Just the Facts: How "Objectivity" Came to Define American Jounalism

Article excerpt

Just the Facts: How "Objectivity" Came to Define American Journalism. David T. Z. Mindich. NY & London: New York University Press, 1998. 201 pp. $24.95 hbk.

Although "objectivity" has always been an unrealizable ethic that defies literal definition, it has been the pole star of American journalists for roughly 150 years. Today, that star seems to be fading as free-market media industries adjust to significant structural reorganization. In this timely book, David Mindich explains how five concepts related to journalistic objectivity evolved during the nineteenth century. Each component conceptdetachment, nonpartisanship, inverted pyramid, facticity, and balance-receives chapter-length treatment.

Mindich begins by questioning whether Jacksonian Democracy adequately explains the emergence of the penny press during the 1830s. Rather than responding to democratization and egalitarianism, he argues that the publishers of the New York pennies instead detached from the divisive rhetoric of clashing political ideologies during a period perhaps better characterized as inegalitarian and violent. Mindich skillfully incorporates the drubbing of Bennett by Webb as a journalistic example of class-based violence during the Jacksonian era. He concludes that the pennies survived because nonpartisan newspapers proved to be popular with readers and generated profit for publishers.

Mindich then elaborates his discussion of journalistic nonpartisanship by analyzing the political journalism of three distinct nonpartisans: Bennett, Garrison, and Douglass. The strength of this chapter, however, is its treatment of Douglass and Garrison, both of whom are underrepresented inmost journalism histories.

Turning to the inverted pyramid, Mindich first argues that news stories departing from chronological form did not appear in American newspapers until the assassination of President Lincoln after the Civil War. …