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Objective fiction

Nathaniel Mehr reviews Newspeak in the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell (Pluto Press, 2009)

February 11, 2010
2 min read

‘Opinions are not facts,’ announced a condescending advertisement for the Guardian newspaper in March 2007. ‘What happened and how you feel about it are two different things. And people should know which is which.’ In this superb new book, David Edwards and David Cromwell – co-editors of the Media Lens website – expose the conceit of the mainstream media’s much-vaunted objectivity.

The liberal media, in hock to state or corporate sponsors as the case may be, find themselves structurally bound to follow an editorial line that tends towards sympathy with the political and economic status quo. This is reinforced on an individual level by an expectation that critical faculties should be suspended for the sake of personal career progression. The consequence is that what passes for balanced reporting on the ‘war on terror’ means allowing British and US leaders to ‘frame reality without challenge’.

For example, the standard media portrayal of the ongoing Iraqi insurgency centres on the involvement of dark external forces stirring up trouble for their own ends, although in actual fact the majority of insurgents are Iraqis – militias composed of ‘tailors, barbers, and car mechanics’. For the mainstream media to accept this would mean to accept by extension that the insurgency is a war of national resistance, and hence legitimate. Iranian involvement in Iraq, in negating the role of the Iraqis as actors in the drama, is therefore a critical component of how the US-led coalition constructs its mission; accordingly, the mainstream media, liberal and conservative alike, dutifully refrain from highlighting the primarily national character of the Iraqi resistance.

As well as a providing a well-researched indictment of the failure of the liberal media to live up to their own platitudes about objectivity, the authors also challenge the notion that objectivity per se is desirable in media reporting. They describe this as ‘the fiction that journalists can or should be disinterested technicians standing neutrally between murderers and their victims’. Linked to this is the politicisation of the very idea of journalistic style itself: why is it that the Pilgers and Chomskys of this world are regularly accused by their opponents of ‘ranting’, despite the serious and rational quality of their work?

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