Scott Tibbs

Does journalism need to be objective?

By Scott Tibbs, February 15, 2023

While the mainstream news media has long presented itself as objectively reporting the facts, conservatives have not considered the news media to be objective for many decades now. This precedes Donald Trump by decades, as Richard Nixon was well known for his hostility to the media. I have heard conservatives complain about the Herald-Times since I first got involved in local politics in 1995. So when a column in the Washington Post argued against "objectivity" in news coverage, millions of conservatives thought "you were never objective in the first place."

It is a little silly to make this about race and sex, blaming objectivity on "white men." Not everything is about "the patriarchy" or "white supremacy," and it seems like little more than virtue signaling when a white male is writing the column. Objectivity, if and when it actually exists, is not meant to uphold existing power structures or suppress minority voices. It is designed to gain the trust of the readers.

But objectivity does not exist, and the mainstream media started to openly admit it when Trump was President. He was uniquely dangerous, they said, and they could not accurately report on him by giving equal time to "both sides." This is probably not something the news media can come back from, especially given that conservatives already distrusted the news media and considered them biased.

The reality on the ground is that openly biased news coverage is popular and growing. Rush Limbaugh pioneered this in the 1990's, and his success spawned legions of people to get into openly biased commentary. Ben Shapiro has one of the most popular podcasts on the internet, and Joe Rogan has also gained in popularity with some of his unique takes and guests. I have much more respect for news sources that openly admit their bias than for those that pretend to be "objective" but clearly are not.

This actually presents an opportunity for the media. Openly biased news and commentary can and does succeed, but you have to be trustworthy for that to work. This means getting all of the relevant facts without unnecessary "both-sidesism." This means not taking people out of context. This means not rushing to be "first" and getting the story completely wrong. It is possible to be both biased and trustworthy. The mainstream media needs to worry a lot more about the latter and a lot less about the former.

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