Posts Tagged ‘Information Warfare’

A brief history of objectivity in American news

June 16, 2020

[This is a replacement for my half-baked, deleted comment on the previous post.]

We talk about objective news reporting as if it were an age-old professional standard that everybody had always accepted.  In fact, it is a fairly recent development, very much related to economic considerations.

Most people in the 19th century USA would have been surprised to be told that journalists should not be opinionated.  Newspapers typically were organs of political parties and got their revenue from government printing contracts when their party was in power.

Other newspapers were organs of the local business community, or of churches, or of political reformers.  Others made money from being sensational or entertaining.

That doesn’t mean that all journalism of that era was of a low quality.  The Federalist Papers were first published as newspaper articles.  The Lincoln-Douglas debates were published in full in newspapers.  Mark Twain got his start as a newspaper reporter.  The muckrakers of the early 20th century exposed corruption in government and politics, and provided ammunition for the progressive reform movement.

Adolph Ochs’ New York Times made a point of separating news and opinion.  He saw his mission as providing accurate information that people in business could use as a basis for making decisions.

So did the Associated Press.  The AP served a consortium of newspapers.  Its mission was to provide news that could be run in any newspaper verbatim, no matter what the newspaper’s political slant.  This meant (1) a high standard of accuracy and (2) no opinions that differed from the consensus view.

I started working on newspapers in late 1958 when this was the standard of professionalism. Ideally, nobody reading an article would know what the reporter’s opinion was.

Getting a byline over a news article was rare because, in theory, good reporters would all report the news in the same neutral.  The byword was, “You report what you know, you don’t report what you think.”

Opinion belonged on the the editorial page, not the front page (although many readers didn’t know the difference).

This was good discipline for reporters starting out.  I bent over backwards to be fair to views I thought were clearly wrong and later, when I learned more about the topic, I was very glad I did.


Am I being unpatriotic when I link to RT News?

November 30, 2017

RT News and Sputnik International are news services funded by the Russian government.   They are said to be waging “information warfare” against the United States.

RT America and Sputnik International have been ordered to register as foreign agents, the only foreign news services that have been ordered to do so.  What this means is that they will be required to disclose their sources of funds and other details of their operations.

The FBI is investigating Sputnik.  Google has changed its algorithm to “de-rank” RT and Sputnik in Google searches.  Twitter has banned advertising by RT and Google.

None of these things prevent RT or Sputnik from reporting their version of the news or making their reports available to Americans.   We’re not like the old Soviet Union, where you could be arrested for listening to the Voice of America.

And, in one respect, the United States is more liberal than the Russian federation.  Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America lost their Russian broadcast licenses in 2012 and 2014, but Sputnik still has a radio station in Washington, D.C.

The anti-Russia campaign is intended to brand Americans as unpatriotic if they work for RT or Sputnik, appear on their programs or even watch their programs.

I’ve linked to RT News videos in previous posts.  What does that make me?  Am I unpatriotic?

I think an American who listens to or watches RT or Sputnik is like a Russian who watches or listens to the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.   The U.S. government has an ulterior motive in funding these two news services.   At the same time, they provide Russians with information and ideas they wouldn’t get from their domestic broadcasters.

Established U.S. broadcasters have a limited range of viewpoints they regard as acceptable.   I never noticed this until my own thinking moved outside the range of the acceptable.   So if there’s something on RT News I think is interesting or worthwhile, even though it might not be acceptable to PBS or CNN, I’ll link to it..    That’s my right as a free American.