[LINK] Balance the enemy of facts (was Re: Jobs not all bad)

Richard Chirgwin rchirgwin at ozemail.com.au
Thu Oct 20 18:47:56 AEDT 2011


Violently agree.

"Balance" is a construct of many things, but largely because it's yelled 
at journalists by publicists, media managers, spin doctors and all the 
rest. You need a strong stomach to write a climate change story 
*without* calling one wingnut for a quote, knowing that an organized 
opposition will mobilize against you.

My personal dictum is that "facts are not balanced". If I am dealing 
with a fact, I see neither obligation nor value in finding someone to 
act as a disputant, simply to hide behind the skirts of balance. Is the 
headline "Ned Kelly guilty!" balanced? No: but it may still be true, 
fair and factual. Likewise, if I'm reporting (say) the existence of a 
set of measurements from CERN, it's quite hard enough to do the science 
well enough, without trying to dig around just so someone can say "no, 
it isn't so".

Eg: "CERN has released the data from the neutrino experiment for peer 
review" is not a fact that requires qualification or balance, as some 
journalists seemed to think; the point of the data release was to have 
it properly examined and torn apart by the scientific community; a "spot 
opinion" saying "Einstein was wrong!" followed by a second spot opinion 
saying "the data is wrong!" is merely journalistic name-dropping for the 
sake of some extra noise and confusion.

There's a second influence, which is that journalists misinterpret their 
code of ethics as demanding that "each story should contain a contrary 
point of view". No: being fair to persons is not necessarily the same 
thing; being "fair" to "ideas" (ie, "giving the climate change deniers 
equal time") is just stupid; an idea isn't capable of suffering injury.

A third influence is something I've discussed on Link before: the 
publicist's equivocation between "the right to speak freely" and the 
"right to be heard". The first is active and says that the State should 
not oppress or punish individuals merely for what they say (or write or 
publish). The second construction is oppressive: it tries to impose an 
obligation on the hearer, and eliminate the right to ignore what someone 
is saying.

In the case of journalism, the "right to be heard" works hand-in-hand 
with "publicist's balance" to make a journalist feel that they have to 
"represent all points of view" - which often has regrettable results.


On 20/10/11 6:03 PM, Ivan Trundle wrote:
> On 20/10/2011, at 2:15 PM, David Goldstein wrote:
>> Compare and contrast - in today's Australian a report on the death of one of the original white shoe brigade members in Queensland, Keith Williams. It is mostly positive, but very early on in the report there is mention of controversial issues in his life.
>> So why isn't this par for the course for Steve Jobs? Well, largely, maybe wholly, the infatuation people had with him. There can be articles written when a person dies that looks at the good and the bad. To think otherwise is idiotic.
> The idiocy is in thinking that, on balance, we are all half good and half bad, and that each of us should be seen that way. This is the 'balanced' reporting that we now expect to see in the media.
> iT
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