Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers

By Michael Schudson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
THE IDEAL OF OBJECTIVITY

AMERICAN JOURNALISM has been regularly criticized for failing to be "objective." Whether it was Democrats in 1952 complaining of a one-party press biased against Adlai Stevenson or the Nixon-Agnew administration attacking newspapers and television networks for being too liberal, the press has repeatedly been taken to task for not presenting the day's news "objectively."

But why do critics take it for granted that the press should be objective? Objectivity is a peculiar demand to make of institutions which, as business corporations, are dedicated first of all to economic survival. It is a peculiar demand to make of institutions which often, by tradition or explicit credo, are political organs. It is a peculiar demand to make of editors and reporters who have none of the professional apparatus which, for doctors or lawyers or scientists, is supposed to guarantee objectivity.

And yet, journalists, as well as their critics, hold newspapers to a standard of objectivity. Not all journalists believe they should be objective in their work, but the belief is widespread, 1 and all journalists today must in some manner confront it. But why? What kind of a world is ours and what kind of an institution is journalism that they sustain this particular ideal, objectivity? That is the problem this book addresses. I shall not ask here the familiar question: are

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