Objective Reporting & Objective Truth

Many recent news items, particularly those regarding the Church or religion, have caused me to ponder the role of the media in view of its larger capacity. It seems simple enough: the role of the media is to convey news to the masses. Moreover, I think most would agree that objective reporting is something indispensable in accurate and reliable media coverage; no one wants news tainted by strong biases or personal convictions, particularly if those biases are opposed to the convictions of the reader. If one desires news with a bias in one’s favor, he is simply disillusioning himself and separating himself from the objective facts at hand. Either way, it seems, the ideal role of the media is an impartial, dispassionate reporting of current events in a manner conducive to objective understanding.

When the objectivity of the facts being relayed is tinkered with, the result is biased reporting. However, a graver error is still possible. Here, one might begin to consider the capacity of the media as informing a public perception of the truth. Just as journalists can alter facts by overly subjectivist reporting, news media en masse can alter the criterion of truth by subjectivising what is ultimately and necessarily an objective reality.

Perhaps this seems a bit abstract; I will try to explain. The entire idea can rightly be summed up in the statement, that the media is responsible and capable of dealing with reporting facts, and not in applying meaning to them in light of a greater moral and dogmatic worldview. While all humans are bound to realize meaning, to some degree, in every encounter with the world we live in, there is a vast difference between apprehended meaning—based on the experience itself—and an applied meaning, which categorizes and pre-forms an event for public digestion. The first is necessary in reporting, the latter is not. In fact, the latter is in many ways harmful to the authentic apprehension of truth on the part of the viewing public; how are unsuspecting and distant readers and viewers to know the difference between foundational, realistic meaning, and a dogmatic meaning imposed after-the-fact by a reporter or company seeking to further a larger agenda? Doesn’t the slope of biased reporting quickly wind up dumping into the pit of biased truth?

Certainly, not all media is bad media, despite human error and natural bias. However, when encountering the world by way of the mass media, responsible citizens need to be aware that truth is not and cannot be dictated by those who report facts—even if they are true facts. ‘Truth’ is something much larger than facts; it pervades facts and gives them their meaning and note vice versa. Reporting the truth is done only when one reports facts and allows them to speak for themselves. Otherwise, something human is being superimposed upon something super-human. The capacity of the media is a human one, and therefore we ought to be weary when writers and journalists use such a platform to critique dogmatic and moral institutions over which they truly have no authority.

It seems obvious here, but how often are we duped into such media-discipleship? Particularly with the upcoming elections in the US, more and more care needs to be taken to ensure that what we subscribe to with our minds, hearts and votes is not just some proposed truth, but rather the objective truth, which underlies and gives value to reported facts. As Catholics, this responsibility has always been preached loudly and clearly by the Church and continues to be treated as a paramount facet of civil duty. Now more than ever we see the need to be vigilant. Fortunately, now more than ever we have the knowledge and capacity to do something about it, and to preach Christ boldly even in the face of societal darkness and uncertainty.