Specious Reality

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The Atlanta Progressive News is not a heavily visited internet site, but it recently got more traffic than usual. In mid-February, APN terminated senior staff writer Jonathan Springston because “he held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News.”

This watery epistemology was reported by a rival Atlanta-based progressive internet news outlet (yes, there is more than one), which poked deserved fun. But the episode did raise some interesting points about the collectivist — and, frankly, just plain stupid — premises underlying contemporary “progressive” politics.

APN News Editor Matthew Cardinale tried to defend his company’s actions: “Progressive news is news that brings us closer to universal health care, living wages, affordable housing, peace, a healthy environment, and voting systems we can trust.” He tossed in nostrums about “corporate media sources” promoting the “agenda of the ultra-wealthy”; he quoted Howard Zinn, a crack-pot propagandist beloved of bourgeois political poseurs in America’s bigger cities. But Cardinale seemed to sense that his explanations were only making the episode more absurd. So, he added ominously that APN was “drafting a more programmatic statement on our editorial position regarding objectivity, inter-subjectivity, and news.”

A few days later, Cardinale released his 3,000-plus- word “programmatic statement.” It resembled the sophomoric rambling you’d expect from a late-night dormitory bull session. It serves as a striking indictment of American “progressive” politics — full of philosophical and political pretenses but really just tautological justification of lazy bias and shoddy logic. Some excerpts:

“The premise of objectivity is literally to remove the observer from what it is that is being observed and simply to report what “is.” However, that is an impossibility. It cannot be done. In fact, there is nothing that “is,” separate from the observer or multiple observers who construct and interpret what that reality is. One could argue that the only one who’s really objective is God, and that’s because God is omniscient or all-knowing (that is, if you believe in God). . . . Now, the first way we know that there is no such thing as objective media is that we have no evidence, no examples, of objective media outlets (if you find one, let us know right away!). Every publication has an editorial perspective that shapes and constrains the way its reporters cover the news, which in turn affects the way its readers view reality.”

Er, if there is no objective reality, how can publications expect to affect how their readers view it?

“Most publications — including APN — do not regularly mix facts and opinions in the same articles. However, the perspectives of APN and other publications come through in other ways: (1) the choices of what stories to cover and what not to cover, (2) defining what a story is or is not in the first place, (3) deciding how to cover the story, (4) assessing what the “sides” are to be balanced, (5) deciding how the ‘sides’ should be balanced, (6) deciding what facts to include and what facts not to include, etc.”

Point (2) is an interesting one, though the author (presumably, Matthew Cardinale — he swerves between first- person singular and plural throughout the screed) offers little insight into how new outlets frame context. The rest reads like notes from a community college journalism class.

“Now most people’s basic understanding of objectivity is: balancing the sides. Okay, let’s talk about the sides for a minute. How many sides are there? Well, there are approximately six billion people in the world, and to the extent that everyone’s perspective is slightly different, there could be potentially six billion sides. So what journalists do is construct what they see as key themes or narratives that seem to define the major sides. Well, again, how many sides are there? What if paper A includes two sides, but paper B includes three? What if paper C includes five, but doesn’t include one of the sides paper A included? What it means is, again, that there is no such thing as objective reality or objective news, and all news stories are constructed.”

Sure, media news stories — like all narratives — are framed or constructed. Sometimes this framing brings the stories closer to objective reality . . . sometimes it keeps them farther removed. How close it brings the stories to reality is a good measure of their effectiveness.

“So, to review, there is no such thing as objectivity. Some publications pretend to be objective, but they’re not. Moreover, in our experience, objective reporting has really been used as a synonym for being sure to give priority to the corporate, bourgeois ideology and making sure not to offend the powers that be. Seriously: most reporters seem to think the best way to show they’re objective is to marginalize the populist view and, again, give priority to the view of the power elite. . . . Who knows why media outlets gravitate to the right? Some of it may be a capitalist conspiracy — and if you don’t believe in conspiracies, please revisit your U.S. history.”

Er, check your premises.

If the author of APN’s “programmatic statement” had stuck with college philosophy courses long enough to reach a higher level, he would have learned that rejecting objective reality leads to nihilism, not collectivist utopia.

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