Gotta hear both sides

Or do we?

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Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore

I was reading the New York Times profile on Ben Shapiro, and it followed the classic “both sides” arguments of a journalistic piece.

We hear from Shapiro’s critics:

Even some former fans say Mr. Shapiro is a brilliant polemicist, but in a tribal nation, he’s just one more partisan mobilizing his troops. “He’ll never concede anything to the left,” said William Nardi, a college student in Boston, who used to look up to Mr. Shapiro. “He’s saying the left is wrong and I’m right. Kids love that. All they care about is this feeling that they are right and that their identity is preserved. That’s what he gives them.”

Then we hear from Shapiro’s champions:

“So often I’ve felt turning on Fox, it makes you dumber, but you listen to Ben Shapiro and you are likely to be both entertained and enlightened,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative pundit and Trump critic. “He’s high octane. He reads books. His mind works really fast. He likes to get under people’s skin. He’s clearly part of this younger generation. I could imagine Bill Buckley looking down and smiling.”

And then, something unexpected happened near the end of the article. After Shapiro is quoted as saying “way down at the bottom are white straight males. Those are people whose opinions do not matter at all,” we hear the voice of the writer or editor of the piece:

Critics say that is great red meat for his audience, but it’s nonsense. Even if straight white males are low on the left’s pecking order, they have most of the power in Washington, in statehouses, in every corporate boardroom. They run America.

The kicker is often where the voice or opinion of the writer is revealed, in the choice of closing anecdote or quote. The writer gets to choose the final word on the subject after airing both sides, which can feel like a parent or judge issuing the verdict. The most objective piece of journalism is never truly objective.

The paragraph begins to couch the statement in the journalistic “critics say” vernacular of making seemingly objective statements. Then it’s like the writer or editor simply decided, screw it, let’s come out and say it. We don’t need to quote anyone or cite a study to state this fact.

When I was a journalism student, I remember attending a panel of investigative and muckraking journalists. I remember one columnist saying that the difference between the traditional reporters and columnists was that a reporter needed to quote someone saying “this is bullshit,” and the columnist could just write “this is bullshit.”

That was 15 years ago. Today when I read The New York Times, an article called bullshit (or “nonsense,” in their case) without quoting someone that it’s bullshit.

The phrase “gotta hear both sides” was started as a joke by Desus Nice and became shorthand for putting two different ideas or sides of a situation on the same moral plane, even if one is patently absurd.

So is this where we are now? Should a reporter call bullshit in a world full of gaslighting, alternative facts, bot-fueled propaganda and bullshit? Do we simply need reporters who aren’t too timid to state the truth?

Or is this a slippery slope to making all reporters columnists in an already hyper-opinionated world? Does getting someone else to say something is bullshit make your statement stronger when everyone acts like a columnist? And where is the line when you should just come out and say something is bullshit?

I truly don’t know. What do you think? I guess I want to hear both sides.

Written by

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity: http://bit.ly/thecreativejourney

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