Monday, February 04, 2008

Too Often the Media Lack Self-criticism and Are Ignorant of Their Ignorance

A free press is essential to a democracy -- to expose corruption in high places, to inform the public about important matters, and so on. Our press frequently fulfills its role well and is to be commended. But journalists tend to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think. (Like some preachers?) It is impossible to be totally fair and balanced since reporters and commentators are human beings with finite perspectives even when they try their damnedest to be competent and impartial. By the very choice of the topics they cover, they make judgments about what is important and what is not.

Two criticisms in particular:

1. They lack sufficient self-criticism. For example, long ago the major reporting agencies decided that the Democratic race was between Clinton and Obama. Edwards was not given the attention he deserved. They will, of course cry, "Don't shoot the messenger," but they forget that the media can shoot the candidate by their lack of attention. They don't just report reality, they participate in determining what people think is reality.

2. They are sometimes ignorant of their ignorance. Most would not attempt to say much about string theory in physics because they know how little they know about it. But they do not hesitate to speak freely about religion, politics, faith, separation of church and state, and the like. They lack sophistication but don't realize it. They lack depth of understanding and don't recognize the shallowness in themselves and others.

On religion and politics, e. g., they apparently can conceive of only two options: political decisions based explicitly on a particular set religious beliefs and a total relegation of religion to the private sphere totally divorced from political choice. They are apparently innocent of other "live options" (W. James) between and beyond this simplistic dichotomy. Note their typical approval of John Kennedy's statement to the Houston Baptist preachers in 1960, which actually is superificial and leaves unanswered what his "conscience" -- his guide -- is guided by. If it is not guided in any sense by his religious faith, then one wonders how broad and deep this faith is.

Mario Cuomo is a much better guide here.

My advice is to journalists is this: Heed Socrates, who said, "Know thyself."

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