Oderberg on journalism

David Oderberg, a philosopher of the Aristotelian essentialist variety, has written an article attacking the mainstream news media.  I had hoped to find an ally in my complete hostility to journalism, and while that’s not what I found, Oderberg makes some solid points that haven’t come up here before.  His main concern is that journalists are creating a distorted picture of reality by failing to report important events and highlighting trivial.  Now, celebrity gossip and things like that are obviously trivia, but Oderberg points to several types of non-news that fill the headlines of serious newspapers.  One example is the reporting of mere mental states:

I take as an example, with no bias intended and in no special order, some stories from mainstream media outlets on Google News as of 20 February 2010. (1) Detectives ‘think’ that a bailed crime suspect fled abroad (The Times). (2) Police ‘fear’ the increase in children taking driving lessons (BBC News). (3) There are ‘fears’ of a double-dip recession in the UK following a sharp fall in retail sales (The Times). (4) The town Toyota built ‘hopes’ US fightback can jump start economy(The Independent). (5) Elton John ‘thinks’ Jesus was gay (The New York Magazine). (6) Ernie Els ‘thinks’ Tiger Woods is upstaging tournament (Detroit Free Press). (7) President Obama ‘loves’ Las Vegas (CBS News). (8) ‘Fears’ over economic revival rise (Daily Mail).

Then there are speculations about the future

Closely connected, of course, are those non-news items consisting of reports of the future or of what might or is likely to happen. Some examples. (1) ‘British Airways crew likely to vote for strike’ (The Telegraph). (2) ‘Rail passengers set for disruption as conductors’ strike gets under way’ (The Scotsman). (3) ‘David Cameron may struggle to disguise his dinosaurs in casual shirts’ (The Guardian).(4) ‘There may be fewer great white sharks than endangered tigers’ (Daily Mirror).(5) ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber may buy Abbey Road studios’ (The Guardian). (6) ‘Obama most likely to visit India later this year’ (Press Trust of India). (7) ‘Pilot possibly angered by contract-worker tax issue’ (Wall Street Journal). And so on ad nauseam. There might, in such cases, be some newsworthiness, but only if the hypotheses, speculations, and predictions are tied to actual events and actions, such as a vote or a decision by someone. But then why not just report the vote or the decision?

Oderberg wants the news to get back to reporting “the truth”:  bare facts about important political and economic issues.  This is where I thought the article ceased to be interesting, and I find it strange how Oderberg invokes Plato’s allegory of the cave in beginning his discussion.  While newspapers as Oderberg would have them would certainly be better than the ones we have now, they would still not be reporting what Plato would regard as “the Truth”.  All news deals in contingent, transient, historical facts.  For Plato, truth consists in the contemplation of the eternal Forms.  I think if Plato were alive today, he would not tell us to read only the political and financial reports in our newspapers.  He’d more likely tell us to put down the stupid-sheet altogether, and go read a book on group theory, or general relativity, or ontology, or mysticism.  These latter would be much more likely to tell you what’s Real.

Down with journalism!

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