What 'Objective' Means. What 'Bias' Means. What 'Idiot' Means

bi·as   inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something.

"readers said the paper was biased toward the conservatives"

If you want some light reading for eternity, Google the question “is the media biased.” The question is a staple of both the political right and the socialist left. Either The Media is partisan against Republicans as part of our obvious liberal agenda, or the Corporate Media insidiously perpetuates the status quo by shutting out dissenting voices and uncomfortable narratives in favor of crony capitalism and entrenched privilege.

Choose your favorite. They’re both idiotic.

Let’s start with this: there is no “The Media,” any more than there is a The Furniture or a The Flavor. Media is a plural, a category filled with content, quality, degree of rigor, viewpoint, professionalism, platform, philosophy, funding and level of integrity of every shape and kind. The news media are a similarly near-infinite subcategory thereof.  

Accusing The Media of being biased is like accusing -- oh, I dunno -- Mexicans of being rapists. So that’s one thing. As someone who makes a living finding fault with media entities, I can stipulate that there are countless episodes of laziness, ineptitude, cynicism, dishonesty, conflict of interest, cowardice and general malpractice but no overarching agenda apart from figuring out what happened and why.

But wait, says the political right. On such subjects as the origin of the universe, climate change, gun control, abortion and more, the media arrogantly refuses to balance progressive opinions with other views.

OK, that’s true. Because there is no need to “balance” anything with Creationism, climate denial, revisionist history or anything else that flies in the face of, you know, reality. You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you wish, including black helicopters and the Garden of Eden. You are not entitled to have The New York Times validate your belief system.

Same goes for birthers, bogus anti-vax theories, holocaust deniers, Gold Standard cultists and tax protesters who are convinced the U.S. government is illegitimate.  Except to identify such notions as phenomena, there is no reason -- once the evidence or zero evidence is in -- to mention these beliefs at all, no matter how deeply held by their faithful. You feel that the George W. Bush administration blew up the Twin Towers? You’ve seen videos persuading you that such a thing took place? You feel that it makes sense as a pretext for an invented war? You just know it happened? And you equally know that the scandal is being suppressed on a grand scale?  

Good for you. Holler back when the meds kick in. Meantime, we’ll just let you enjoy your feelings with your Internet friends. But it won’t be in next week’s 9/11 coverage, because it’s loony toons. 

Feelings can be dangerous things. We now know through endless polling that Donald Trump supporters “feel” illegal immigration across the southern border is growing out of control. Nope. It has been steadily shrinking for nine years. They feel immigrants commit a disproportionate amount of crime. NopeAu contraire. They feel the economy is shrinking (it’s been growing modestly every year since 2009) and unemployment is high. Not that, either. Trump says the U.S. is the “most highly taxed country in the world,” and people share his indignation, because they feel he is right. But he isn’t right. (At 26% of GDP, we rank 27th among 30 industrialized nations. Denmark is at 51%. The average is 34%). 

I don’t offer that news because I am biased; I offer it because I get busy investigating, double-checking, contextualizing and making reasoned judgments.

Judgments honestly arrived at are not smoking guns of bias. They are smoking guns of human reason. And it is unreasonable to “balance” observable facts with assertions that do not stand up to scrutiny, or else why not balance epi-pen injections with shrimp and peanut oil?

Objective journalism does not mean neutrality or equal time, which not only aren’t necessarily beneficial, they can be mortal sins of omission. Switzerland was neutral in WWII. How nice. Evenhanded with Hitler; what a display of courage and moral authority. 

Mind you, I’m not claiming that the population of American journalists is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats or somehow privately agnostic in their politics. The evidence is that there is a significant liberal majority, to which I say: duh. Journalism and liberalism share many values: suspicion of entrenched power, advocacy for the little guy, the imperative for reform and fealty to the Bill of Rights, of which press freedom is Numero Uno. That does not make us political operatives; it just makes us skeptical pests.

Furthermore, any given piece of journalism may begin with a question or premise based first on liberal suspicion or assumption or even prejudice. But we are (mainly) not opposition researchers. We’re (mainly) truth seekers. What matters is not where a story assignment begins but where it ends… and how it arrives there -- namely, with rigor, fairness and intellectual honesty. Versus partisanship, ideology or even the lawyer’s impulse to assemble the best possible case in spite of contrary evidence.

What objective journalism means isn’t building a case or assigning equal weight to incompatible positions. It means locating and reporting objective facts with neither fear nor favor. The corollary to that is being on the lookout for and reporting objective lies. That is a part of the brief, and you wouldn’t want it otherwise.

Actually, the sad fact is, apparently you do want it otherwise -- because in direct response to solid journalism that conflicts with their worldview, audiences flock to explicitly partisan sources of news and analysis. The rationale is that it counters the bias of the “other side.” But that, too, is idiotic. There are other sides on policy debates. There are other sides on interpretations of events. There are other sides, even, on scientific explanations for observable phenomena for which no consensus has been achieved. But reality has no other side. It simply is, and it can be documented through science, data, historical records, eyewitness accounts and very often videotape. 

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan so deftly observed: “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You aren’t entitled to your own facts.”

Let us speak finally of our current nightmare. Hillary Clinton is a liar -- which is to say, she’s been caught in a number of lies over the years, from Bosnian landing strips to phony ad claims, and has been at a minimum slippery trying to explain her email server.  This puts her in the company of most politicians who, for reasons of opportunism, diplomacy and often electoral expectation, say what they don’t mean or what they know not to be true. Politics as usual, this is called.

What distinguishes Hillary Clinton is that an entire industry has been created to bring her down, including Republican Congressmen spending tens of millions of dollars trying to find something sinister in her every move. As such, she is the most vetted politician in American history -- including by the supposed lamestream media. There is no reservoir large enough to contain the ink spilled on Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, Bill Clinton’s philandering and Whitewater. 

Of course, like Congress, special prosecutors and the FBI, the press couldn’t come up with the goods on Hillary, either. Yet the standard -- I would say default -- accusation against the press for reporting on Donald Trump’s hate speech, his bankruptcies, his ignorance of our system of government, his juvenile insults, his fraud cases, his vulgarity and the rest is the accusation of media bias toward Crooked Hillary. If you’d like about 500 examples, search Twitter for @bobosphere.

But really, that’s all you got? Could there possibly be another explanation? Perhaps that Trump has left a documentary trail of bigotry, sleaze, ignorance and outright lies so vast that a person could be swallowed up, like in a bog of quicksand.  

Yes, as stipulated, Clinton is a liar, but such a piker at it. Trump is a liar to a degree and in a quantity probably unprecedented among U.S. politicians in the modern era. His lies are not only constant, but easily debunked with data and documentary evidence, including video that has been massively distributed and viewed. He says whatever crosses his mind in the moment, and then denies it. And because he does so constantly and in public, his lies are constantly in the news media’s sights, duh. And then he blames the terrible biased media.

In short, he’s an idiot.

Note that I’ve used the term now three times. I don’t mean it in its contemporary sense of “dunce” or “fool” (although….). No, I mean it in the ancient-Greek sense: someone so self-centered they can only process the outside world through the prism of their own needs, desires or feelings -- which is a very poor test of substance, much less truth.

If you say the The Media is biased, I say you are an idiot. If you say most American journalists have come to believe Donald Trump is the most toxic and repulsive American political figure since Joseph McCarthy, I say you are probably right.


17 comments about "What 'Objective' Means. What 'Bias' Means. What 'Idiot' Means".
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  1. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, September 6, 2016 at 10:18 a.m.

    Thank you, Bob, for saying what needed to be said, but with one addition: Over the course of the GOP primaries, Trump successfully manipulated and dominated the media coverage to the detriment of the other candidates. He achieved this by issuing daily, sometimes hourly remarks and tweets so outrageous and nasty that the media could not resist running them as headlines. Then he would quickly retract or double down on those remarks, usually in front of cheering crowds of supporters, resulting in even more headlines and chatter. And rating points. Trump's devious self-promotion genius has done a lot of damage to his opponents and everyone else. Hopefully, we've learned an important lesson about the fallibility of our freedom of speech.

  2. Jerry Gibbons from Gibbons Advice, September 6, 2016 at 1:35 p.m.

    Hey Bob - One of your very best columns.  My only wish is that those on the far right and on the far left wold take what you say to heart.  But, unfortunately, most of both seem to have closed minds - so it may not make it to their hearts.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 6, 2016 at 1:38 p.m.

    What say you of the latest 4.5-minute coughing fit?  Move along, nothing to see.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, September 6, 2016 at 5:43 p.m.

    Bob, methinks you do a dis-service to all genuine idiots in the world by lumping them in with Trump.   Apart from that - Bravo!

  5. Craig Campbell from Campbell and Associates, September 6, 2016 at 5:46 p.m.

    Bob, take a deep breath.  All of Trump's questionable (dopey) statements are no where near equivalent to Clinton's wanton disregard for our national security.  Who is really the piker?

  6. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, September 6, 2016 at 9:14 p.m.

    What is it with your love fest with all politians especially Mr. Trump? By your own title you say: "A long-time advertising and media industry columnist".

    You are not political scientist or a college professor to my knowledge in this field.  But you sure do have a clear hated towards Trump. 

    Personally I don't care for either Clinton or Trump. So why not put more interest in the advertising and media instrustry and less on being a crazy columnist.

  7. Michael Draznin from Draznin Consulting, September 6, 2016 at 9:18 p.m.

    I've got nothing clever nor snarky nor cleverly snarky to add here, Bob, so I'll leave it at 'well done' and 'finally.' I think I'm going to have to repost this column. Kudos.

  8. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, September 6, 2016 at 9:33 p.m.

    VERY well said, Bob, one of your best columns in the 6 years I've been a subscriber. If only a few million Americans could read it... On the other hand, though, I suppose when people already have their minds made up, when their position is “I know what I know" (essentially "don’t confuse me with facts"), facing reality is out of the question. 

  9. Laura Wilkinson Sinton from Vox Advisory, LLC, September 6, 2016 at 9:36 p.m.

    As always, spot on. There is another branch of gov't alongside the 5th estate seeking truth as well - the grand jury in our judicial system. That's how the great state of Texas (that bastion of liberalism) would up indicting the "Center for Medical Progress" forgerers and hoaxsters INSTEAD of Planned Parenthood - their original target - for the doctored and misleading videos. Great journalism will survive as it evolves. Idiots appear large, like the objects in your side mirrors. They are noisy. But they will move on to the next outrage in three minutes.

  10. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, September 6, 2016 at 11:26 p.m.

    What say I?
    4.5 minutes of coughing beats 70 years of choking, hands down, says I.

  11. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis replied, September 7, 2016 at 9 a.m.

    Craig Campbell. If you can call the vicious, hate-mongering, inarticulate and just plain insane words that Trump vomits out daily "goofy," then I guess Adolph's remarks were just "goofy," but no doubt misunderstood by the masses and taken as a signal to act upon them. Words are powerful, as you know.

  12. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, September 7, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.

    So Bob,
    I'm sick of the comment/ors, though I thought your column was amusing and on target.
    Completely off the topic above, I've noticed in tracking a talk radio station and the shows awhile ago, that when the topic changed, so did the (call-in) audience. So if you stayed on a perspective (consumer), or one subject (surfing?), you would hear from the people who cared about that--or had strong opinions about it. Change things to teens relationships to their parents, and find a whole different demographic that you hear from. That might seem obvious, but often writers or talent on radio, TV and whatever other medium is used to connect to a listener or viewer, are grabbing on to one of the audience segments and ignoring the rest--or don't realize they are out there. Do you vary your tirades...I mean columns, to elicit responses from various parts of the pie? And have you experienced the same dynamic? 

  13. Craig Campbell from Campbell and Associates replied, September 7, 2016 at 11:12 a.m.

    Dyan Espinosa, the Nazi card?!

  14. Travis Horn from S3Media, September 7, 2016 at 12:30 p.m.

    Nice gloss over piece on Hillary. "Hillary Clinton is a liar -- which is to say, she’s been caught in a number of lies" should win understatement of the month. I'm not a birther, anti-vax, or flying around in black helicopters, but I'll take Trump the businessman over the liar. Any day of the week.

  15. Chris Swan from Datastream Media, September 7, 2016 at 5:35 p.m.

    "Journalism and liberalism share many values: suspicion of entrenched power, advocacy for the little guy, the imperative for reform and fealty to the Bill of Rights, of which press freedom is Numero Uno."  Huh?  For the last 8 years it has been the "rich man busy dancing while the poor man pays the band" to quote that bitter clinger Travis Tritt.  And not sure there is much fealty to the 2nd or 10th amendments among the journalist/ liberal class.  Gun rights and state rights are less than popular in that circle.  

  16. Jeff Domansky from Peak Communications Inc, September 9, 2016 at 11:31 a.m.

    Great post Bob! Seems to me there are no "biased media", rather it's media reporting on biased people.

  17. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 21, 2016 at 8:21 a.m.

    As it has been said that you don't miss what you don't have. Idiots are going miss more than they think with an idiot and his idiots tagging along and will blame it on the opposition. Why isn't congress getting anything done ? The biggest complainers are the ones who put the ones in charge who is doing the nothing. But then again, unless you read this, no one else will. I am still a persona non gratia here. Bob, you need a wider audience. 

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