Our Interesting Times

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These days, one is reminded almost daily of a phrase described long ago as a Chinese curse. That would be the one that goes something like: “May you live in interesting times.”

We are certainly “living in interesting times,” and for journalists who normally thrive on controversy and excitement, the times are something of a curse, difficult to fight.

Every day we — and by we, we mean no presumption — journalists have to deal with the issue of nothing less than answering questions put to ourselves by ourselves. Questions as daunting as: What is truth? And what is a lie? An opinion or merely a mistake? Questions of trust, of how to respond to attacks on the legitimacy of what most journalists of whatever stature still think of as a noble and necessary profession.

Journalists everywhere have given a lot of thought to this issue, partly because there is a perception, raw and real, that the leader of the land thinks and says the media is fake, false, an enemy of the people and sometimes even treasonous, as if disagreement is unpatriotic at best.

This stems from a reasonable assumption that the so-called mainstream press tends to be biased, and before some of us scream bloody murder at even the thought of this, we should think hard. Many, if not most journalists, writers, editors and publishers and television mavens are biased — in politics, in cultural tastes and in other matters.

In journalistic reporting, however, objectivity is prized and achieved more often than
not. Bias, like opinion, has its place on the editorial and op-ed pages, in the style and feature sections of publications. Not only that, but that bias should be clearly stated just as objectivity should be maintained — just the facts, perhaps — on the front pages and the streaming television leads.

There are problems with all of that, of course — in the case of print, the position of a story on the page, the headline, obvious leads being buried in the middle of a story, the space allotted; in the case of broadcast, the tone of voice, the sense of debate, the emphasis, the time allotted. Not to mention the rush toward judgment in the 24-7 news cycle, in which everything new grows swiftly old.

Pretend journalists and bloggers on the internet who were all given the same name at birth— anonymous — are excused from this discussion, be they ninja-wannabes who invade restaurants or radio blowhards of the Limbaugh ilk.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t overly censor ourselves in the pursuit of the truth, especially when it becomes self-evident. We have a president who has divided the country purposefully and almost fully. That is on him. The hatred and anger that he stokes at his rallies are a self-evident truth.

We should say that without fear, favor or bias — but with accuracy and in no uncertain terms. That’s our job.

To say we’ve had the know-nothings, the radical left and the Tea Party means nothing if we cannot move forward toward becoming a united country again, a country overcoming its flaws at birth by the unwavering pursuit of its democratic intent. That goes for its ink- stained wretches, too.

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