [re a question about Jon Stewart] The fact that people are willing, able, eager to find news and information through the lens of comedy and satire I think tells you something about how believable the system of objectivity is. To many people, the idea that a journalist sits there and tells you the world as it is is a joke.

There's also a nice bit at 48:00 on why objectivity on the part of journalists leads apathy on the part of the electorate.


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