…about the kerfuffle CNN’s Anderson Cooper caused among (some) U.S. media watchers after he called Egyptian politicians liars:
Identifying lies told by powerful political leaders — and describing them as such — is what good journalists do, by definition. It’s the crux of adversarial journalism, of a “watchdog” press. “Objectivity” does not require refraining from pointing out the falsity of government claims. The opposite is true; objectivity requires that a journalist do exactly that: treat factually false statements as false. “Objectivity” is breached not when a journalist calls a lie a “lie,” but when they refuse to do so, when they treat lies told by powerful political officials as though they’re viable, reasonable interpretations of subjective questions. The very idea that a journalist is engaged in “opinion-making” or is “taking sides” by calling a lie a “lie” is ludicrous; the only “side” such a journalist is taking is with facts, with the truth. It’s when a journalist fails to identify a false statement as such that they are “taking sides” — they’re siding with those in power by deceitfully depicting their demonstrably false statements as something other than lies.
This warped reasoning is one of the prime diseases plaguing establishment political journalism in the U.S. Most establishment journalists are perfectly willing to use the word “lie” for powerless, demonized or marginalized people, but they genuinely believe that it is an improper breach of journalistic objectivity to point out when powerful political officials are lying. They adamantly believe that such an activity — which is a core purpose of political journalism — is outside the purview of their function.
All this said, I’d be much more impressed with Cooper if he used such language for the lies told by American political leaders (rather than reviled, weakened Middle East dictators on their way out of power).
But had Cooper said such things about a leading American political official, then a true journalistic scandal would have erupted. Declaring the statements of an American political leader to be a lie is one of the most rigidly enforced taboos in American journalism. That this hallmark of real journalism is strictly prohibited — “It’s not our role,” explained the Meet the Press host — tells one all there is to know about the function which most establishment journalists fulfill.
Bingo bingo bingo.
From Salon. Read the whole thing: it’s brilliant, from the headline — “Journalists angry over the commission of journalism” — onward.