I like how Ignatius describes coverage of Wall Street and its critics on Capitol Hill: “one side or the other is implicitly the home team, depending on what you watch or read.” It’s a good point. We seem to treat every stock market rally like it’s a good thing. Is it?
While cable news and the Web are “ideologically embedded,” Ignatius concedes that “traditional journalists” aren’t “free of implicit, unexamined biases.” But I’d quibble a bit with his assessment that, “In the name of non-ideological reporting,” mainstream journalism tends to converge toward the center, ignoring “what’s on the wings, right and left.”
Ignatius seems keen to critique himself this way.
In the name of open debate, we sometimes have the effect of narrowing it. My own implicit bias for the center is sometimes painfully obvious in my columns. It skews my judgment.
He knows best about that. But, more broadly, I don’t think that the wings are getting ignored. Rather, I think traditional journalism often over-covers them, but somehow tries to paint events on the edges of the political spectrum as cultural curiosities, making it easier to at least appear to leave one’s own politics aside.
Ignatius knows that this genie can’t entirely get put back in the bottle, and points to the traditional media’s embrace of blogs as a way to build that kind of insider connection with readers that, taken too far, becomes the kind of ideological embedding he laments.
One of The Post’s fresh young voices, blogger Ezra Klein, clearly has a point of view on the policy debates he covers. If he made a fetish of neutrality, he would be less interesting. But I wouldn’t want a news diet of all Ezra Kleins, all the time.
What does he prescribe for all the non-Ezras out there?
We need to restore the white flag; we need to reassure people everywhere that we have checked our baggage — national, ideological, cultural, political and religious — at the door when we become journalists.
That might sound like a tall order. Or an old-fashioned idea. But that kind of just-the-facts approach is a big advantage, especially for the kind of in-depth reporting and tough investigations that aren’t the usual domain of the niche media.
Big Chief Audit Dean Starkman asked former Dow Jones director Jim Ottaway about this a while back:
TA: The idea of an unbiased news source is laughed off these days. We have to ask if unbiased or objective reporting is not itself an anachronism.I dunno about that Roman Empire stuff. But I think Ignatius is right. It’s sure worth trying. The inside story isn’t enough.
JO: Philosophically, you can argue that it’s an impossibility. But in practice and in a modern democracy and in an information society, where success in business, investments, and politics eventually depends on some common understanding of reality—what is real, what actually happened or didn’t happen, or was said or not said —you can’t run a business, you can’t run an economy, you can’t run a nation if it doesn’t have some discourse and public debate based on some commonly accepted facts. I think that this is what’s the danger. It’s what defeated the Roman Empire. You can find all kind of historical parallels of what happens when a society has reduced all news to propaganda. You can’t a run republican democracy that way.