It’s time to junk the journalistic creed of “balance”
Here is an important argument–that we’d have something like real democratic politics,
and not this endless deadlock between ultra-right and center-right, if we had a press that
wasn’t stupefied by the unholy creed of “balance.”
“Balance” means that you must honor “both sides” of an issue, even if one “side” is
patently insane. And, on the other hand, if “both sides” happen to agree, “balance”
dictates that there is “no story there,” even if “both sides” happen to be wrong (or,
for that matter, patently insane).
As David Brock notes in his book The Republican Noise Machine, the press began to
live and (mentally) die by “balance”–which is not the same as objectivity–just
as mighty corporate interests seized the media, and thereby pulled the system sharply
to the right. Thus the cult of “balance” has distorted US journalism since the Eighties,
when groundless notions of all kinds (“trickle-down economics,” race-based theories
of intelligence, “orginalism,” etc.) rather suddenly became respectable, “certified” by
outfits like the Heritage Foundation and like propaganda mills.
The lions of the press then rapidly forgot (not that they ever knew it very well) that
worthwhile journalism must observe a certain bias–in favor of reasoned argument,
sound evidence, and, especially, the public interest. Call it an enlightenment bias,
which is, of course, anathema to the rampaging Christianists and neo-Randist activists
from whom we hear so much–too much–today.
To change all this, we need not just to junk the creed of balance but transform the
system that gave rise to it; and that requires a revolutionary drive for media reform.
(To that end, I recommend, again, Bob McChesney and John Nichols’ new book
Death and Life of American Journalism.)
Beyond Krugman’s “And that’s just the way it is.”
Steven G. Brant
Paul Krugman has written an otherwise excellent essay entitled “Senator Bunning’s Universe,” in which he describes the totally different universes in which America’s two major political parties now live.