May 28th, 2005

Fair and balanced

The following is a portion of a comment I wrote during this discussion over at Roger Simon’s. Roger had posed the question “what is ‘fair and balanced’?” The context of the query was that he and others are engaged in setting up a new blogger consortium called Pajamas Media, and are signing up hundreds of blogs as part of it, and are making decisions about whether it’s possible to achieve “fair and balanced” representation there.

The phrase “fair and balanced” (at least, as I interpret it) is something of an oxymoron.

Why? Because “fair” means, to me, logical, well-reasoned, factual. And “balanced” means “giving equal play to advocates of all sides of an issue” (a sort of “one from column A, one from column B, one from column C approach). Unless you subscribe to the morally relativistic position that all truths are equal, then striving for “balance” will probably dictate that some “unfair” views will, of necessity, be given a platform.

So, I think “fair and balanced” isn’t really the goal–not in that way, at least. If you take all comers, you’ll certainly have some blogs that aren’t “fair.” And, if you don’t accept all comers, then you won’t have good “balance” (or, at least, it would surprise me mightily if you did, since I’m not a moral relativist).

All you can do is to strive for blogs that use reason, logic, and facts, rather than sophistry, as their main tools. And if this means that you end up with a somewhat skewed distribution in terms of political orientation (and I won’t say to what side I think that might be–let that remain my secret :-))–well then, so be it!

Whether or not you agree with me on which side could be the one that is overrepresented in the “fair” column (and reasonable people may differ on that) it’s still an interesting question: how to choose? Should you give a forum to anyone and everyone who wants in? Does a sort of “pure capitalism” approach work best–let the market (i.e. the reader) sort it out? Or, if you want to have standards, how to apply them? Do you try to accept only those blogs you think are well-written and/or well-reasoned? How do you avoid letting your own political leanings color your decisions about this? Or, should you even try?

As I believe I’ve said before, all journalists–and certainly all bloggers–have a political point of view, and it’s best to be up-front about it. Here’s a section of another comment of mine on the subject (from this fascinating discussion at Jay Rosen’s blog about the politics of the press):

Yes, the press is a political animal–or rather, animals. Each newspaper and periodical, and each journalist, has a political point of view which informs what it publishes, and what he/she writes. To pretend otherwise is to deny the obvious. The public can best be served by knowing the politics up front, and having the press drop the fiction of objectivity. So, to answer your question about what politics the press “should” have: transparent ones.

(How lazy can I get, eh? Reduced to cannibalizing my own comments on other blogs! Go easy on me–it’s a holiday weekend, and the first day of sun we’ve had in about two centuries.)

11 Responses to “Fair and balanced”

  1. Tom Grey Says:

    I like fair. I like balanced.
    The most interesting news is about policy: filibuster or not; up or down; reform Social Security or not; vote Kerry or Bush (or nobody — telling the truth).

    Every policy has good results and bad results; and as it’s made there are probabilities of those results.
    Balance means talking about good AND bad, of both positions. Only talking about the bad of Iraq after US action, without noting the good, is unbalanced. Not mentioning the bad that would be, like Darfur, w/o US action, is unbalanced.

    Fair implies similar effort at the truth. Intense scrutiny of Bush’s NG records, while not mentioning that he did sign a Form 180 which Kerry has not signed, seems unfair. I think Marc Cooper’s anti-Kerry and super-anti-Bush is more fair than most.

    The press has failed to note that the policy of US leaving Vietnam meant SE Asian genocide. This has been both unfair and unbalanced.

    I wish more folk would follow generalizations with at least one specific example, to confirm I understand what is being talked about.

    I post many of my comments on my blog (see my Michael Totten comments/ posts); this one too. [Often copy comment to Word for spell check first, and a monthly long journal record.]

    I also like Honest and Transparent — and for much news, the honesty/ accuracy is more important than “fairness”. But since the most interesting issues are often the uncertain future, honesty about the future collapses into honesty about guesses about the future.

  2. Asher Abrams Says:

    Neo, you’ve nailed it again.

    I don’t have a problem with the term “fair” as it connotes an appeal to our instinctive sense of justice – as long as we bolster that “fairness” with a firm framework of ethics and logic.

    Your post gets to the heart of the problem with the MSM; and you’ve made the important connection between a misguided sense of “balance” and the pernicious influence of moral relativism.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Bill Moyers, a lifetime professional, discussing precisely this issue in a left-wing forum, appealing for a centrist approach:

    http://www.freepress.net/press/release.php?id=71

  4. ET Says:

    After more thought and reading, my position on your question is refined somewhat.

    Fair and Balanced seems a more appropriate goal for a debate. Let everyone (or most) speak for fairness, and include differing positions for balance. This is what I want for a discussion, but not what I want for news reporting.

    Most blogs tend to be individual participants in various debates. If they contain inaccurate information or invalid arguements, their impact on the discussion will be marginalized.

    Regarding news reporting, I much prefer Honest and Accurate for goals. This concept was well described by Keith in Roger Simon’s comments section; see http://www.rogerlsimon.com/mt-archives/2005/05/pajamas_media_q.php#c50727

    BTW, I like your posts and wish to encourage you in your new world. Your personal values may not have changed much, but certainly your close friends will.

  5. CliveD Says:

    Neo,
    Don’t feel guilty about re-using comments – they were worth sharing.
    But if you’re weary of posting, you can always consider trying Autoblogger!

    http://www.autoblogger.net/switch.htm

  6. Dymphna Says:

    Congratulations on the good weather. You’ve had a long wait for it. Here, we are pulling up pansies and planting summer annuals. Hope you guys get to have a summer…

    Meanwhile, I don’t understand what “fair” means. Is is “truthful”, ie, getting as many viewpoints as possible? Does it mean, as a five-year old might say, “absolutely evenly and perfectly divided so that I get more than anyone else?

    To me, “fair” is an immature, delayed-development word.

    “Balanced” has somewhat more hope. But not much. Give me the pre-Freudian days, when no one bothered. If you wanted one pov, you read a particular newspaper. If you wanted another, you read something else.

    In fact, newspapers and periodicals aren’t much help at all unless you’ve taken the trouble to learn history, including the history of economics, rhetoric, at least a smattering of one foreign language, and all the mythology you can handle. Maybe throw in a Logic 101 class. Only then are you prepared to read a newspaper with any kind of discernment.

    Fair and balanced? Bah. If you’re a ‘journalist’tell me what makes you mad and I’ll know enough about your biases to decide whether or not to read any further.

    Paul Krugman and MoDo are cases in point.

  7. ET Says:

    I concur with your assessment of “fair and balanced” as it relates to news reporting. I personally prefer “fair and accurate” when I read news reports. To me, “fair” means both (or all) sides of a story will be interviewed, not just one perspective. “Accurate” has much to do with the integrity of the presentation of the facts of the story. It also means the facts will not be distorted or partially reported in an attempt to slant a story.

  8. Goesh Says:

    - to thine ownself be true

  9. meander Says:

    Truth is, Neo, your posts are like a favorite TV show…so reruns are often as good or better the second time around!

  10. WichitaBoy Says:

    Just putting up something everyday is a massive chore, one I can’t particularly manage. I’ve never seen you write anything that wasn’t well done, comments or otherwise, so just keep up the good work, and by the way, thanks.

  11. Brad Says:

    Actually, it is quite common to use one’s comments from other blogs in a post. It also makes sense, in that you probably have the thoughts rolling around in your head and you want to get them on your blog to get a discussion going. That said, I agree with your point about “fair and balanced.” It is a type of contradiction that arises frequently in the political realm. Similar to what happens when you cleave the concept of “equality” into distinct entities. In one simple split, you are left with equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, which are hostile to one another (as are fair and balanced). Of course, you could avoid the contradiction by redefining the terms to meet your needs and running with it.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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