Two Objective Looks at Objectivity

By Weinberg, Steve | The Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Two Objective Looks at Objectivity


Weinberg, Steve, The Christian Science Monitor


JUST THE FACTS: HOW OBJECTIVITY CAME TO DEFINE AMERICAN JOURNALISM By David T. Z. Mindich New York University Press 208 pp., $24.95 WHAT THE PEOPLE KNOW: FREEDOM AND THE PRESS By Richard Reeves Harvard University Press 128 pp., $19.95 Richard Reeves is a respected veteran journalist who wants fellow journalists to concentrate on ferreting out the truth without fear or favor. That sounds like a mundane topic for a book. After all, what else would journalists be expected to do? But Reeves's What the People Know is anything but mundane because so many journalists either have no idea how to ferret out the truth, or seem to have forgotten that part of their job. Many have never honed interviewing skills, proudly refuse to learn shorthand to assist accurate notetaking, know little about locating or analyzing revelatory public records, are ignorant about computer- assisted reporting, accept their sources' self- interested versions of events without checking further - thus allowing rumors, trial balloons, and personal agendas to reach the public disguised as apparent fact. Reeves illustrates how most journalists covering the early rumors of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sexual relationship showed their lack of concern for truth by printing rumors planted by sleazy sources instead of reaching the verification stage through old-fashioned reporting. After pseudojournalist Matt Drudge placed the Clinton- Lewinsky rumors on his Internet site, lots of experienced journalists abdicated their responsibility to the truth. Reeves writes, "Hacks and hackers came together, dumping information as raw as sewage on the American people.... Assuming 1O percent of it was true, or 95 percent of it was true, the question of which 1O percent or which 95 percent was generally left to the imagination." A former New York Times reporter who has written 10 other books, Reeves presented this indictment of his colleagues at a Harvard lecture. He then turned the lecture into this book. It reads more like a speech than a book, which is too bad, because much of Reeves's great style is lost in a speech format. But the content - part personal reminiscence, part media critique - makes this book worthwhile for anybody who cares about Reeves's illustrious career or the state of journalism. David Mindich's Just the Facts is about journalism in the 19th century, not the end of the 20th century. Yet, coincidentally, it is a superb setup to Reeves's thoughts about the contemporary state of the craft. …

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