Objectivity Is Concensus. Truth is Persuasion.

Are there questions political reporters shouldn’t try to answer? Michael Scherer of Time magazine seems to think so.

Determining which politicians are being misleading involves unreliable subjective judgment. Because no objective metric exists to sniff out deception, reporters are better off not tackling the subject.

He’s basically saying Fox News fact checkers will pummel Obama. And MSNBC fact checkers will crush Romney. So it’s best that reporters not call out politicians and just report the news.

…I feel I can say with confidence that the likelihood that someone believes they know who is misleading more is directly related to their own partisan feelings in this campaign. There are just too many subjective judgements that have to be made to come to any conclusion, and as I point out in my piece, we are predisposed to forgive those deceivers that share our worldviews and punish those who do not.

John McQuaid of Forbes disagrees. Just because something is hard to answer, that is, not able to be proven using numbers, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother to answer.

That a question is difficult, and in this case super-controversial, are certainly powerful incentives not to make judgments. But I don’t think that makes this question effectively impossible to address. Moreover, to put such a question off-limits is arbitrary. Why this question, and not thousands of other subjective questions that have no empirical “answers” that are entirely routine in campaign reportage?

If you’ve been reading Draper’s Den, you’ll know that I think the first perspective is barf-worthy status quo horse-race news garbage, and that the second perspective describes the kind of stuff Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow do.

Yes, their judgments are subjective. They do not pretend to be cyborg-news readers without opinions or preferences or judgments. But they do their best to guide you through their thinking. You don’t have to agree with their conclusions, on which politicians are liars or what campaign is being phony, but they show you how they themselves got there. With video evidence and quotes and cultural observation they walk you through their thought process.

It’s called critical thinking.

In this kind of journalism objectivity is not pretending to remain neutral, it’s not depicting false equivalency, or acting “dumb” by merely stating what “he said” and what “she said.” Objectivity becomes forging a consensus: Trying to get everyone’s subjective opinion to mesh with yours because your descriptions are useful, insightful and open to criticism.

In this kind of journalism truth is not some magical representation of what’s REALLY REAL. It’s not merely reporting the news with a flat tone, devoid of the first person. The truth is not just quoting experts and citing studies. Truth becomes the most accurate and persuasive and useful description. We say things are “true” because we want people to believe us, to join us, to get others to do things. And the truth emerges when descriptions are agreed upon, when predictable outcomes occur, when facts “check out.”

Journalists need to define themselves as assertive, critical thinking story tellers, not just purveyors of campaign happenings, hiding behind bullshit ideas like objectivity.

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