A House of Representatives budget committee released a fiscal year 2016 budget resolution Wednesday night that calls for defunding CPB.
“Federal subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can no longer be justified,” the committee said in the resolution. “The activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the Federal Government. These agencies can raise funds from private-sector patrons, which will also free them from any risk of political interference.”
CPB funding remains intact in the Senate. The Senate and House resolutions will next go through the appropriations process, resulting in a final budget approved by both houses.
The House resolution comes a month after President Obama’s budget resolution was released. Obama called for CPB funding, which is approved two years in advance, to increase roughly 2.2 percent each year through 2025.
Nice podcast, I enjoyed the part I listened to. I have several comments relating to impartiality and Rehm.
1. I think your view of objectivity is too narrow. That a presentation is fact-based may make it objective in that respect. But if the facts are sifted and stacked according to a subjective view or goal other than reaching the objective truth, the presentation fails to be objective in a crucial sense. This aspect of objectivity is part of what most people have in mind when they use the term, and it makes perfect sense, as both aspects of objectivity are important in reaching objective results. You might say objectivity includes impartiality in that respect.
From what I’ve heard, Coates’ article was based in crucial ways on controversial value judgments and less than evident inferences from facts selected to suit his purpose. Calling what he did objective seems to me to miss some important aspects of objective journalism.
Brooke Gladstone, who I believe has written a book dealing with this kind of thing, often seems to me confused about it. That may be due to the influence of what seem to me misunderstandings that have become common among liberals since the success of overtly biased conservative media, and the scares liberals have had from what they view as conservative manipulation of media rules about impartiality in regard to climate change and creationism.
I think many liberals are ready to throw the baby out with the bath water in regard to objectivity and impartiality. That seems to me a profound mistake.
NC Boy on Disqus = Tom Hanks on NPR
I’m old enough to remember the Cold War when it was hot. I have long retold a joke which illustrated the Soviet propaganda machine of the time (and now I fear may illustrate a new view of “objectivity”).
Only two runners competed in the finals at the most recent Olympics. The American won the race, while the Russian finished a distant second. Headline in Pravda the next day. “Russian runner wins Silver medal. American finishes next to last”.
2. A striking thing about the discussion of the Rehm case that you’ve been participating in at the NPR Ombudsman’s blog is that there has been very little discussion of the reasons impartiality is important. I don’t know your views, but since you plan to argue for dumping it in some respect, I’ll launch a preemptive strike, for what it’s worth. Maybe I’ll manage to address part of your reasoning, and I’ll sort it out for myself.
There are substantive and formal elements of impartiality. On the substantive side, journalists should try to be impartial in understanding and presenting the issues they report on, even if they have their own controversial views about them or a personal stake in them. This effort is important because, to the extent it fails, there’s generally no way for the audience to fully correct for it, not even if they hear accounts colored by contrasting views and know the bias of each. Sometimes a journalist can help the audience by revealing a personal stake, and some corrective can be applied, but chances are it will mainly amount to broad skepticism of what’s said. A corrective usually can’t reliably untwist what may be twisted. It is possible to give more fine-grained warnings and provisos, but the difficulty remains. It’s best if the journalist can achieve an objective understanding and presentation.
This isn’t to say there’s no place for subjective or partial presentations. But in general they can’t, no matter how many sides and views one might take in on a subject, take the place of objective reports. As a rule, audiences shouldn’t have to treat journalism like Rashomon (or Les Girls–great movie!).
3. Also important is the formal side. A journalist, like a judge, should maintain the forms of impartiality to the extent practical. He should avoid expressing controversial views publicly, avoid openly supporting controversial causes. That’s partly in support of the discipline of substantive impartiality, as it’s likely that publicly standing in support of a cause makes it harder to be impartial in one’s understanding of it, in a way that privately favoring it doesn’t.
But it’s also a matter of appearance. It’s important that journalists be worthy of trust, but also that they be trusted. Without that, the system breaks down. People generally don’t have the resources, including time, to figure out how much the journalist who has spoken out in favor of the abolition of abortion can be trusted on the topic, so even if she can be trusted, it creates trust problems.
The perception of lack of trustworthiness can and often does exceed actual untrustworthiness; that’s human nature. Thus it’s the job of the editor, who should be in the best position to know, to ensure on behalf of the audience that the journalist achieves the substance of trustworthiness, while the journalist does her best to maintain the substance and form of trustworthiness and prevent unwarranted distrust.
There’s some tension between the latter point and the one I made earlier about disclosure of possible causes of partiality. The rule should be to avoid as far as practical things that can damage or give people reason to doubt impartiality, but if something does arise, there are cases in which either it should be disclosed, or one should decline (in consultation with an editor) to cover the issue. Those should be the last resorts; it’s better to avoid the need for them. Part of the reason disclosure is sometimes necessary is that the audience may find out anyway, and then loss of trust may be compounded.
Cases that might require disclosure don’t include merely having a private opinion. Though that might be useful information to someone trying to correct for possible distorting effects of the opinion of journalists, if the journalists and editors are of sufficient quality, the costs in trust aren’t worth the limited benefit a listener might receive from disclosure.
4. Impartiality isn’t only an issue for individual journalists, but also for news and information organizations. I think NPR is a fairly trustworthy source, especially in its straight news, but the trust in it is way below what’s warranted, largely because of the perception, which happens to be correct, that it’s dominated by liberals. That’s bad for NPR, but more importantly, it’s bad for those who can’t trust it, who lack a source of NPR’s quality that they can credit. And, in turn, that’s bad for civic life. Of course, it’s possible to have too much trust as well, and as mentioned before it’s useful to some extent to know what the bias is, but in this case the damage to the audience from the reputation for being a liberal outlet far outweighs the good, in my view.
One might argue this is one of those cases I referred to of the audience finding out anyway, and distrust being compounded. Maybe, but I think more disclosure or open partiality could easily make it even worse, both in how NPR is perceived and in its actual partiality. I do think some acknowledgment of the issue is needed, in a broad way, in the context of advancing a program to remedy the problem.
5. On Rehm in particular. I haven’t heard her show on right-to-die issues. Maybe she did a fine job of being fair while also revealing some partiality. But for the reasons I’ve outlined, I think it would be better if she had minimized partiality and the need for any disclosure more by not publicly campaigning on the issue. I’ve heard her do shows that were painfully unfair, and the worst was on an issue she had a private stake in. I think it would be better if she quietly declined to do shows on such topics and left them to her guest hosts, for reasons of substance and appearance. Would something wonderful be lost? Not necessarily. For controversial issues it’s her job to find guests who can supply what she might provide by way of experience and perspective, not to be that guest. In the overall it works better that way.
NC Boy on Disqus = Tom Hanks on NPR
I reviewed the Rehm episode in detail and posted a review under the Ombudsman’s topic. I certainly don’t think it merited the credit for non-bias that the Ombudsman gave it, but it’s easy to see how those in the enclave would evaluate it that way.
Just read your comments on the Rehm show. Can’t say I’m surprised. As much as I like Rehm in some ways, she’s never been all that good at fairness and impartiality, and it’s no wonder conservatives generally don’t care for her show.
What you said about it reminded me of how it often is with the local call-in show on KUER in Utah. Very talented host, but he’s just awful at some of the basics of impartial journalism. On controversial topics over the years it’s been rare for him to have more than one guest with the view he obviously opposes, while the view he favors will have several guests, almost always speaking last. That’s when there’s anyone with an opposing view at all. This has been pointed out to him many times, but it does no good. It’s depressing to see what ought to be an impartial public resource used to promote private views, squandering the trust needed for proper use of the resource.
Enjoyed the objectivity joke. It seems applicable.
I guess you’re from North Carolina. My folks were from there, on the coast north of Wilmington. Used to be my favorite place on earth when I was a kid, was out in the country, everything was slow, fresh seafood, fried corn bread. Now it’s a country club, golf course, overrun with people unlike anyone who lived there before. And I’ll bet all the corn bread is baked. Oh well.
Just getting back here. Whenever I do, my NPR name flips over to NC Boy, so I’m trying to limit my forays.
I do wonder why Adam isn’t asking to pick your brain, especially based on the last of his 3 part series. I’m just a conservative, to be dissected in order to develop a cure, but you have information that he needs to digest if he truly wants to help foster change.
I lived in Durham for a few years of the last 10 and have been to Wilmington. I suppose what happened there would be inevitable for any city where a major Interstate dead ended. When I had a chance to get away I found myself heading to the mountains instead of the beach – maybe I would have felt differently had I seen the Wilmington of old. :(
I imagine Adam considers my brain picked already, and overripe, and would prefer to try another. For his show I think he wants voices of conservatives, not anomalous liberals. He’s also implied he sees my views as extreme, though he didn’t quite explain how. They seem to me more moderate than those of most critics of NPR’s bias.
I think if you reload the page at NPR before posting there, it will recognize you as Tom Hanks. But it is a bother to try to keep up with what Disqus will do.
“For his show I think he wants voices of conservatives, not anomalous liberals.”
I’m not sure what he wants, but I am sure that he has a funny way of trying to obtain it – by insult and taunt.
As someone who could never afford to take an unpaid internship (or a barely paid job requiring an advanced degree):
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
My passion lead me to work in a field that is heavy on unpaid internships and unsustainably low paid entry jobs. I know that my early career suffered for it.