Journalists need thick skin. Even if your journalistic goal is to write about eye shadow for Glamour, you’ll still be labeled as a member of that enigmatic, anger-inducing “media.” That means you’ll be subject to an occasional old-fashioned media bashing by complete strangers, and even your friends and family.
I was chatting up a brand-new acquaintance at the climbing gym recently when this happened. I blame the typical small talk we engage in when meeting someone new: So, what do you do?
Joe, it turned out, was a climate scientist. (Between NOAA and NCAR, Boulder has no dearth of climate scientists.) And he is baffled by the media’s coverage of climate change.
“If you go to a conference of climate scientists, there isn’t a single scientist there who disagrees with global warming,” he said. “It’s happening. Why is CNN giving equal time to these people — they’re not even scientists, I saw an economist they had on to debate that global warming is a myth!”
Joe was clearly exasperated.
So was I. I’m frustrated every time I see this supposed attempt at balance and objectivity on the news. People outside of the media can see that this isn’t a balanced way to examine the issue. Why can’t the journalists see it themselves?
I think they do see it, and some of them get it. But the worst offenders, like the ones Joe saw? Perhaps they just don’t know how else to do it without being accused of, well, everything the media is accused of: liberal bias, tree hugging, elitism. But that doesn’t excuse them for giving 50-50 time to both sides of an issue when, as Joe pointed out, you’d be hard pressed to find a single real climate scientist to argue against climate change.
I tried to explain to Joe (who I like quite a bit, and I didn’t mind his well-intentioned bashing at all, because I agree) that this is actually a modern example used in journalism schools to discuss the inherent problems with some definitions of objectivity. But it doesn’t bring me much comfort. By covering contentious issues this way, isn’t the media — whose job is to expose the truth and shed light in dark places — perpetuating many myths on many issues?
And despite what the media bashers say, perpetuating myth is not part of the job.