Thursday, September 30, 2010

A primer in so-called "journalistic objectivity"

I've probably already said as much as I can usefully say about the cretinous attempts of Robert Menendez and co to set up a show-trial over the Megrahi affair. But reading the Wall Street Journal's accounts of the token Senate hearing yesterday, I was reminded once again of one little thing that's been nagging away at me about the US reporting of this affair. After my partial success with Dr Aubrey de Grey a little while ago, I decided I might as well chance my arm once again and send a direct query to the journalist in question, Paul Sonne -

"Can I ask why in your WSJ articles about Megrahi, the words compassionate release are always either put in inverted commas, or preceded with the words "so-called", or indeed both? Since it's a straightforward legal term, it seems to me that what you're doing is the rough equivalent of saying that Megrahi was found guilty of so-called "murder". Aren't you giving a misleading impression to your readers that the whole concept of compassionate release was a wheeze dreamed up for this particular case?"

To his credit, Mr Sonne did take the trouble to send a reply, albeit a brief one -

"Hi James,

It is only meant to designate that this is what it is called by Scotland, not by us as writers.

All the best,
Paul"


Hmmm. Are you convinced? I'd suggest that what writers do and do not feel the need to madly disassociate themselves from actually tells you rather a lot about their biases, unconscious or otherwise. What do you think the chances are, for instance, of seeing a mainstream American journalist refer to his or her country's prisons as so-called "correctional institutions", or to the Guantanamo kangaroo courts as so-called "military tribunals"? If we're to take Mr Sonne's explanation at face value it surely follows that, whenever journalists neglect to place such a disclaimer on politically-loaded terms, they can be reasonably charged with having set aside their objectivity.

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