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Balanced Journalism


I haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s piece on Goldman Sachs in the latest issue of Rolling Stone (and it’s not available online), but I did read today’s post at his blog in response to mail he has received on the article. One issue Taibbi addresses is what it means to be “balanced” and what a writer’s responsibility is. This is the same issue that underlies the continuing debate on whether to use the word torture to describe the actions of certain US soldiers and the CIA. (See my recent post on this.) It continues to be a mystery to me why telling the truth isn’t good enough, why one must add a quote from an outright fabricator of the truth or abuser of language in order to ensure balance. The earth is round. No, it’s flat. The climate is changing. No it isn’t.

Taibbi addresses the issues well in ending his post today:

I’m aware that some people feel that it’s a journalist’s responsibility to “give both sides of the story” and be “even-handed” and “objective.” A person who believes that will naturally find serious flaws with any article like the one I wrote about Goldman. I personally don’t subscribe to that point of view. My feeling is that companies like Goldman Sachs have a virtual monopoly on mainstream-news public relations; for every one reporter like me, or like far more knowledgeable critics like Tyler Durden, there are a thousand hacks out there willing to pimp Goldman’s viewpoint on things in the front pages and ledes of the major news organizations. And there are probably another thousand poor working stiffs who are nudged into pushing the Goldman party line by their editors and superiors (how many political reporters with no experience reporting on financial issues have swallowed whole the news cliche about Goldman being the “smart guys” on Wall Street? A lot, for sure).

Goldman has its alumni pushing its views from the pulpit of the U.S. Treasury, the NYSE, the World Bank, and numerous other important posts; it also has former players fronting major TV shows. They have the ear of the president if they want it. Given all of this, I personally think it’s absurd to talk about the need for “balance” in every single magazine and news article. I understand that some people feel differently, but that’s my take on things.

Categories: Journalism

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