Monday, April 11, 2005

Token Articles, Letters, and Other Examples of "Objectivity"

In the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his family on a sight-seeing tour of the United States. When he stops the family car at the Grand Canyon (if I remember the scene correctly), he tells the wife and kids to get out, they walk over to the edge of the majestic chasm, they peek down, and without further ado Chase says, "OK, that's it, kids, we've seen the Grand Canyon, back into the car", and they drive on to the next sight.

That scene is what comes to mind when I hear people in the mainstream media claim they have been objective and given la parole à tous.

That's what I think of when I hear the (lame) comeback (whether by journalists or by common citizens), "Oh yes of course, of course we are against that (other dictatorship/other tragedy taking place elsewhere) too."

Practitioners of asymmetric journalism — and the common citizens who spend a lifetime getting their news from same (and occasionally growing up to become journalists) — look at the other problem for a brief instant, appropriately wringing their hands and making tch-tch noises (which they believe in themselves), but just for as long as is necessary, before returning to the ignominy of the moment with the harshest of expletives and the strongest bile — invariably involving Uncle Sam, one of its allies, or capitalist society.

What has been called tokens (potiches, I call them in French) are simply alibis to give the media outlets that use them the appearance of objectivity. The television equivalent would be the (rare) program or the (rare) guest who is allowed to say the unpolitically correct (although he or she is almost invariably interrupted, shouted down, mocked, or — at best — never given the opportunity to have the last word).

Ray from Davids Medienkritik explains it best:

[Recently, an excellent piece was published] that unfortunately falls into the category of rare token article. … For those who aren't [familiar with the phenomenon], the game goes a little something like this: Once every fortnight or so, [an MSM outlet like Der Spiegel will feature] an editorial that completely goes against the grain of its predominantly left-wing, anti-American worldview. This is done more out of vanity than any real sense of journalistic integrity. The purpose of the exercise is to apply a thin veneer of spray-on pseudo-objectivity to mask the overwhelming stench of the publication's rank, overt bias.

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