Saturday, March 23rd | 16 Adar II 5779

April 19, 2017 1:56 pm

The Case Against Media ‘Objectivity’

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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A stack of newspapers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Who really believed in the objectivity of journalists? As students we used to debate which was preferable: the Western system of arbitrary rich men owning newspapers, motivated by self-interest and the flow of advertising in determining what sells and what is news, or the communist system of a group of party ideologues deciding what should be published for the public good in Pravda or Izvestia? We knew perfectly well that each side was doctoring the news one way or another.

In the Britain of my youth, we knew where the Manchester Guardian, the News Chronicle, and The Times stood on the political issues of the day. In Israel, we know where Haaretz stands and where The Jerusalem Post sits. In New York, we know the difference between The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and their journalists. We are under no illusions of objectivity. Fake news has always been around. Just think of Jews drinking blood on the Seder night. Many Christians and Muslims believed that for hundreds of years. And there is a fine line between completely fake stories, doctored documents and photos, biased editorial opinion and lies. But if we are thinking people, we will try to check the facts, read multiple opinions and decide for ourselves.

It is true that in my youth we thought the BBC was objective. But enough evidence has emerged since of vested interests, government interference, jobs for the boys and just plain corruption to know that there is no such thing as unbiased, objective news. In the same way, I was taught as a child that the police were honest, incorruptible public servants and the tax authorities carried out their investigations honestly and objectively. It is now abundantly clear that both assumptions were wrong, and those who maintained such views often lived to regret it. You needed to lawyer up or face the consequences. Unlike my father, I now tell my children not to trust any of them.

So reading the New York Times this week, I was not surprised to see that its editorial declared that the wall (security fence) Israel erected “does not work,” using this claim to make fun of Donald Trump’s Mexican border wall proposal. Well, you can’t beat this for examples of dishonest reporting. I had to check that it wasn’t April Fool’s Day. Why doesn’t Israel’s wall work? Because, says the Times, one can send missiles over walls. Yes, of course that’s true, and fighter planes, and IBMs, and nuclear bombs. But that doesn’t mean the wall is not working.

Whether one agrees with the concept of the fence’s construction, thinks its unaesthetic or that it was built incompetently, and whatever one’s position on the conflict at large, it is indisputable that the number of suicide bombers coming into Israel from the West Bank dramatically reduced after the wall was erected. Of course, there are ways of getting over and around, and there has been a recent spike in vehicles mowing down ordinary people, knifings and lone wolf attacks on civilians. But we’ve seen nothing comparable to the rash of suicide bombs that characterized the previous intifada. Just because you can ram down a front door, doesn’t mean a front door is useless, and should not be put up and locked. And just because some criminals get away with it, doesn’t mean it is pointless to have security.

If peace comes, which we all pray for, the wall will not have been a factor.

Why is it so silly for nations to define their borders, particularly if there is a problem with illegal immigration? Don’t countries have the right to restrict entry? Even if one welcomes refugees as one should, there still needs to be some sort of order and regulation. But clearly the Times adheres consistently to its agenda and is determined to only see the worst in Israel (and they don’t have enough to work with, so they manufacture more). Fair enough, so long as the paper isn’t claiming to be pursuing objectivity.

Indeed, I believe objectivity is not everything. Why shouldn’t one pursue one’s moral objectives?  I am insisting that one simply be honest about their motives.

Let me go further and say that the Bible is not objective. It has an agenda. I may approve of the agenda, but that does not mean there might not be another point of view. Perhaps the Canaanites were lovable, hippy tree-huggers. History is often written by the victors. The Egyptians and the Hittites never recorded their defeats! Only the Bible did. But that was because it required its people to uphold certain standards, and for there to be consequences if they failed.

Objective or not, we can all agree that the Bible is an amazing document of law, lore, poetry and tradition.

Or take the Exodus. Did the Israelites borrow, beg or steal Egyptian gold and silver when they left? Or did they simply ask for back pay? Better not ask Palestinian ideologues, because they claim there weren’t any Israelites in the Middle East until Zionism. We consider the Exodus from Egypt to be a glorious release and the start of something great. Two thousand years ago, the Egyptian priest Manetho thought we were a bunch of diseased, disaffected slaves who rebelled, killed off all the good guys and took off for Canaan.

I don’t mind hearing other points of view. I am happy to read Freud’s fanciful Moses and Monotheism, in which Moses was a pal of Akhenaten, who briefly overthrew the old order. When he himself was kicked out, Moses lost his job. He looked around for a leaderless people and foisted himself on them. When he tried to impose too many restrictions, they killed him. And it was the guilt that drove them into this crazy religion they’ve had ever since. Well, you could knock me down with a feather. But so what? A good education requires one to face different and often difficult ideas. That was why my father introduced me to Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus! I do not fear contrary opinions, and it seems to me that if some people and some religions do, then it is a sure sign of their insecurity.

But, liberal America has become an effete, pathetic, gutless bunch, from whining college students complaining about being subjected to different points of view, to adults who should know better that piss in their pants and throw hissy fits because someone they cannot bear won an election. Quit whining, for goodness’ sake. Life is all about facing challenges, not overprotecting people when they are disappointed to the point that they become unable to cope with any difficulties.

So, go enjoy our Holy Days.

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