Forget Objectivity–Can We Have a Fact-Based Media?

Washington Post ombud Patrick Pexton (2/22/13) took up the question in a recent column, “Is the Post Pro-Gay?” Or as a conservative reader put it: “Is there no room in the Post for those who support the male-female, procreative model of marriage?”

WaPo ombud Patrick Pexton

Patrick Pexton

Pexton says that he has trouble understanding this point of view:

Many Americans feel that allowing gay men and lesbians to marry diminishes the value of their heterosexual marriages. I don’t understand this. The lesbian couple down the street raising two kids or the two men across the hall in your condominium–how do those unions take anything away from the sanctity, fidelity or joy you take in your heterosexual marriage?

Still, he concludes by agreeing with the conservative reader. Without citing any examples of what he considers to be unfair treatment of opponents of marriage equality, Pexton writes: “The Post should do a better job of understanding and conveying to readers, with detachment and objectivity, the beliefs and the fears of social conservatives.”

It’s an interesting example of the media’s peculiar use of the word “objectivity.” There is, as Pexton acknowledges, no objective evidence that allowing two people of the same gender to marry will harm mixed-gender marriages. So you might think objective reporting would treat that assertion as a dubious claim. But to be “objective” in the media sense means to treat the idea that marriage equality is a threat to heterosexual’s marriages as a perfectly valid position–no evidence necessary.

I have been thinking lately that what we need is not an objective press but an empirical one–one that strives to report the world as it really is, and  tries to base its reporting on demonstrable facts.  On so many issues–from climate to economics to foreign policy–that would be a much different media from the one we have now.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.