Of course, part of the problem lies in the very fact that the press either claim, or are asked to support a fairly nebulous concept known as “objectivity”. Its inherent in the model put forward by fishwife and its supposedly typified by the fact that, having no voice of her own, the “reporter” must only report what people say.
The rise and rise of the rentaquote mob
Good stuff? Not exactly. For in reality, it is possible to locate individuals who will mostly say whatever you are looking for them to say. So you quote these – and ignore other more balanced, insightful, expert views.
First up are the rentaquote brigade. Every journalist has an address book full of such types: people or organisations who will just opine with very little respect for fact on a given issue. A story in one national paper, not that long ago, opened with some stuff about Family support charities taking a dim view of something.
Doesn’t much matter what they were taking a dim view of – though in this instance, I think it was sex toys on public display – because, dig just an inch or two below the surface, and you discovered that the organisations in question were actually offshoots of the finger-wagging variety of Christianity.
Might as well have asked them about homosexuality, sex ed or early transition: you just know they were going to “take a dim view”.
Pope shits in woods. Bears are catholic. Tell us another!
and please don’t ask the subject!
Then there are those whose opinion is really not worth much on a topic. Victims, on criminal reform. Trans folk on trans issues. Huh?
Well, no: this is the oldest form of ambush in the book. One of the pieces of disinformation being peddled over the last year or so has been an inflated cost of grs. That comes from various places…but one very bad source for it involves asking the subject of the story.
Because, of course, every patient knows how much a particular medical procedure affecting them costs?
If you’ve had pretty much any procedure on the NHS recently, i’d be very surprised if you knew how much it cost.
And then, some journo’s are not above feeding the answer they want to their unsuspecting victim: so, would you say this procedure costs £20,000…£30,000…£loadsamoney. And on the interviewee grunting a vague sort of assent, that gets turned in polished prose way into “The cost of the operation, according to so-and-so is absolutely squillions”.
That particular piece of nastiness was at work recently in a local paper. The relative of a victim of a killer who also happened to be trans was raising a petition against the latter getting medical treatment.
The petitioner had read in a tabloid that the cost of the treatment was £x (where x was somewhere in the region of 45k) and therefore delivered a neat soundbite to the local press about the cost of the treatment.
A simple untruth which in this instance i managed to eradicate because the local press got the figure from the individual, but had failed to attribute it to them as quote.
Standing up the story
Still, its something papers should not do. Were i to write that “Paul Dacre is a card-carrying nazi weasel” (lawyers please note the use of the conditional tense and quote marks!), i could quickly expect a stiff legal letter, followed by a libel suit if i didn’t take down the offending copy.
Oh, but…what if i were to have a word with Mrs Jones from no. 44 down the road, who knows about this sort of thing (in between conversing with aliens and forecasting the end of the world)?
Er, no. As any editor would instantly tell me: without pics, tape recorded interviews from material witnesses and police statements, i’d be on a hiding to nothing. Merely repeating nasty innuendo , even if “substantiated” by the local, er, colourful character would be no excuse. And rightly so.
Even though that rarely stops the nationals from doing this and, in the process, doing a great deal of damage. In some recent trans stories, one of the most objectionable factors has been the way in which national papers sent reporters out to knock on every door in a road asking neighbours what they thought of such-and-such tranny. Which effectively meant outing that individual to all and sundry – quite apart from the dubious usefulness of such copy in the final story.
Objectivity? I dunno. The process appears, on the surface, to encourage it: in practice, though, i would say that much of the time it comes out with the exact opposite.