One of the first things you learn in Journalism 101 is to give your reader “both sides of the story.” The assumption is that there IS one, and sometimes maybe several.
But, like many things that have been dismantled by postmodernism, post-structuralism, and political correctness, a reporter telling “both sides of the story” has become not only less important to some in the media, but sometimes can be considered downright irresponsible.
Raleigh’s own Jim Goodmon, owner of the WRAL-TV empire, told a group gathered for a Martin Luther King prayer breakfast in January 2011 that telling “both sides of a story” can be a bad thing because it’s akin to giving flat-Earthers the same credence as those who know the world is round.
Unfortunately, the “other side of the story” is not always so easily discredited. Once one goes down the journalistic path of believing there is a “right side” and a “wrong side” of a story, and the goal becomes ignoring the “wrong side,” you are doing propaganda, not journalism.
In September I wrote a column in this space titled “Don’t Let the Narrative Trump the Facts.” It was about the national media’s rush to judgment on the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.
“When will the media learn to wait to find out what really happened before writing history?” I asked.
Since then, it has been made abundantly clear by local prosecutors, a local grand jury, and even the U.S. Justice Department, that Michael Brown was not a “gentle giant” who put his hands up and said “don’t shoot,” and that Officer Darren Wilson was defending himself legally when he shot Brown.
As a result of being confronted with the real facts of the case, many media outlets have had to admit that they were wrong to accept uncritically the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme.
The New York Times’ mea culpa is especially interesting. Public editor Margaret Sullivan originally, back in August, criticized the Times reporter for providing in his first reporting “dubious equivalency” and “false balance” by quoting anonymous sources who said Brown never had his hands up.
On March 23, however, after seven months of ruminating, she wrote this: “In retrospect, it’s clear to me that including that information wasn’t false balance. It was an effort to get both sides.”
The question this raises is how a person working for what is thought to be this country’s greatest newspaper ever could come to the conclusion that NOT including both sides of a story is a responsible thing to do.
Maybe we should ask Jim Goodmon.
Jon Ham (@rivlax) is a vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.