10 The Texas Observer call PICK. Before You Pack I FOR SAN ANTONIO Enjoy real money-saving I value, and relax at the I MOTEL 1 96 N.E. Loop Expressway I Adjacent to San Antonio 1 International Airport 1 Restaurant & Lounge 1 Color TV in every room 1 1 Heated Pool 1 Family Plan 1 1 1 ALL AT MODERATE RATES 1 1 RESERVATIONS: 1 CALL TOLL FREE 1 American Express Space Bank 1 800 AE 8-5000 1 MN Nil MN NMI MI Ell Eli MS MI MN C pr ALB ERZ Free Parking been layed on the people for so long that The New York Times is objective, meaning it tells the truth, that we think it is first necessary to address that myth. Objectivity is getting the facts straight and letting the truth go hang itself To quote, in part, a recent article by Jack Newfield, “Somehow the concept of advocacy in journalism has become identified with the left. But what about the Reader’s Digest? They’ve published 77 pieces on Vietnam since 1961, 76 of them in favor of the war. Does U.S. News and World Report present a balanced view of capitalism? Is New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader fair and objective? “Objectivity can be defined as the way the mass media reported the history of the Vietnam war before the Pentagon Papers: the way racism in the North was covered before Watts: the way auto safety was reported before Ralph Nader. Objectivity is the media printing Nelson Rockefeller’s lies about Attica until the facts came out that the state troopers and not the inmates had killed all the hostages; that the troopers used outlawed dum-dum bullets; that 350 inmates, including some badly wounded, were beaten after they gave up. Objectivity is printing a dozen stories about minor welfare frauds, but not a word about the My Lai massacre until Seymour Hersh. Objectivity is ignoring George McGovern as a joke until after he won the Wisconsin primary. Ojectivity is believing people with power and printing their press releases. Objectivity is not shouting ‘liar’ in a crowded country. At bottom, objectivity is a fig leaf for covert prejudice.” O.K., is it clear now what objectivity is? Right. And where do we go from there? We do not find it useful to move away from accuracy. A fact is a fact, God bless it, whether we like it, whether it helps our candidate, whether it suits our ideas or not. One of the few useful things journalism schools try to pound into the heads of their students is a reverence for accuracy. The next problem is facts from both, or all, sides. Also called fairness. Very tricky. Two politicians are having a fight. Rep. A says “Gunk” and Rep. B says “Dook.” Objectivity, this time masquerading as fairness, requires that you quote both A and B, getting their quotes exactly right and giving each an equal amount of space in your paper or time on your air. The trouble is that Rep. A is a courageous reformer who is telling the truth and Rep. B is a lying skunk who is on the take. Again, in relation to a social problem: you are doing a story about air pollution: does fairness require you to give equal time to people who think air pollution is good for you? Now that, you may have noticed, was a biased question. A better stab at fairness would read: does fairness require you to give equal time to those reasonable men who believe pollution is a problem but that it is not critical; that hysteria on the subject may lead to a modern Luddite movement, causing severe unemployment and untold misery, that moderate, sensible abatement programs stretching across the next half-century and paid for by the taxpayers rather than putting an unreasonable burden on industry, etc., etc. We have not found a solution to the “fairness” question here at the Observer. Though we doubt that Ben Barnes or Gus Mutscher would believe it we do worry about the problem a lot. Leave us be honest, the Observer is , not good at “getting the other side of the story.” There are times when we don’t even bother to try. On the other hand, we don’t think we’ve ever tried to shuck anybody about it. When we say that Wayne Connally is not only reactionary, but also stupid or that Dolph, uh, Briscoe has as much personality as a wet Kleenex, we figure you know that’s us talking, us too biased, overly sombre, too flip fishwives. We think you know us \(obviously not in the Biblical don’t, but at least you know that we’re trying to be honest. You know where we stand and you can accordingly judge our assessments with whatever amount of salt you think they deserve. Some people find it helpful to make a distinction between fact and truth. As in: The late Joseph McCarthy was a United States senator from Wisconsin in the early 1950’s. A fact. The late Sen. Joseph McCarthy was a pernicious demagogue. A truth. The McCarthy example is a new journalist’s dream. Precisely because “old journalists” ran around accurately quoting his lies without saying they were lies, the man was able to obtain the degree of vicious power he did. WE MUST CONFESS that there are times when our thinking about journalism comes perilously close to resembling propaganda. And it worries us. If you are ever unfortunate enough to attend a graduate school of journalism, you will be forced to take a course called something like “Theories of Communication.” In which you will learn about all kinds of amazing garp such as narcotizing disfunction and cognitive dissonance. Mostly what you will learn is that it’s very difficult to get people to change their minds. Most adults have a set world-view and with it a built-in resistance to information that does not conform to their world-view. It just rolls off them, like water off a duck’s back. It’s painful for people to have to shift around their mental baggage: they don’t like to: they resist information that will force them to. And the only way to get them to do it is to force that information into their minds: by giving it to them over and over and over, strong and hard, with no outs. Sounds like propaganda doesn’t it? As we said, it worries us. Because our world-views are set too. Northcott and I \(it being Ivins writing sometimes suspect, irresponsible little girls given this toy, this Observer plaything with which to be cute and snide. I suppose we could point to our training, which includes some heavy Establishment credentials, but I would rather have you rely on my own observation, since you know it’s mine and can add salt. We’ve both worked in a fair number of newspaper “shops.” We can’t think of anywhere else where the imperfections of a publication are taken more seriously by its staff, perhaps because we have no one to blame but ourselves. I suffer from an incurable sense of humor. Northcott suffers from an incurable sense of disgust at the venal tawdriness of Texas politics. We can think of only one other excuse for our bias: balance. The world-views of so many Texans are shaped by the editorial pages of The Dallas Morning News, The Austin American Statesman and the Houston Chronicle. When a see-saw gets tipped that far down on one side, you can’t straighten it up by going to the middle of it and standing there; you have to do out to the far end and jump up and down. Northcott has just informed me that she polished off the dirty word question in four grafs and what am I doing with five pages \(five pages is for the second coming of Christ, my old city editor used to tell understood. O.K., then, in one graf. No shuck, no jive. We’re not objective. We are biased. We are committed to accuracy and fairness. We
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