What does “unbiased” actually mean? I’ve been thinking about this when liberals defend the gold standard of mainstream news outlets in the era of “fake news” accusations, and while I obviously think the Trump cronies are full of shit, I also wonder what the staunch defense of traditional news organizations might leave out.
Growing up, I never really questioned the standard that journalists must be objective and unbiased. That seemed like a reasonable enough idea, and I expected it of those working at large news organizations. But in order to be “objective” and “unbiased” according to the definitions of a news organization, you need to have an academic background and specific skills that are especially valued by white folks. You need to reference credible sources–and “credible” sources are often written by white people. You need to have that gold standard “objective” point-of-view that is invisibly white.
I think this expectation of unbiased journalism really means “journalism steeped firmly in white culture.” The idea that anyone could really be “unbiased” is a racist notion, because it relies on the invisibility and supremacy of the white perspective. Everyone has a point of view. Everyone’s perspective is rooted in culture, it’s just that white culture tends to be so pervasive as to go undetected. Rather than expecting objectivity, I think we should acknowledge and embrace the cultural grounding of our journalists, and rely on news sources that come from a range of perspectives.
Have you been keeping up with the WAM! (Women, Action, and the Media) It Yourself unconference this week? Today is the last day of the Blogathon and we’re talking about various aspects of gender and the media. My post for this event focuses on the idea of the “battle of the sexes” and why it presents such a barrier to feminism and gender activism in media.
I got this idea from watching the first few episodes of Celebrity Apprentice Season Four, an endeavor I do not necessarily recommend to my readers. I started watching because my favorite actress, Marlee Matlin, is on the show, and of course it’s not too surprising that a show like this would piss me off with all its ableism and misogyny. I do think it provides an interesting example, though, of one place where reality TV consistently goes wrong–and it’s not just reality TV.
A battle of the sexes is supposed to be fun, funny, and rile up the audience. Everyone can root for “their” team, and it’s a clear dividing line that we’re all used to in this society. You can even make an argument that in this modern, “post-feminist” world, the battle of the sexes is updated and consistent with feminist goals. Many of the shows that use a battle of the sexes have a strong female team, the women tend to be intelligent and kick ass, and the female viewership supposedly gets excited about this and ratings go up.
But something is seriously wrong with this picture.
Yes, yes, it’s Rachel Maddow. Get ready to say thank you, Captain Obvious. But it’s true, I love her and I love that she not only brings liberalism and a bit of lesbian snark to cable news, but also isn’t afraid to indulge her own interests. She has her geek out moments, her focus on the military (retained from her Air America radio program), and as a consequence she’s not only smart, funny, and fabulously gay, but real. Rock on.
This year, I’ll be featuring an advent calendar of women I admire: strong, sexy, smart, talented, and on top of their game. Hope you enjoy!
I grew up on Christiane Amanpour because my mom had a serious CNN kick in the 90s, and Christiane was her favorite reporter. She’s badass, she’s not afraid to jump into the war zones with the boys, and she also has a grace and an intelligence about her that you can’t help but pick up on. I hear she has her own show now, so if unlike me you have a television, you should check that out.
I had breakfast the other day with an engaging woman whose company I quite enjoy. You might call it a date, but it shared characteristics with a successful therapy session. I recommend sharing a meal with a student of creative writing – they’re very observant, and far better listeners than myself, I suspect. The conclusion that my breakfast companion reached was a fairly obvious one, but not something I’d noticed before. Apparently I like order. Or rather, I really like order. So there’s probably some link between my feeling very good and accomplished about having packed twenty boxes already, carefully numbered to match a detailed inventory that indexes what’s in each box, and my habit of collecting thousands and thousands of recipes and “to read” books on my computer – just in case. “Just in case the Internet goes away?” she asked, incredulously. I shrugged. It could happen. Websites die, don’t they? It might be a little excessive, though, that after copying all the recipes into a computer program, I keep the old ones on a Word document and leave the newer ones in a special bookmarks program – just in case the computer program spontaneously crashes, and the developer has died. (I also keep the recipe file and the install file for the program, as well as the software license, backed up on an external hard drive.)
All right, so it’s time to admit it. I’m a control freak. When I try to relax more, I do it by controlling the control. I have been known to plan periods of spontaneity. But I’m okay with that. Here’s my question. My latest fear has been that I will miss the news, and be uneducated or ill-informed. I don’t have a TV, or time to read magazines or the paper, so my news comes from the Internets. Tonight, I admitted to myself that I really will never have time to read the New York Times or Le Monde in full, so I took them off my Reader, and I added the Daily Beast’s “Cheat Sheet” feature, as well as signing up for Slate’s newsletters so I don’t forget to check Slate. Any other tips, nifty programs, websites you recommend for staying on top of things?
A depressing thought: If I read a book a week until the day I die, I’ll still only be able to read 2,600 books. That’s less than my current to-read list.
I apologize for the fact that a number of the posts in the next month or so will probably be referencing events that have long passed and been blogged about, but I’ve been amassing things I want to talk about, and I still want to! The first of these is the New Yorker cover that had everyone up in arms a few weeks ago. People were freaking the hell out before it even showed up in my mailbox, and my reaction was “uh, really?”
As the cartoon in the Post and accompanying comment by Howard Wasserman point out, there is context here. It’s the New Yorker. It’s irreverent. I thought it was pretty darn clear that the point of the cover was to poke fun at the absurdity of equating Obama’s race, “fist jabs,” and middle name with terrorism. I found it funny. I think a lot of other New Yorker subscribers would agree. The Daily Show did a great piece on the ridiculousness of it all, as well.
But the first things I heard of the cover were from Feministe and Feministing. Commenters on both blogs recognized the joke, but argued that only the “elite readership” would get it and that it was inappropriate as a “recruitment poster for the right wing.” Frankly, I’m not so worried. I think people, elite or not, are smart enough to know that Obama is not a terrorist. Considering the barrage of images and suggestions those who watch the television media get on a daily basis, I can’t imagine that the New Yorker would have a greater impact – unless, of course, mainstream media decided to latch onto the cover and talk it to death until people started wondering if… oh, wait.