The real tragedy of modern Journalism


By Trevor Law

A few weeks ago I was writing, surprise surprise, about the debt ceiling. Unsurprisingly, I got a bit of criticism about it. People were accusing me a of having a bias, as if that somehow invalidated the criticisms of my article. The entire discussion really lit a fire under me and got me thinking. Then the CNBC/Republican debates happened, and then several stories emerged questioning the accuracy of Dr. Ben Carson’s life story. I don’t want to go into any of that because honestly they each deserve an article in their own right.

What I do want to talk about, is pressure. Specifically, the pressure that political writers must pick a side. While there are many situations in life with several viewpoints that can coexist. However in politics at a certain point you have to come to conclusions in your own right. What is the role of Government? How should religion interact with the state? What is the proper use of force? All of these are big questions but the fact is that they all need definite answers. Sure some of these could change situationally but as a rule, each of these questions has to have a definite truth. Government can’t one day mandate insurance exchanging, then not, then mandate it again. One of these options must become policy, if for no other reason than to create consistency in the market.

However, even if you try to remain totally unbiased, even if you are somehow able to maintain a superhuman level of apathy towards pressing issues of national importance, even if you cite accurate sources and make a coherent argument, two things will happen no matter what. First, people will attack you for being biased because you told them something they didn’t want to hear, and two you will be pushed into one of the camps of American Politics, Conservative, Liberal, etc. and at that point you will be at war.

When I say war, I mean that in the sense of that there are very real and definitive sides that are committed to the destruction of those that oppose them. When an article comes out against Ben Carson, it must be part of the liberal media hit job. If someone is after Hillary, it has to be part of a vast right wing conspiracy. In such an environment even the truth doesn’t matter. After all, if any Republican were to accuse Hillary Clinton of something, no Democrat would believe them, even if they didn’t like her. The same would be said if any Democrat were to accuse any Republican of something. As an example, when Ben Carson was accused by Politico of lying about a West Point scholarship, it wasn’t until CNN published an article and a partial retraction from Politico that I was willing to believe Carson. Similarly, in 2012 when members of the GOP accused President Obama of covering up the circumstances of the attack on the U.S. consult in Benghazi, it wasn’t until a New York Times report came out six months later that confirmed elements of both the GOP and the White House’s story that I was willing to listen to the GOP.

THAT is the core of one of the great problems in America today. Liberals and Conservatives don’t trust each other, and any news organization perceived as aligned isn’t trusted by the “opposing” camps. So even if someone has proof of the truth, people will not listen. I am saying this because I have been guilty of it. I have been guilty of not even considering a certain website, or source for no other reason than that is the “enemy.”

To make matters even worse, its not just a “political” or “media” class, but the American people itself. We reward sites and news sources not for being balanced, but for rewarding our own worldview. We don’t reward people for opening our minds, but for closing them. There is an incredible amount of pressure to cater to such a worldview as a writer and it is next to impossible to avoid this pressure changing what you write about on some level. Even as we speak I am putting off writing about an in depth look at both the federal budget, and at the Black Lives Matter movement, but since it is next to impossible to not attract controversy to those two topics, or to avoid some appearance of a bias, I put it off, and I am not the only one.

The most soul crushing and agonizing part of this is that the few people who do try, who actually go after truth and do everything they can to avoid being dragged into a side, are often ignored. In effect, they are “punished” for not picking a side. Almost every think tank and policy institute has become aligned with one faction or another and it is a sad symptom of tribalism, and ignorance that is fueling a cycle that EVERY aspect of American life is fueling. I am not a big time blogger and the pressure is fairly strong to either follow mediocre stories, or highly partisan stories, and ignore solid, fact based and balanced journalism. I can’t imagine what the pressure is like for those at the top of their fields.

So the next time you click on something from the blogging site you like that confirms what you already “know” or if you write off an article as biased and as such the argument couldn’t possibly be valid, remember that the truth isn’t objective. Sometimes you are wrong, and sometimes when you read that harmless little puff piece, a real story is just gathering dust. Because the tragedy is few people want to read something that challenges your world view, and fewer people still, want to actually write it.

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