Newspapers Opinion and Fact

We often hear a complaint that newspapers are forgetting their role of delivering the facts and instead are intent on forming public opinion. They are accused of relaying only what fits the newspaper’s own ideology or direction or interest.

So, the argument runs, a newspaper should separate fact from opinion and give out the facts and then be explicit where it wants to give an opinion. This raises the question of whether it should give an opinion at all, to which the answer would be – and why not? After all those who run the newspaper are people as well and they have opinions.

The flaw in the argument of all of this is that there are no such things as facts. Of course there are facts but when newspapers report facts those facts are filtered through the collection of attitudes, desires, beliefs etc. that form and inform the minds of the people who work in and run the newspaper.

And therefore nobody on the newspaper can actually see the facts.

It takes huge insight to be able to see the facts. The context, the understanding of man, the history of mankind – a man must know all of these clearly because he can state the facts. More than that, it takes huge insight to be able to draw back and not go along some well-trodden road originally walked by one of the greater or smaller thinkers. To do that would be to simply regurgitate and parrot an opinion that is not the journalist’s own, rather than simply looking, seeing, and analysing.

It is basic. We do not have consensus on the nature of reality. Where is the consensus between the religious and the secular? Where is the consensus between those who hold that life is predictable and those who think that outside of a small field of predictability there is an ocean of chance? Faced with this we can say that people do not all occupy the same interior universe. What chance then their agreement on facts?

So we task newspapers with an impossible job. And this is not to say that a newspaper should simply decide wholesale that it’s going to ignore a pursuit of fact and just tailor everything and everything in its message to the opinion that wants to put over in order to sway public opinion. That is a complete abandonment of its task. But recognising that it is not possible for a person to see the facts without them being slanted by their own opinion is to ignore reality.