Kevin Drum has a piece in Washington Monthly discussing this Mark Kleiman post on the problem with objectivity in journalism.
The original post deals with how one handles situations like this in a news story.
On the darker side, a group identifying itself as Iowa-based U.S. Christians for Truth distributed pamphlets attacking Romney for being a Mormon.
Is it objective to say this is "on the darker side"? That was the question Kleiman asked and answered,
To put it bluntly, that's considered OK in an "objective" news story only because the group involved isn't rich or powerful. Thomma's editors wouldn't let him get away with using that phrase to introduce an account of Rudy's latest claim that Democrats don't believe in defending the country.
That said, it's hard to figure out what Thomma should have done. To report bigoted statements "straight," without comment, is to put them on the same level as other sorts of statements.
Personally, I think reporting whacko statements straight often points out the whackiness of the statement. If a group claims Jesus Christ wouldn't vote for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon, I think that statement allows the reader to figure out how sane or crazy the proponent is.
But Drum asks a better question: who gets to decide how we objectively cover events? Reporters? Editors? Publishers? Readers?
It's a sticky wicket, to be sure. I tend to come down on the side of reporters; it is their names on the byline, after all. But, as we all know, reporters are frequently not objective, even when they pretend they are.
Take abortion stories. Most reporters consider objectivity to be having the exact same number of quotes from both pro-choice and pro-life groups. But not all quotes are the same. If the quotes from one side come from someone who sounds like they didn't take their medication for a few days, while the other side sounds polished and professional, the reader comes away with a particular impression of the debate.
Similarly, not all stories about a hot-button issue deserve the "balanced number of quotes" approach. If, for example, the story is about a pro-choice rally, does it matter that much what pro-lifers say about it? What about a pro-life film shown to receptive audiences? Should the "other side" always get equal mention, even when they aren't the story?
There's no one right answer to the question of objectivity. Every kid in Reporting I will tell you that words have particular meanings and that bias slips in by means of them. Trying to figure out how to objectively cover every story is supposed to be part of the journalist's training.