A small, informal discussion has started in some media circles – the first quiet conversations about a most basic journalistic tenet – balance. Balance in coverage of the news. Balance in representing all sides. Balance to assure fairness. The discussion is long overdue. It’ll call for judgments and – for that reason – there’ll probably never be a satisfactory solution.
There isn’t much left of the days of really responsible journalism – the professional output that was traditionally expected and – for the most part – traditionally produced. Given more than one side to any story, efforts were made to present all. That, of course, was in the days before “gotcha” journalism, reporters mixing opinion with reporting and the need to report otherwise worthless B.S. that fills too many pages and far too much airtime.
The most recent stimulus for this self-examination is climate change. Yep, simple as that. Or, if you will, as complex as that. With the preponderance of scientific evidence that such change is happening all around us and our world is already the poorer for it, some news organizations are asking how much time – how much ink – should be given those who deny both the science and the reality. What is the media responsibility for reporting the scientific facts accepted by the overwhelming majority of experts, then giving time and ink to the distinct minority denying reality? Denying fact?
It’s long been said the media should just report the facts and let those facts speak for themselves. I buy that. But when what’s on the front pages and what’s leading the nightly news contains no factual merit – climate change denials – irresponsible and baseless impeachment ranting – conspiracy claims without proof – phony stunts of one branch of government to sue another – what facts are being reported? Where does news start and “Entertainment Tonight” end?
Take the climate change story, for example. One very significant fact is that the chairman of the House Science Committee is a climate change denier and flat-earther who loudly proclaims his ignorance by telling all who’ll listen the earth is just 6,000 years old and man lived with dinosaurs. Why is that not reported with such a repetitive assault that he and half a dozen other “deniers” on that important panel are removed? This nation and the world needs strong, responsible and effective political leadership to deal with the terrible realities of climate change. But the power to do that is in the hands of idiots – a distinct and irresponsible minority – who’re blocking attempts to deal legitimately with facts that – ignored much longer – could end our world. Why?
To me, the answer to this “balance in reporting” conversation isn’t as illusive as it seems. Not in these examples. Or in many others. Go back to the original reason for mass media in the first place. Reporting of the facts. Put the facts – all the facts – in the lead story and on the front pages and ignore the garbage. Keep the facts there. Stop trying to balance realities of life – be it political or any other form – by giving time and ink to voices plainly lacking facts – lacking truths – lacking responsible evidence to support them and their irresponsible conduct. That’s not achieving balance. That’s distributing distortion on a large scale.
A prime reason for media existence in the first place is to inform. Make that “responsibly” inform. So stop with the misinformation. Stop spotlighting people and voices with no facts. Stop being a conduit for self-serving voices of ignorance as if they were necessary to “balance” what the rest of know are the facts. Use the power of fact to educate.
We’re a nation gripped by paralysis. To some extent, that paralysis has been caused by an outsized effort to give “balance” to all sides. We’ve mixed fact and ignorance together in an effort to give voice to all – to give balance. In doing so, fact has often been diluted and ignorance is too often accepted as reality. Too many people can’t tell the difference.
The traditional media role to inform is more important than ever. The soul-searching attempts to “balance” need to stop. Stick to the facts.