Just the Facts, Ma’am

At a recent Shabbat lecture at University Synagogue, journalist Joel Kotkin discussed media bias. In his opinion this issue is not limited to mainstream media. It crosses party lines and political perspectives.

Whither objective journalism?

Where, then, can ordinary people get pure, unadulterated versions of the facts? Is it possible to eliminate the views of the reporter or media outlet?

When some of us learned the craft of journalism, the objective was to be objective. It was “all the news that’s fit to print” or “just the facts, Ma’am,” rather than a scathing indictment of a person, a party or a nation based on the author’s judgment.

Certainly, it was and is difficult to write in a detached manner without showing one’s opinion, but it was a requirement. The opinion pieces belonged on the editorial page or the corresponding segment of electronic media. Fiery rhetoric had its place but not disguised as news.

News reporters were allowed to have opinions, but they were supposed to keep them to themselves. Publications might be known for some kind of bias, but they still had an obligation to report the facts.

Today the lines are so blurred that the average reader or viewer needs to sort out fact from opinion, or worse yet, fiction. Adding social media to the mix makes it even more complicated, because anybody can post anything without vetting. It becomes difficult to discern the aggressor from the victim or to decide whether a somewhat flawed idea has any merit at all.

In the Jewish media, the need to inform is often mixed with the need to engage. As the opinions and political leanings of the Jewish population become more diverse, how do reporters maintain a factual approach and keep people engaged without pandering to special interests and eliminating whole segments of the population from consideration?

Both writers and readers have an obligation to be discerning. Journalists should present both sides of the story to people who know the difference. It is everybody’s responsibility to be educated.

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