Bias, Moral Relativism, and Hipocrisy
A commentor at The Other Side of Kim Forums calling himself Raucous recently posted this tolerably well written, but I think ultimately blind post, positing the question what do we want out of our reporters with regard to bias, and support of the American (or any other) war effort.
“As an aspiring journalist I note with some dismay the frustration, animosity and anger with which the media is seen by many on this board and others. Which leads me to the question, what do the people want from their press?
Much of the frustration, it seems, stems from reporting of controversial issues. For example, should the enemy in Iraq be referred to as insurgents or terrorists? This, I supposit , is not as easy as people may think. There are, certainly, clear cut examples – car bombings in public markets are easily labeled as terrorist acts. But, how should we refer to the man who takes up arms against what he perceives as an illegitimate invader? If he is shooting at U.S. soldiers engaged in military operation on his homeland is he a terrorist, a militant, an insurgent, a fundamentalist?
Our own empathy with the men and women of our armed forces will steer us to the conclusion that anyone who stands against them must do so for nefarious reasons, but we must look beyond emotion. We can note that words such as terrorist have been used throughout history to illicit ill feelings toward a group. The Czech and Ukrainian partisans of World War II, even the Minutemen of the American Revolution were cast in a similar light. The projection is effective, because we KNOW what a terrorist is – and castigating someone in the light of “terrorist” brings us, for a moment, to the images of September 11th . It is easy to hate someone when we associate them with men and women jumping to their death to avoid flames, it is easy to despise them we recall the grieving widows of the FDNY.
But do we want the media to assume a role that validates our emotions, and if so which ones?
As journalists we are, by necessity, careful as to what we write. Printing a quote incorrectly or forgetting to put “alleged” in front of murderer means that we can have our asses hauled write to court. It could be an honest mistake, that doesn’t mean it won’t cost us lots and lots of money. This care spills over into choosing between such terms as “migrant worker” and “illegal alien.” I shall admit that print journalists worry too much about political correctness and semantics, but as I’ve said one word can make the difference in our increasingly litigative society.
So, from what I gather “insurgent” and “militant” are not a strong enough words because they somehow lend validity to the act and the personcommitting it. “Terrorist,” however, labels both the person and the event in a negative light, and should be the standard.
Imagine then, this imaginary headline. “Terrorists open fire on U.S. military killing four.” This, we would say, is accurate regardless of who the “terrorist” are or what their motives might be. Our affinity for our fellow Americans rallies us to their side.
Imagine now, this imaginary headline from a different perspective. “U.S. terrorists open fire on Iraqi fighters killing four.” This, we would say, IS TOTAL @#$%ING HORSE#(&^ WHERE DO THOSE &!@#SUCKERS GET OFF CALLING US TERRORIST?!
The editorialising is exactly the same – simply from a different perspective. If we are to say that one is desirable then we should also accept the other as fair. Do we?
To reach further back in time to Oklahoma City, and even Ruby Ridge, we may recall when these mantras worked to the distinct disadvantage of members of the gun culture. Suddenly, everyone who owned a gun became a McVeigh – we all became “militants,” “extremists,” “fanatics,” “gun-nuts.” Randy Weaver was a “racist,” and a “white supremacist .” Poor reporting and more poor reporting. But reporting in the same vein as what many seem to want – biased towards their own perspective.”
Some good points there, but I think some basic misunderstandings.. perhaps even a moral blindness that I wish to address.
First, my thought on bias is simple. The U.S. press should be as biased as it wants to be, and stop pretending to be objective or neutral.
The fact is people are biased. While it is possible to be objective about some things, once you have formed an opinion that you are confident and justified in, you WILL NOT BE unbiased about things which either strongly support, or strongly contracdict your opinion.
You may force yourself to appear unbiased, but even then, the bias will still be there. It will color what you think, and what you write, no matter how much you think it does not. Subtle elements such as word order, punctuation, basic elements of tone and style will be different when you are writing about things you have strong opinions on… at least if you are any good as a writer.
Unbiased reporting is either unifnormed, or passionless. It is inhuman in nature… Human nature is passionate, and it is baised.
In times past here, and in most other countries today, reporters dont even pretend to be unbiased. They acknowledged they are biased gleefully and dove into their bias with gusto. So long as they do not lie, alter, or distort FACTS, and seperate FACT from their own OPINIONS, then I think that is just fine.
IF THEY ADMIT IT.
The U.S. press is in a situation today where not only are they radically biased, but they continue to lie about, and deny that bias exists; or worse, pretend that the bias is exactly opposite of what we all kow to be true. Read Bernie Goldbergs “Bias” and “Arrogance” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I am an informed, passionate reader; and I want a passionate, informed writer writing my news, and just as important, I want him to admit what his opinions are about what he is writing, rather than pretend they aren’t there, when so clearly they are. Then I can judge if he is being reliable or not, just as I do with any man talking with me on the street.
Now, I wanted to address the main illustrative thrust in the piece, and that is the editorial judgement of writers as described in this sentence discussing calling Iraqi bombers terrorists, vs. calling U.S. soldiers terrorists:
“But do we want the media to assume a role that validates our emotions, and if so which ones?”
“The editorialising is exactly the same – simply from a different perspective. If we are to say that one is desirable then we should also accept the other as fair. Do we?”
Only if one assumes moral equivalency, and moral relevancy are valid philosophies.
It is my (and many Americans) explicit rejection of these philosophies that is the genesis of our dislike of such politically correct usages as calling terrorists anything but that.
A terrorist is one who uses forcible terror without legitimate authority for the use of force, and without hope of military or political victory through legitimate means; to effect a social or political change that they desire.
This is the very definition of the so called “insurgency” in Iraq. It does not, never has, and never will apply to conventional military forces.
Though there are certain circumstances when special operations use terrorist tactics, it would be unfair to call those executing them terrorists. They are using those tactics because they are appropriate to the situation, and as part of a larger overall plan and goal WHICH THEY ARE CAPABLE OF ACHIEVING, through legitimate means.
If however it would not be possible for a group to do so, or that group was not acting under the color of legitimate authority (either in just rebellion, or as agents of a legitimate government) then it is plainly fair to call them terrorists.
The Israeli spcial operations forces, and intelligence services, are well known for using terrorist tactics against terrorist groups. This doesn’t make them terrorists. There is a very clear definitional difference, in that they are operating under the color of legitimate authority, and in concert with the principles by which that authority is derived.
Now as to whether one is using terrorist tactics, there can be no question. As to whether one using force outside of the color of recognized legitimate authority is a terrorist, there is only one moral question, “what is a just rebellion”.
It may be morally acceptable to promulgate terrorist acts in support of a just rebellion (or other just war), but what is a just rebellion?
At this point it is necessary to make a moral judgement. Morally, a rebellion is just if it is against a government which does not recognize or protect the basic rights of the sovreign man; or if it is against no government at all but against those who would abrogate those basic rights; and if that rebellion is dedicated to instituting a government which does. There is no other legitimate moral justification for either a government to base itself on, or for a rebellion to base it’s opposition.
Of course moral relativisms core principle is that all moral judgements are invalid; thus a writer who cannot make a moral judgement cannot call someone a terrorist, and someone else a freedom fighter.
I make the moral judgement that the so called insurgents in Iraq are not in legitimate rebellion, and therefore they are terrorists. They are not insurgents, freedom fighters, militas, minutemen, or anything but terrorists. As terrorists they are unlawful enemy combatants, and subject to summary execution upon capture, and to unlimited prosecution of conventional force to effect that capture.
If you cannot make a moral judgement, then you also cannot condemn me for making a moral judgement against a terrorist, or against you for that matter. Of course it seems that moral relativsts principles do not extend that far. They will remain free of judgement until they come up against someone who disagrees with them, and then their judgement is applied with great force.
This is the grossest form of hipocrisy; which coincidentally is the most frequent accusation of the moral relativist against those who do not share their views.