Long ago, something went awry in professional journalism the way the Americans do it, and it left these visible deformations. In my own criticism I have given various names to this pattern: agendalessness, the quest for innocence—most often, the View From Nowhere. The problem is not what it is usually said to be: that the press is supposed to remain “objective” but no one can be totally unbiased. The problem is equating trustworthiness with the prohibition on taking sides, when the actual result may be exasperation with he said, she said, rage at the helplessness that “leaving it there” creates, and mistrust of the formulaic ways in which journalists try to advertise their even-handedness.
This is part of the problem that I keep coming back to with regard to truth. Again I quote Mark Clark, my classics and Greek professor in my undergraduate studies, who asserted that in order to be a good skeptic, one had to believe in the truth. I immediately saw the wisdom in his statement and adopted it as one of my own truths. Here, though, the question is, how can we have journalism if we can't have truth? How can we have anything at all, really, if we can't have truth? We are slowly being reduced to facts only, yet we refuse to endorse science, which functions on facts, wholeheartedly, out of our fear of offending the religious. Facts are data; truth is our understanding of the larger implications of facts. Where will the idea of the truth be when we need it? Locked away somewhere because we can't trust ourselves to be right? Hidden because we are too afraid to take a stand? We have reduced truth-telling to court decisions and legal documents; that's the only safe place left for the truth to be judged, and I fear that even that is disappearing.
We have given up our responsibility to gather facts, understand them, and judge for ourselves, instead becoming wheedling and fearful. I fear that there may be a tipping point already passed, that we've taken on too much fear as a culture and will not be able to overcome it in order to reach the truths we'll need to survive.