Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown

Dan Roche

A few weeks ago, this paper ran the story of my friend Claire’s trip to embattled Palestine. It was a good piece, a travelogue recounting a student’s experience in a region the majority of us could never summon moxy enough to visit. It was her recounting of why she went there and what happened when she did.

The next week we got a couple of letters to the editor, one from a student I hope to see regular contributions from. And they were good letters, taking stances that differed from Claire’s on the emotional Israel-Palestine issue in a polite and articulate fashion. We always welcome input from our perceptive readers.

Both of these letters, though, I noticed, used similar wording, calling the article “unbalanced” and “one-sided”. Was the article one-sided? Sure, you betcha. Should anybody apologize for this? No way, Jack.

The thing is, it wasn’t a news report. As I mentioned, it was a human-interest piece talking about a student’s trip halfway around the world. It doesn’t have to be balanced because it’s not claiming to represent any facts other than what happened to one person when she did something. If I write a piece about Candlepin bowling must I take into account the opinion of people who prefer ten-pin? No. Tenpin bowlers, those sick, deranged freaks, are welcome to write their own articles about the sport they love. It’s a free press. If one objects to any of the assertions Claire made in the piece, that person is welcome to go to Palestine themselves. I promise we will do a write-up about them in turn, expressing whatever opinions he or she desires.

Not everything has to be “balanced” and to be honest with you, I think the idea of “balance” is a crock. Professional journalists, and AP writers obviously have an interest in observing facts and presenting them as objectively as possible. Does “bias” slip in here or there? Maybe. Outside of perhaps the few with an enlightened enough mindset to see things purely and freely that anyone, journalist or not, views through their own subjective lens. The best anyone can do is stick to the facts as they see them.

“Crossing Borders” was not reporting, it was not intended to be comprehensive coverage of the situation. Neither the writer nor the subject should have to defend themselves on the basis of their “not having told the whole story”. To claim otherwise, that the group Claire was with or the slant of the story itself was “one-sided”, and that any view besides hers had to be represented reminds me of what some call the “middle-ground fallacy”. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. That is:

A) All brown-haired people must be exterminated on the basis of their having brown hair.

B) No brown-haired people must be exterminated on the basis of their having brown hair.

The middle-ground says “Some people must be exterminated on the basis of their having brown hair.” Is this a reasonable assertion? Of course not. But doesn’t our vaunted “balance” demand this? It’s ironic too, that the news network whose motto is “Fair and Balanced” is the most nakedly partisan media outfit in America today. I’ll leave that one alone, but I suspect that when people say “You’re too one-sided” they often mean “I don’t agree with you”, and that they would be unlikely to claim bias against an opinion they do agree with.

I’m not saying that all journalistic standards should be razed, scrapping “Dog Bites Man” in favor of “A dog bit a man today, but it was justified because dogs are beautiful animals and men are jerks”. I’m saying balance, such as it is, is the ideal striven for by any good reporter. But sometimes someone’s just telling you a story and you should take it for what it’s worth. Fair?

Dan Roche is the opinion editor for the Mass Media. E-mail him at [email protected]