The Impossibility of Objectivity

There’s the famous Howard Zinn quote that “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

Let’s be honest, you can’t be neutral on any train, who cares where it’s going and at what speed? The fact of the matter is, you helped build that train and part of it was build for you.

People often cite their feelings of apathy or neutrality, or in the field of journalism, their “objectivity” in order to demonstrate their “lack of bias.”

Neutrality or objectivity–the attempt to perceive both sides “evenly”–is in and of itself a particular position. Claiming to be objective or neutral about something assumes you can somehow disassociate from the particular historical, political and social systems in which we are raised. It is these very constructs that constitute our thinking and influence our decisions.

This entire concept of objectivity reminds me of a great article my friend Shaun Poust wrote for Buzzsaw last year. It satirizes in its final format the notion of objectivity — once again, an impossible claim.

This isn’t to say that transparency, accuracy, fairness and intellectual merit aren’t worth noting here. Good, comprehensive journalism must not exclude important information, multiple narratives and perspectives or ask difficult questions to anyone involved.

However, to use objectivity as a standard in journalism only sets up false understandings of how we operate as humans. This is what fascinates me about people who constantly note the “liberal” bias in the media, or even the lack of objectivity by Fox.

That’s not what most of us who criticize mainstream media have a problem with–we recognize the tendencies to favor candidates, political parties, platforms, policy positions, etc. What’s frustrating is the intentional exclusion or convenient absence/silencing of particular groups of people, sides of storys and information itself.

Derailing from factual, thorough, clear and articulate reporting that provides the audience in a democracy with all of the resources they need to build dialogue and make decisions is unacceptable. Objectivity is not the answer. Seeking the truth with the ability to self-critique and ask lots of questions seems more fitting.


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