Monday, March 06, 2006

The New York Crimes

Is deception by the news media ever justified? I think that first we have to decide what counts as deception. What about deception by omission? Is not printing a story because of outside issues, anything from national security to lack of reader interest, an act of deception? I think that depends on why the story was withheld. If the editors or authors of an article or story are deliberately trying to cover up or manipulate or control, however slightly, the information or facts, then they are deceiving their readers. The more inane, daily reasons for omission probably count as innocent; the larger, much more serious omissions because of national security and restrictions on media coverage during war don't count as deception, either.

What about deception through claimed objectivity? I think the media does this a lot. I especially notice this when they present "the two sides" of a story. A very liberal individual will give an account of the facts as they see it, followed by a moderate conservative, or vice-versa. Our assumption as consumers is that the truth lies somewhere between these two opposing opinions, but this creates a vision of the truth skewed towards a liberal interpretation. Dr. Williams compared the journalistic effort to be objective with daily trying to be perfect. You won't be, but you'll be a better person, and it's a good thing to do. I respectfully disagree. Not only do I think that objective journalism is impossible, I think that media that claims objectivity or tries to be objective but fails (as I believe is inevitable)is deceptive. If journalists wrote what they thought, subjectively and claiming subjectivity, and newspapers printed a truly representative range of opinion, I think we'd have a much more accurate media portrayal of facts.

Okay, so back to the original question... is deception ever justified? I don't think it is, especially in a media that presents itself, or has traditionally been presented as an objective source of truth. Our government is for, of and by the people, so the people need to be informed, and informed truthfully. Democracy necessitates a media that is not deceitful. I don't want to rag too much on the media in general. Despite my beliefs about objectivity, I still think we probably have the best, fairest, most ethical media in the world.

As for the NY Times holding the NSA wiretapping story for a year, I think it's interesting that they waited until the eve of the patriot act's revision to print. I also think it's interesting that the story broke shortly before the release of the author of the article's book about, among other things, wartime "spying".

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