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No News in the News


There’s no such thing as objective reporting. Objectivity requires verifiable fact. What is now called news is essentially a collection of impressions and opinions. It’s gossip.

If you don’t believe me, here’s Michael Crichton’s opinion from a interview on May 23rd, 2008:

Do you think the media's factual content and accuracy is up or down from 2002 (when we last corresponded)? Do you still think it's flashy but junk?

Surely you jest. Factual content approaches zero, and accuracy is not even a consideration. I think many younger reporters aren't really sure what it means, beyond spell-checking. And in any case, when the factual content approaches zero, accuracy becomes meaningless.

Why do I say factual content approaches zero? The easiest way is to record a news show and look at it in a month, or to look at last month's newspaper. That pulls you out of the narcotizing flow of what passes for daily news, and you can see more objectively what is actually being presented. Look at how many stories are unsourced or have unnamed sources. Look at how many stories are about what "may" or "might" or "could" happen. Look at how many news stories have opinion frames, i.e., "Obama faced his most challenging personal test today," because in the body you probably won't be told much about what the personal test was, or why it was most challenging (which in any case is opinion). In summary, reliance on unnamed sources means the story is opinion. Might and could means the story is speculation. Framing as I described means the story is opinion. And opinion is not factual content.

There is, by sheer volume of content, more news facts in the blogosphere than in the old media. Bloggers spend much time researching and refuting each other’s assertions. There’s soooo much noise to sift through, but in the haystack of snark, one can find needles of truth.

Yet the hit-making narratives are still formed by the old media. In order to become a hit, or win an election, a mass or majority of all people must arrive at the same feeling on a song, movie or candidate. Only old media has the reach and power to reinforce feeling across a culture or society.

When the subject is entertainment, an absence of fact is not too harmful. We may not get those 94 minutes and eight bucks back, but Return of the Revenge of the Sequel III can be quickly forgotten. When the subject is politics, an absence of fact means suffering and death. The legacy of the dead in Iraq is likely to be decided by the fact-free news narrative of which they are now a part.