In the latest Columbia Journalism Review (no online edition) there’s a great essay titled “We’re all postmodern now: even journalists have realized that facts don’t always add up to the truth.” It says basically that the postmodernists have won and that journalists are just starting to concede that a utopia of pure objectivity and factual reporting is not reality. “Spin” is here to stay. Excerpts:
In the final third of the 20th century, journalism had seemed the last bastion of certainty, of hardheaded realism. While the arts, the humanities, elements of the social sciences, and even aspects of the sciences, were grappling with notions of interpretation and uncertainty, most reporters held onto the very 19th century notion that facts were independent of interpretation; that they were discrete and merely required “collecting.” …Journalists were content to ignore postmodernism – a loose collection of philosophical ideas and aesthetic notions that have in common a revolt against the belief that any one perspective, any one view of reality, has ultimate priority. Deconstruction [is] perhaps postmodernism’s most dynamic incarnation…Deconstruction and other postmodern theories have long argued interpretation is inextricably bound with reality….
The ideology of no ideology took hold in American journalism and maintained its grip long after the limits of realism became clear in art, literature, philosophy, and even, to an extent, physics. The “inverted pyramid” – a perfect vessel for contextless, virginal facts – was seen as holy. In the second half of the 20th century, objectivity became the American journalist’s creed….
News sources, too, have been helping pile interpretation upon interpretation. Developing alongside the great journalistic fact-gathering machines in the 20th century was the great science of public relations. Newsmakers now spin with enough dexterity and industriousness to make us all dizzy. Everyone senses this. Is there any better evidence both of the ubiquity of spin and of the recognition of the ubiquity of spin than the name that is now universally applied to the space outside our quadrennial national debates – spin alley? To allow yourself to be spun while knowing you are being spun in a quintessential postmodern experience.