The profession of journalism went awry when it began to adopt the View from Nowhere.
It’s Bill Keller insisting that “torture” is the wrong word for the New York Times to use in describing torture because it involves taking sides in a dispute between the United States Government and its critics. It’s Howard Kurtz suggesting that Anderson Cooper was “taking sides” when he called the lies of the Egyptian government lies. But it’s also the reporter who has to master the routine of “laundering my own views [by] dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader.” And it’s that lame formula known as he said, she said journalism. It’s the way CNN “leaves it there” when two guests give utterly conflicting accounts.
Long ago, something went awry in professional journalism the way the Americans do it, and it left these visible deformations. In my own criticism I have given various names to this pattern: agendalessness, the quest for innocence — most often, the View From Nowhere. The problem is not what it is usually said to be: that the press is supposed to remain “objective” but no one can be totally unbiased. The problem is equating trustworthiness with the prohibition on taking sides, when the actual result may be exasperation with he said, she said, rage at the helplessness that “leaving it there” creates, and mistrust of the formulaic ways in which journalists try to advertise their even-handedness.
“Harsh interrogation” isn’t a more objective term than torture. Rather, it appears to offer more protection against charges of bias. But these stratagems haven’t worked. The View from Nowhere is increasingly mistrusted. Journalists have to go back and fix the wrong turn they took.
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