Some years back, James Fallows of The Atlantic addressed what he called ‘the flawed understanding many journalists have of objectivity.
The thinking is that pointing out that one political party is responsible for the Senate’s dysfunction would be taking sides, which would call their objectivity into question. The irony is, by pretending both sides are equally at fault for the dysfunction and refusing to report on the objective facts of the situation, they’re misleading readers and handing a huge advantage to one side.
Obviously, good journalists understand that objectivity isn’t about refusing to take sides, it is about reporting the facts as they are, even when that means making one side look bad. Sadly, this is not the norm in modern political journalism.
Fallows’ point is especially valid when we consider the Senate’s dysfunction here in 2016. Polls show that public approval of the Senate — indeed, of Congress in general — is roughly parallel to the popularity of almost any dreaded disease you could name. But a question arises: How many Americans are aware that both houses of Congress have been controlled by Republicans for the past six years? It’s my guess that many people are not aware of that fact. Some might even think that Congress, like White House, is controlled by the Democratic Party.
The current Congress is in the grips of a not-so-secret vow by Republican leaders that they will not cooperate with President Obama on much of anything. They want him to fail, and they will serve that end by refusing to join with him on potential solutions to virtually any and all problems facing the nation.
This inaction inevitably contributes to the low esteem in which the public holds Congress. But the dismay is not much less likely to apply to Democratic lawmakers than to Republicans, who actually deserve most of the blame.
The media could help clear up this collective misjudgment if they made clear that congressional inertia is mostly the fault of Republicans who control both houses. But to say so might invite criticism that the media are less than objective.
This brings us to the wise observation from James Fallows quoted above: The media, by pretending both sides are equally at fault for the dysfunction and refusing to report on the objective facts of the situation, they’re misleading readers and handing a huge advantage to one side.