The Savage, the Syllogism, and the Revolution
Objectivity is the concept of justice applied to the field of journalism. Justice requires that each man be treated precisely as he deserves, with no exceptions. Objectivity requires that each word, fact, opinion, and syllogism be handled with the same high level of precision.
Just as law without justice is a cruel perversion, journalism without objectivity is an obscene contradiction in terms. It is also cheap fraud: what would be your verdict of the judge who declared that justice is impossible and yet continued to practice? What, then, is your judgement of the newsmagazine that asserts that a proper handling of the news is impossible?
Time claims that it strives not for objectivity, but for fairness. Such a statement is suspect; to handle the news fairly is to handle it objectively. Is not justice fair? Time's false distinction is simple deceit, involving crass disrespect for journalism, objectivity, and fairness.
In an attempt to dissuade its readers from expecting honesty in its reporting, Time has strung up an emaciated strawman which it calls objectivity: "complete neutrality on public questions and important news," news reporting without viewpoint, emotion, or purpose. Hanging limply above the village square, this deformed dummy has been the easy target for a slew of editorial stones. "Anyone who was objective," David Brinkley was quoted as saying, in the March 4th issue, "would be some sort of vegetable."
Brinkley's claim is Time's surrogate for sophistication. Objectivity is a concept pertaining to the human mind only; vegetables don't think. Riding on the crest of uncontrolled emotion, it is Time's subjectivism that comes closest to simulating the mental state of "some sort of vegetable." But it cannot quite achieve it; vegetables don't feel, either.
More parrot than carrot, Time is part of a national conspiracy of carbon copies that call themselves independent newsmagazines yet display remarkably similar (and remarkably wrong, as well) positions on a wide range of issues. Whether Time is the transmitter or merely one repeater in this sewing circle of professional cynicism is irrelevant; what is important is the recognition that, to the extent to which the doctrine of non-objectivity is practiced, the inevitable result will be journalistic echolalia. After dismissing reason, all that is left is rote.
The cause and effect relationship between non-objectivity and nonindependent journalistic stature is eloquently demonstrated in Time's own letter on objectivity. As critical as this issue is, Time chose not to prove the validity of its case, but merely to assert it, and add, as if perhaps a clinching argument, that Newsweek had just released an equivalent statement.
But even if it tried, Time could not validate its assertions: how would one proceed to prove objectivity impossible when proof is the essence of objectivity? If Time's assertion is correct, if objectivity is impossible, then there are no standards by which to judge whether or not that assertion is valid. By its own efforts, Time has placed itself outside the realm of rational consideration.
By means of the same act of intellectual self-abnegation which threw its journalistic integrity open to consumption by any random vulture, by any noisy "prominent social critic" or "influential thinker," Time has cast a death wish upon the minds of its readers, who are apparently to accept any ill-defined notion, any unsupported assertion, merely because Time says it is so. Because the editors have forsaken the art of looking at the world through their own minds, they now wish to persuade their readers to follow suit. This is, in part, the purpose of the letter's strawman assertions. The assertions resemble in a horrible way those of the avowed liar who tells his dupes that truth is fantasy, or the burglar who cries that property is theft. And the motive is the same.
If the staff of Time claims that objectivity is impossible, then in reality what they are saying is that objectivity is impossible for the staff of Time. What was meant to pass casually as a statement of policy turns out to be no less than a psychological confession.
But the purpose and import of Time's strawman evasions is not merely that of a tactical device designed to defend undefendable positions or instill a false sense of self-esteem in its staff. Its full meaning is more significant than that: it is a faithful application of the tenets of modern philosophy. If Time is a puppet, it is one with three tangled sets of strings: one feebly tugged by the public ("Tell them what they want to hear."), another impatiently yanked by the "intellectual establishment" ("Tell them what they don't want to hear."), and the third, inexorably controlled by the philosophy the editors hold ("Either way is fine, so long as the results don't make sense.").
Modern philosophy claims (in its basic form) that reason is impotent—knowledge, impossible—the universe, fundamentally chaotic and anti-life. Thought is a fantasy—reality, an illusion. Man is an insect whose every thought, conviction, and action is the result of some unknowable, uncontrollable force.
Loyal adherence to these canons has produced the jerky, aimless robot which is Time. Modern philosophy declares that the human mind is impotent? Time's editors have obliged: they have shut off their own. Modern philosophy declares that the universe is chaotic and inexplicable; the editors of Time must agree, for explanation is a convenience possible only to a thinking mind, and chaotic is what existence will seem to any mind that doesn't. Modern philosophy declares that men are the pawns of an uncontrollable force; self-righteous subjectivism, in which feelings of unknown origin and unavoidable compulsion dictate how the news is to be handled, is Time's answer and proof. This is not to say that Time is a perfect and consistent product of modern philosophy. Such a product could not exist; zero is zero.)
How completely modern philosophy has succeeded in the destruction of journalism as a discipline may be seen in a study of that magazine's position on objectivity. Time's attack and misrepresentation of objectivity is in principle "much the same as modern philosophy's "refutation" of reason. Both are attacks on the basic structure of the respective disciplines.
Journalism involves a process of identifying aspects of reality and setting the results to paper for publication. It differs from other forms of non-fiction mostly in terms of audience and subject matter.
Objectivity is the method by which the journalist (or any man) identifies attributes of reality. It is the recognition that emotions are not a means of cognition, that existence exists, independent of man's perception of it, and that there is but one means of perceiving and understanding it: a process of rational thought. Objectivity is not merely a type of reporting, to be chosen or discarded as one might choose between flavors of ice cream, but the method by which man perceives, identifies, integrates, and validates all sensory information.
Unless an author has successfully engaged in a process of thought guided by objective standards, his product will not so much be writing as it will be mere sentences. The claim that objective journalism is impossible is true only if transposed to read; journalism without objectivity is impossible.
The same rules that apply to writing about physics apply also to the study of human events. There is no rational reason to place humanity outside the law of causality. The journalist is required, as is the scientist, to record what happens, not what was desired to happen. If a journalist wishes to analyze an event he must adhere to the same strict rules of evidence as must the scientist. He must present undoctored facts, and only relevant facts. This requires thought and thus objectivity. Here, then, is where a magazine like Time which asserts: "the proper recording of each fact requires a dozen judgements and thus opinions," falls on its face. If a scientist were to declare: "The scientific method is absurd; I use my emotions instead," you would not hire him to wash floors, much less study social ills. Yet, in essence, this is what Time is saying.
To understand human events, the same rigorous logic and grimness of purpose is demanded of the journalist as is of the researcher who studies atomic reactions, mathematical equations, or the lines of stress in the steel skeleton of a building. The lives of hundreds of millions may be dependent on the scientist's thoroughness and accuracy. If he allows the slightest trace of emotion to enter into his equations, the result could be the disaster of a nuclear accident or the calamity of a collapsed skyscraper. The destruction wreaked by journalistic malpractice is no less real and may be even more extensive.
When a scientist wishes to draw conclusions from his data, he is required to engage in a process of logic. If he wishes to convince others he must meet stiff criteria: the steps of his thinking and the source of his information must be clear, his data must be reproducible he must test his conclusions or allow others to do so, he must emphasize when he is speculating on scattered, inconclusive data. Such care and thoughtfulness, however, does not appear to be necessary for the journalist. Any damn assertion will do. After all, the objects of his attention are mere humans, and humans do not conform to rules as do electrons and mathematical equations.
No one would claim (yet) that the scientific method turns the scientist into a vegetable, or that it precludes the formation of conclusions concerning the work at hand, or that it prevents the expression of emotion with regard to the work. Yet objectivity, which is the journalist's "scientific method," is accused of all these things. If anyone were to so attack the scientific method, that his purpose was an attack upon human thought and not upon the prevention of free expression, would be quite clear. Yet when David Brinkley calls those who demand journalists adhere to objective principles, vegetables, no cry of protest is heard. This double standard is no accident; there are reasons for its existence.
The deathgrip which modern philosophy has on journalism is not merely that of ten commandments, tacked on the wall, that journalists have agreed to abide by. Plain assertions have no power over men of independent mind. The coup d'etat against objectivity has been executed by means of the pollution of epistemology, that field of philosophy that answers (or does not answer, as the case may be) the question: how does man know? For the last century, the answer which philosophers have been peddling is: who says man can know anything? With such expert guidance, it is not surprising that journalism has collapsed into a disheveled circus parade of parrots marching to the spasmodic beat of random, meaningless events.
Conceptualization is man's means of acquiring knowledge. But it is precisely against the process of concept-formation that most of the rhetoric of philosophy has been aimed. And the aim has been accurate: today, most people hold higher-order concepts as vague approximations, swimming in a sticky soup of emotion. They have learned not to understand words, but to respond to them automatically, like a dog answering to his name. Beyond simple abstractions like "table" or "horizontal," the meaning of words fade into obscurity. A decade and a half early, the "double-think" of George Orwell has arrived.
The journalist's tools of trade are his concepts. Isn't it clear, when a magazine with as large a circulation as Time says; "We know that truth is based on an interplay between fact and opinion, and that the two are inextricable," that the toolshed has been robbed? Time's intellectual bankruptcy may surprise those who, mesmerized by that magazine's glittering display of verbal erudition, never perceived that what they were reading was a mere series of twinkling strings of zeroes adding up to just that: zero.
An analysis of the quote above will serve as excellent illustration. Truth is the proper identification of reality. Facts are true statements concerning the nature of existence. An opinion is an unsupported belief; once there is some evidence to support an opinion, it becomes a theory, a hypothesis, or a fact, depending on the nature of the evidence. One's store of facts is one's knowledge; opinions are not part of that knowledge.
Observe that Time has gayly glued together words of contradictory meaning, not realizing (or not wishing to realize) that the result is worse than babytalk (a baby is desperately trying to make sense; Time is desperately trying not to).
The man who cannot separate fact from feeling (opinion), cannot claim knowledge of anything, let alone that truth consists of an "interplay" between what exists and what he feels exists. Yet this is the same magazine that on June 21, 1968 recommended all American guns be registered by government—on October 18, 1968 asserted that George Wallace was leading a "revolt of the right" (REASON, December '68)—on December 13, 1968 recommended "welfare as a right"—on January 10, 1969 argued in favor of a volunteer army.
Were these positions, in fact, valid, or mere opinion? It hardly matters in Time's Alice-in-Wonderland world, in which the two, fact and opinion, are almost interchangable, if only one takes care to check the "interplay." (We can't help but wonder who—or what—determines the acceptable ratio in the"interplay" between fact and opinion.)
Time is probably both representative and in leadership of much of the "liberal" (a euphemism for "the in-crowd") press, the conductor of a symphony of tape-players all playing the same tape. As goes Time, so, it seems, goes the rest of the parade. If this is so, then the situation, as far as objectivity is concerned, is inauspicious, to say the least.
If the situation is to be saved, if the integrity of journalism is to be recaptured from the purveyors of packaged paradoxes, it is Alice's Wonderland which must be thrown out. Life is not a bowl of contradictions, and all the city rooms in the nation won't make it so. If journalism is again to offer anything more cogent than a dulling recapitulation of threadbare bromides and dubious dialectic, subjectivism must be challenged at its root. Revealing the press as inaccurate in any specific instance will not suffice when distortion is the rule, and not the exception.
What is needed is total revolution, a complete reexamination of the concept of objectivity as it applies to journalism. The smug media establishment must be challenged. To this revolution, this magazine dedicates its efforts. It will be a bloodless revolt, a brushing away of cobwebs, for the "ruling class" passed away long ago, assassination victims of a long line of man-killers, beginning with Kant. Just as the establishment's only task consists of dispensing fog, ours will consist of dispersing it.