The Price of Objectivity

At the Brian Storm (of Hearst Foundation New Media Lecture at Columbia J. school. Brian talks about the fallacy of objectivity, or at leas the fallacy of being unwilling to be an advocate, pointing to Darfur, and that it was extremely hard to produce a piece for the non-advocacy Council on Foreign Relations about what’s happening there. “I think Bashir is a bad person,” and should go, he says of the Sudanese leader.

“If you’re a journalist and you don’t have an agenda, you don’t have a pulse,” Brian says much later. Sometimes you have to push hard to get [an audience] to give a shit on the things they should care about,” whether its the Sudan, Rwanda, post-Katrina New Orleans or danger to elephants.

Fascinating to hear him toe this line, which must be anathema to many in these hallowed journalistic halls. Brian notes how when working at MSNBC he was not allowed, for example, to put music in documentary work -- something he does regularly now (and a question about which sparked the discussion).

“Ethics, I do have them,” he says, implicitly arguing that advocacy is actually a more ethical position.

Objectivity, I would argue, is damn near impossible. Where you point the camera, even how you frame the shot, let alone the quotes you choose or the point you make when writing, or what-not, are all choices. With a genuflection to Nanda Kumar of Baruch College (where I just guest lectured in his class) I ask: Is Google an objective search engine? No. Choices are made in how to write its algorithm.

Fairness is possible, and disclosure of ones’ biases helps achieve that aim. But objectivity? Ever seen Rashomon?

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