The most galling problem with “Both Sides Do It” brand journalism is that it takes itself out of the “weighing things” business. Like whether something is “true” or not.
“Both Sides Do It” insists it’s entirely “just-the-facts-ma’am” neutral. That sounds ideal, doesn’t it? No editorializing, just straight reporting. Too bad it’s living a lie — and patting itself on the back for living it.
To just report “the facts” without editorializing is to pretend there’s a difference between “the facts” and the truths those facts are telling. If it’s a fact that someone is a card-carrying Nazi, their words and deeds are the words and deeds of a fascist. To be “neutral” toward fascism is to shake hands with something worse than a devil. One is obligated to editorialize. Just how it is.
The idea of a moral vacuum is horse shit. Context is everything. No one gets a free pass.
If the law of the land suddenly became (as it once did in Germany) “Jews are no longer citizens cos Jewish”, the neutral approach begins its reporting from “This is now the Law Of The Land”. It doesn’t concern itself with how we got here — or whether it’s fair. It regards Jews protesting their situation as troublemakers who don’t like the law and who therefore deserve whatever harsh treatment they get.
This is exactly how African Americans have been forced to live since White People began importing them by force to America in order to steal their labor. A southern slave owner could point to his slaves and say “Those humans are my lawful possessions”. There were plenty of journalists who hid behind slavery’s legality instead of refusing to give in to its inherent immorality — and call it out along with anyone who supported it. Could one really tolerate journalism today that was neutral toward slavery or such overt anti-Semitism?
“Both Sides Do It” brand journalism was guilty of both prolonging the debate in this country over climate change and allowing it to exist in the first place. Because it insists that both sides of a debate have equal merit (and therefore equal weight), it both undervalues the truth (and peoples’ ability to see it as the truth) and over-values bullshit (by giving it credence and gravity it does not deserve). This is exacerbated by the visual news media’s lack of understanding of how their own medium even works.
Before science denial lost all credibility (and thus became unsafe to book on news panels), it would sit — on-set — in a 50-50 shot with a climate scientist who came to the discussion armed to the teeth with data. But, all that data became irrelevant when the “NEWS SHOW” sat climate scientist and climate denier in a shot that said “both sides are equal — you, the viewer, decide who’s more truthful”.
Regardless of what linguistic language any human speaks, we all speak the same visual language. Cinema has a language both subtle and direct that it uses to communicate a story, its details and every last detail of every character in it. If you compare early screen acting to modern screen acting, you can see how screen language progressed. Back in the day, everyone still thought of cinema as a filmed stage play. All they saw was the recording device and the raw recording medium.
But the people making early film began to understand how dynamic the moving image was compared to still images — also very powerful. Just not as dynamic. As directors moved the camera in (forgetting about the proscenium arch), actors began to realize they no longer needed to shout to be heard in the very back row (this being long before actors even thought of wearing microphone hooked to speaker systems). A close up meant intimacy. It meant acting more intimately.
Since DW Griffith began inventing the language of cinema (which became the language of video), the audience has become savvy. Smartphones made anyone and everyone a filmmaker on the fly. A lot of us, frankly, enjoy speaking the language of film as much as we enjoy watching it. But — here’s the trick — the same things that make the language of cinema so powerful when we use it ourselves also make it powerful when used against us.
It’s bad enough when bad actors like Russia deliberately use the visual language to hurt us and our democracy. It’s worse when supposedly good actors — our news media — keep making the same inadvertent mistakes with visual language that hurt us just as much.
There may be two “sides” to every story — why one person did what they did versus why the other person did what they did — but the two sides don’t necessarily have equal weight or validity. I think of the man who sexually assaulted me twice when I was 14.
YD didn’t assault me because he had nothing else to do. He assaulted me because he wanted to — and because that perverse, secret, big-dog-forcing-it-on-littler-dog dynamic was what had happened to him when he was a kid. Yes, there was a story. It explained YD. It did not forgive him however.
The fact that YD had something to forgive — that makes our stories unequal. In a straight he-said, she-said world, this would be a 50-50: me vs YD.
The Truth however knows better.