2 + 2 = ?

It’s become fairly common to state that one of the problems with the professional news media is how they cover things: they report what both sides say but (often) skip reporting the truth.

One candidate says, “Two plus two equals four, but just barely. I used to think it equaled five before I decided it equaled four. However, for large values of two, or small values of five, it could still conceivably equal five. Or, if you redefine five as the sum of two twos, then it would equal five, yes. I performed addition for my country as a young man and I will perform it now.”

And another candidate says, “Two plus two equals five. Simple as that. To say that it equals four is to have a pre-9/11 mindset.”

How do you report on that? You can report what the candidates say. You could also report that two plus two does indeed equal four, but then you have the whole critique-of-objective-reality thing to deal with, so you skip it.

During my own journalism training (college newspaper, early ’90s) I was taught to discard the idea of an unbiased, objective reality. I was taught that there was no such thing as truth: there are only points of view, and it was my job to present the points of view. Forget objectivity, it’s impossible, was the lesson. Instead we had “fairness.”

In other words, there is no truth, there is only what people say.

Here are my questions:

1. Is this wrong?

2. How did we get here?

3. How can we fix it?

23 Oct 2004

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