Editorial Director Marc Peruzzi lays down some nonpartisan reasoning in his Editor’s Letter.
American politics are polarized. It’s the worst, we’re told, since Reconstruction. Sounds bad, but then you remember that, at the time, the U.S. was divided over the issue of emancipation, and subsequently, whether free black people deserved any rights at all. History has proven that those who disagreed with the Southern worldview were correct. Slavery and racism are objectively evil. It’s acceptable to point that out. And even go to war for it.
Polemics are naturally occurring in liberal constitutional republics—like, you know, America. Nobody gets to argue in North Korea. That’s the efficiency of totalitarianism. Democracy, though, is embroiled in controversy. It’s messy. Democracy never goes to the cotillion.
So if our form of government has always been vitriolic, then what’s changed? I have a theory—OK, a hypothesis. In the mid-20th Century, journalism became a viable career path for college-educated people. Most of them could be described as freethinking types who trusted in science over religion and fundamentally believed that with enough digging, or sometimes just an open mind, objective truth was discoverable. A reporter could dust it off and show it to people: Here’s what’s really going on.
But then, being a messy democracy, some people objected to that style of truth seeking. They turned words like liberal (free) and progressive (forward thinking) into slurs. As in: “The liberal media is pushing a progressive agenda.” Ouch, that must have stung the free and forward thinking people who’d dedicated their lives to finding truth. Granted, many of those in charge were probably a little self-conscious about their privileged backgrounds, so the barbs stuck. And their solution was “balance.”
Balance just sounds good. The idea was branded into me in journalism school. And for many issues, balanced reporting is a perfect starting point. It helps you close in on the truth. But once you’re on the trail, the goal should be less so-called balance and more truth reporting. Truth is always out of balance. That’s why your mom used to say it hurts.
The best example in our time is climate change. Balanced reporting would have been great back in the 1980s when nobody was paying attention to the issue and much of the research hadn’t yet been done. But now that more than 98 percent of the scientific community agrees that climate change is happening and that it’s human caused, we need to acknowledge that truth, let it hurt a few people, and move on to reporting on some possible solutions. But instead we revert to balance and chew an infinite nothing-cud.
More objective truths: The legacy of mining—at least back before there was an EPA—includes mountains full of toxic heavy metals that we as a nation never did anything about. It’s not the EPA’s fault when those mountains leak. It also should be self evident that flaring methane from a fracking operation is at best incredibly wasteful and at worst criminally negligent. Here’s another: As more of us look to the high country for recreation, permanent habitat, and a healthy lifestyle, it’s clear that we’ll need some clean public transportation to make that happen (see Future of the Wasatch, page 143). While we’re at it, isn’t it time we admit that Earth is one big interconnected ecosystem and that everything we do, from letting a sandwich baggie blow into an alpine stream, or crafting a sweater from petrochemicals (see Fleece Police, page 42) affects all life? These are no longer debatable points.
Finding common ground, though, is both cliché and subversive tactic. If the Union of Concerned Scientists states that 72 percent of Fox News reporting on climate change is misleading and only eight percent of MSNBC’s coverage is, then where do the “balanced” news outlets fall? Two percent of a scientific community isn’t a side, it’s a suspicious anomaly. Just like we don’t need to see any Confederate flags on public property, we don’t need to hand climate deniers the microphone—ever again.
From the Early Winter 2015 issue.