Reporter fired for trying to be objective

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46 Responses to “Reporter fired for trying to be objective”

  1. teapot says:

    Thanks BB comments section… You successfully took a topic which originally made complete sense to me and turned it into mind-bending confusion.

    I expect no less from you.

  2. sapere_aude says:

    Based on what was written in the Creative Loafing article, it doesn’t appear to me that this is really an epistemological dispute per se — i.e. a dispute over whether or not there is an objective reality that can be known and reported without bias. Sure, it has epistemological undertones and implications; but that’s not really what the dispute is about. The dispute is really about journalistic ethics. It’s about what responsibility journalists have to their readers. It’s about where you draw the line between journalism and propaganda. It seems that the fired reporter wanted to be a real journalist, while the Atlanta Progressive News wants to be a propaganda rag. In essence it’s no different than the brouhaha over Fox News — the only difference is that APN is on the left while Fox is on the right, and APN is honest about their editorial biases while Fox still pretends to be objective.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      It seems that the fired reporter wanted to be a real journalist, while the Atlanta Progressive News wants to be a propaganda rag.

      You have it backwards. The paper is admitting that bias is intrinsic to journalism, whereas the reporter is pretending to be unbiased. Pretense to objectivity is the first rule of propaganda. If you meet a man who claims that he’s always perfectly honest and absolutely right, keep your eyes on him and feel for your hatchet.

      • Brainspore says:

        That does seem to be the crux of the issue. Was he really fired for “trying” to be objective as this headline states or for claiming to be completely objective, which is a virtual impossibility?

      • sapere_aude says:

        @Antinous: Perhaps you have more insight into the specific details of the dispute between the reporter and APN than what was reported in the CL article. But, based on what was stated in the article itself, I stand by my original statement.

        APN’s official policy is to try to advance a particular political agenda through its news coverage. That’s essentially the very definition of “propaganda”. I saw nothing in the article to indicate that the reporter who was fired was pretending to be unbiased, or that he claimed to be perfectly honest and absolutely right. The impression I got from the article was that he was merely trying to be honest in his reporting by refusing to “spin” the facts to fit APN’s political agenda. (Now, perhaps CL wasn’t being objective in its reporting of the facts of this story; but, based solely on what was written in the article itself, I’m still forced to conclude that APN is a propaganda rag and the fired reporter was simply trying to be an ethical journalist. Of course, if you have more information about the story than was written in the CL article, I’d love to hear it.)

        As for your characterization of the difference between propaganda and journalism, I couldn’t possibly disagree more. Propaganda is, by definition, an attempt to influence public opinion by selectively reporting and “spinning” the facts. Journalism is (ideally) supposed to be an attempt to honestly inform the public about matters of public interest, without trying to advance any particular partisan agenda. Some might argue that objective journalism is simply not possible in a politically polarized society (or that what passes for journalism in our society is really just propaganda in disguise); but that doesn’t justify redefining propaganda as journalism and journalism as propaganda, as you have just done.

        You say that bias is intrinsic to journalism. That’s true. Bias is intrinsic to the functioning of the human mind. That doesn’t mean that we ought to just say, “Okay, I’m biased and proud of it; and I’m not even going to try to be objective.” Some of us believe that scholars and journalists have an ethical obligation to try their best to be as objective as possible, in spite of their biases, fully recognizing that perfect objectivity is not possible.

        Objectivity is an IDEAL. And, like any ideal, it is aways just beyond our grasp. When you realize that an ideal is unattainable there are really only two things you can do: either give up on the ideal altogether, or else continue reaching for it (knowing that you’ll never attain it) in the belief that the very act of reaching for it is ennobling — that it’s better to reach for the ideal and not attain it than to give up on the ideal altogether. So it all boils down to the question of which you respect and trust more: a journalist who has given up on the ideal of objectivity and has decided to become a propagandist, or a journalist who continues to strive for objectivity knowing full well that it is unattainable? I can’t speak for you; but, personally, I’ll take the latter.

  3. Chocolatey Shatner says:

    During the course of my doctoral work, I have come to the decision that there is an objective reality. However, it will always remain beyond our ability to fully perceive.

  4. william says:

    Well, props to Cardinale for being honest, anyhow, even if it’s honest idiocy. I’ve rarely seen his point written with such clarity, presumably because most sensible people know when they’ve hit the end stage of reductio ad absurdum. Thank goodness he’s had enough grad school to be trained away from that.

    In some ways, he has a point: the wire service version of “objective” is weak sauce. Quote two opposing sides and you’re done!

    But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an objective reality, or that we have to wallow in our subjectivity. As an actual San Francisco liberal, people like Cardinale make me crazy: unwilling to do the hard work of understanding reality, they base their actions purely on their vaporous ideals, dooming themselves to being perpetually ineffective. And dooming the people they could actually help to suffer further. One might almost think they’re in it for feelings of righteousness, rather than any actual result.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This sounds like it could have come right out of The Onion.

    Sadly, Creative Loafing and its related southeastern US offspring have long been a great source for things to do on the weekend, but a first-class lousy place to obtain anything resembling actual information about the world at alrge.

    Perhaps they should truly embrace their objectives and rename themselves the “Panicked Breathing, Never Mind if it’s True, it’s PROGRESSIVE Times”

    • dcamsam says:

      #1, it should be noted that Springston was fired from APN, not CL. Although that may be a general purpose criticism of CL, unrelated to the post.

      FWIW, I find CL Atlanta to be a good source of local news, at least as good as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  6. ToMajorTom says:

    At least they don’t pretend to be “fair and balanced.” Something to be said for their honesty, I think.

  7. Brainspore says:

    I’m more open to the idea that there is such a thing as objective reality (especially in regards to topics of science and such) than the idea that it is truly possible to report it objectively.

    Objective reporting should be the ideal all journalists strive for, but acknowledging one’s own inherent biases is an important step toward that goal.

    • Felton says:

      Objective reporting should be the ideal all journalists strive for, but acknowledging one’s own inherent biases is an important step toward that goal.

      Sounds like journalism from an anthropologist’s point of view. I like. :-)

  8. Antinous / Moderator says:

    At least they don’t pretend to be “fair and balanced.”

    On the contrary, ‘holding on to the notion that there’s an objective reality’ is a euphemism for believing that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. People used to believe that the sun revolved around a flat earth. At the time, that was regarded as objective reality.

    • ablebody says:

      “People used to believe that the sun revolved around a flat earth. At the time, that was regarded as objective reality.”

      Whaaa-a–?

    • Nadreck says:

      ‘holding on to the notion that there’s an objective reality’ is a euphemism for believing that you’re right and everyone else is wrong

      A Strawman position that no proponent of objective reality in reporting or science has ever held.

      You’re confusing the perception of objective reality with objective reality’s existence and then taking the great leap of saying that if the perception isn’t perfect at all times, as in this single episodic piece of evidence that you produce, then the reality doesn’t exist. So I guess The knowledge of the people who believe in Cleveland is imperfect – Bob for example, thinks it’s in Pennsylvania – so Cleveland doesn’t exist! works for you too.

      But there’s no point in arguing about it: if there is only subjective reality then any viewpoint – that of an objectivist such as myself or indeed that of any person – is just as good as yours. (Dilbert’s corollary: Ignorance is a point of view.) So I get to live in an objective reality just as if there was one.
      Heads I win; tails you lose.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:

      At least they don’t pretend to be “fair and balanced.

      From the full statement:

      APN, on the other hand, does not pretend to be objective. We believe that our news coverage is fair and that our progressive principles are fair

    • Anonymous says:

      People used to believe that the sun revolved around a flat earth. At the time, that was regarded as objective reality.

      It was regarded as such, but it turns out not to be the case. Even so, if I lived in the days when there was less evidence for Aristarchus’ than Ptolemy’s model, I’d hope for reporters to present the facts as such.

      (Although I don’t see why the mechanics of the solar system are relevent, but the existence of Cleveland is a strawman.)

      People like to claim there’s no such thing as objectivity. It’s not true. There’s no such thing as perfect objectivity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have approach it, and the attempt is often worthwhile. Propaganda wouldn’t pretend to objectivity if it wasn’t normally a good thing.

  9. Maddy says:

    cheers to sapere_aude @37 … you just made all my journo profs happy that someone paid attention … back in the day, I remember being annoyed at how righteous all those profs were about objectivity, me thinking it a fallacy, but now having seen something like Fox in action, who truly does openly sneer at objectivity — those profs seem a lot smarter to me …

  10. ZombyWoof says:

    Wow, what an odd and ill thought justification. If this editor is going to be printing knowingly biased stories, I hope he works on his delivery a little more. As somebody said in the comments, he sure comes off as an self important jerk. Still, better than FOX.

  11. oheso says:

    Eh, if that’s their editorial policy, clearly spelled out and repeated over a number of performance reviews, what’s the problem? There’s no law requiring a journal, organ, newspaper, blog, what have you, to be objective. Yes, it’s certainly a major part of the American journalistic ethos and has great roots in the Fourth Estate’s role in American democracy.

    One assumes the Atlanta Progressive News is in touch with its readership. It’s not the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which presumably has its own editorial policy; alternative news sources exist for people living in Atlanta.

  12. Antinous / Moderator says:

    So I guess The knowledge of the people who believe in Cleveland is imperfect – Bob for example, thinks it’s in Pennsylvania – so Cleveland doesn’t exist! works for you too.

    If they’re running news stories about the existence or non-existence of Cleveland, they have bigger problems than the quality of their reporters. Unless the Atlanta Progressive News is a journal of epistemological philosophy, they report on subjects like politics and economics which defy any attempt at objective analysis.

    Now, what were you saying about a straw man?

  13. Anonymous says:

    RT: @DRUNKHULK: REPORTER WANT BE OBJECTIVE! NEWSPAPER SAY HE KANT!

  14. 3lbFlax says:

    This sounds like the perfect BoingBoing newspaper to me. Wilson and Leary would be proud – assuming the paper sticks to its principles and avoids errors like, let’s say, firing a reporter for living in the wrong kind of subjective reality.

  15. Felton says:

    …or would that be a cultural geographer’s point of view?

  16. Tynam says:

    Antinous: Nothing about politics or economics inherently defies objective analysis. Economics-as-a-science is just anothing branch of maths, and a large number of successful results have been obtained by the normal mathematical methods. (Some of them are also political facts.)

    Of course, the state of the maths (economics being a very young science) is currently grossly inadequate to explain most real-world situations – for the same reasons physicists have trouble modelling, say, running taps. But the basic theories are sound and permit perfectly good objective analysis – in those few cases where they apply at all.

    None of which will ever appear in any newspaper, of course, so this misconception is forgivable. You just think economics defies objective analysis because you never see any.

  17. Anonymous says:

    ‘holding on to the notion that there’s an objective reality’ is a euphemism for believing that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.

    Just the opposite: it’s humility.

    Objective reality means that anything I may believe or claim can be subjected to a test that is utterly independent of my mind or even my existence.

    Objective reality means that no matter how hard I believe, I can be wrong … and if I am, I can be shown to be wrong.

    Objective reality means that there is no Authority that dictates everyone else’s reality; rather, we’re all in this together to explore and learn.

    Objective reality means that we’re exploring and learning about the same, common, shared world: thus, your experience can be relevant to me, and mine to you. This is ultimately the only reason we have to believe that other people are really conscious beings, and not “philosophical zombies”. Subjectivity, on the other hand, means that our experiences are necessarily incommensurable; it means we must be zombies to each other.

  18. Nate_001 says:

    In defense of the newspaper, the following is also part of the letter the editor wrote to Creative Loafing. Still a silly reason for firing someone though.

    “We believe there is no such thing as objective news. Typically, mainstream media presents itself as objective but is actually skewed towards promoting the corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy.

    APN, on the other hand, does not pretend to be objective. We believe that our news coverage is fair and that our progressive principles are fair. We aim when possible to give voice to all sides, but aim to provide something different than what is already provided by corporate sources.”

  19. strumpet windsock says:

    I agree with the APN about objectivity. There is no such thing as reporting without bias. Understanding bias does not mean you stop striving to be fair and balanced, however.

    Knowing that the news from a specific source is right-leaning, left-leaning, trade-unionist or christian is in a way more accurate than thinking that what you are reading or seeing is the real and absolute truth.

    Where the APN screwed up here is by calling the reporter objective, which most people understand to mean fair and truthful.
    They should have said something more accurate, which is that he had a different editorial slant.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I do not believe that they’re stating that “actual, physical, objective reality does not exist”. They’re saying that newspapers claiming to be “objective” are doing no such thing, that their “objective reality” is skewed towards their advertisers interests.

    They could have explained it a whole lot better, especially given that they’re in the business of communicating ideas. But taking one sentence out of context and ignoring the explanation of the way they’re using the term is hardly “objective” under any definition of the word. Man up and admit your spin.

  21. sic transit gloria C.F.A. says:

    On the contrary, ‘holding on to the notion that there’s an objective reality’ is a euphemism for believing that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. People used to believe that the sun revolved around a flat earth. At the time, that was regarded as objective reality.

    So I resist the urge to ask Storm
    Whether knowledge is so loose weave
    Of a morning
    When deciding whether to leave
    Her apartment by the front door
    Or the window on her second floor.
    – Tim Minchin

  22. Ugly Canuck says:

    Economics is not “just another branch of math”.
    If it is, so is war.

    Economics is simply politics wearing the mask of science: as people have tried to transform the study of political economies into a “science” since the socialist revolutions of the 1840s, first with Marx, and then in the reaction of the “capitalists”, the theorists of justified privilege.

    Both “sides” attempting illegitimately to gain the “backing” of “science” for their own biases and prejudices when it comes to how others ought to govern their social affairs: as to how their society ought to function, and why.

    Both schools of “scientific” economics, Marx and capitalists, are IMO attempting to extend the success of the 19th Century chemists to social problems, from different sides, and both still wrong: there’s no “objectivist science” requiring people to care for each other in Society.
    There’s no “math-based” predictions here, as to how society ought to share its gains and costs amongst its people: no science, no determinism, just political power. People may forgive debt on a whim: what’s so scientific about charity or compassion?
    If there’s no predictive power, what’s the point of this “science of economics”?

    There’s more than interesting identities in economics: cotrast math.
    And economic principles are NOT derivable without any empirical observation: contrast math.

    Throwing up a few “tautologies by definition” and then NEVER fitting the world as it is, is neither science, nor math. It is politics.

  23. Anonymous says:

    APN, on the other hand, does not pretend to be objective. We believe that our news coverage is fair… We aim when possible to give voice to all sides, but aim to provide something different than what is already provided by corporate sources.

    They’re confusing objectivity with balance, just like every other bloody news outlet.

  24. Ugly Canuck says:

    Perhaps the editor meant “observable” rather than “objective”?

    After all, once something is observable by more than one person, it transcends subjectivity in some sense, yes? Such a thing is more of an “object” than something which is not observable by more than one person, huh?

    I suppose that thus some experiences are “more objective” than others, huh? In that others may share those experiences.
    And thus, a subject’s own internally-felt experiences are incapable of themselves being objects, in the sense here discussed, huh?
    Thus, no self-examination can ever be truly objective, as the observer becomes trapped in an ever-diminishing and ever-increasingly self-referential circle of subjectivity.
    And what other would ever be interested in such narrowly-circumscribed observations? And why?

    The truth is: if there is no “objective reality”, then there can be no “subjective reality”, either.

    That editor ought to re-read his David Hume, perhaps.

  25. Ugly Canuck says:

    Antinous: All reporting whatsoever on any politics has some epistemological philosophy built right into it.
    Refreshing to see such being more openly discussed and examined.

    Well, what do ya know?

  26. Ugly Canuck says:

    Perhaps the distinction drawn between the knower and the known, the subject and object, is useless: or perhaps only useful as a kind of hidden rhetorical device to get the upper hand in political debate.

    How many kinds of reality are there again? I missed the memo…

  27. mookie5 says:

    Excellent comments, Well read, well thought out postings, Thanks for an enjoyable read. Great way to wake up, today. You have all made great points.

  28. Ugly Canuck says:

    Wait a sec: is the problem here about “objective reality”, or of “objectively reporting” that reality?

    Adjectives and adverbs….differ. They are not the same.

    Perhaps his real failure was to objectively report on subjective reality, or perhaps, to subjectively report on objective reality.

    • arkizzle / Moderator says:

      Canuck!

      Save yourself the philosophical headache and just go read the comments on the Creative Loafing article.. :)

      The editor comments and clarifies:

      My point regarding the non-existence of objectivity in news has to do with which facts get included and which don’t– which “sides” get included and which don’t. Every publication has to make choices about this, which are unique to each publication and to each situation being written about. So don’t get it twisted.

  29. Anonymous says:

    The statement sounds pretty certain and objective. Shouldn’t that be something like: “I perceived an individual who seemed to me to be a reporter working for a newspaper where I was the editor. It seemed to me that my understanding of the editorial policy of this news paper (if there was one) didn’t correspond to his understanding. (if he even actually existed), and so I fired him. At least I remember firing him. Maybe I imagined it all.”

    • noah django says:

      F***ing THIS! anon creatively/succinctly points out the ridiculousness of the commenters’ debate. Love you, sir/ma’am.

  30. Anonymous says:

    @Antinous “…they report on subjects like politics and economics which defy any attempt at objective analysis.”

    That is an assertion which is very much open for debate, simply saying it is not enough to demonstrate it. Any attempt? Really?

  31. Ugly Canuck says:

    Apparently, there is a place which is a million miles away from “reality”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xPTphtN-vI

  32. Anonymous says:

    For more on APN’s ideas about objectivity: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/news/0600.html Given their editorial perspective, I can’t imagine that either the writer or the editorial staff were happy, but I think the editor could phrased his letter to CL a little better (if indeed that letter was intended for Creative Loafing). A simple “It wasn’t a good fit for either of us” would’ve been a classier explanation.

    Having said that, it’s kind of funny that Creative Loafing would be the magazine to ‘break the news’; they’ve been guilty of skewed ‘objective’ news plenty of times.

  33. arkizzle / Moderator says:

    As I understand it, from the comments on the CL article, the reporter liked to mix it up with facts and feelings. The people who are standing up for him actually seem to be defending his style of opinion-mixed-with-facts journalism.

    I’m pretty sure the reporter was not a martyr to objectivity.

    • sapere_aude says:

      @arkizzle: If that is indeed the case, then it is a reasonable complaint; and I would certainly be less inclined to stand up for the reporter in this dispute. (However, it wouldn’t change my opinion of APN as a news source — since the article makes it clear that APN’s policy is to push a political agenda, and to reject all attempts at objectivity; which makes them only marginally better than Fox News, since at least APN is honest about their biases while Fox pretends to be “fair and balanced”.)

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