Passion and journalism…

Thomas Mitchell, of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, wrote an interesting column for his Sunday paper about so-called objective journalism. He’s fed up with this “perversion of human nature.”

Actually, the term “objective” does not refer to “point of view.” Objectivity in journalism was meant to refer to journalistic practice, i.e. the methods by which reporters gather, evaluate, and write the news. The concept of “fairness” dictates that reporters will try to get “both sides of the story,” which is a simplistic way of saying that reporters should adequately cover the important angles and opinions. (See the Critical Meter for a discussion of the fairness bias.)

Mitchell correctly points out that political coverage is often dull because so much of what’s important is left out–the passion of strong points of view. We may think of this as a “perversion of human nature” this way: we are more often moved by emotion (pathos) than by logic. Citizens find ideological and/or partisan–passionate–information more politically useful than so-called objective information that can be fair to the point of blandness. Here’s how Mitchell put it:

I pointed to marketing surveys by all the big media corporations that startlingly discover the public has little appetite for political news, resulting in suggestions the news media cut back on its coverage of politics. To which I reply, maybe it isn’t that the public doesn’t care for politics. Maybe it is that you cover politics in such a boring, middle-of-the-road, noncommittal fashion that it induces yawns instead of yelps.

Now, what might be the commercial implications of this?

UPDATE (11:55 a.m.): Ethan Rarick, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, reminds us that this fall is the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s “last press conference” following his defeat for governor of California in 1962. From the press conference came the now famous line: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.” Rarick’s article speaks to the differences between a partisan and an “objective” press.

The full Nixon quote that ended the press conference is also instructive:

I leave you gentlemen now and you will now write it. You will interpret it. That’s your right. But as I leave you I want you to know — just think how much you’re going to be missing.

You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you. I have always respected you. I have sometimes disagreed with you. But unlike some people, I’ve never canceled a subscription to a paper and also I never will.

I believe in reading what my opponents say, and I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio (and) the press first recognize the great responsibility they have to report all the news, and, second, recognize that they have a right and a responsibility, if they’re against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize if they give him the shaft put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then. Thank you gentlemen, and good day.

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Professor Drezner, of the University of Chicago, speaks to these issues today–especially the utility of ideological/partisan information.