Journalism Is Much More Than Balance. Often Times It Is About Morality!

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By Jerry Roker
for Bahamas Press

“Five minutes for Hitler, five minutes for the Jews.”

That, according to legend was the routine response of an ’80s-era editor in the Unites States, whenever some hapless reporter was working overly hard to bring “balance” to a story where none should exist, where the moral high ground was clearly held by one side or the other. I don’t know who the editor was, but that riposte brims with a wisdom sorely lacking in the Bahamian news media, obsessed with what seems like rabid hatred for Prime Minister Christie and his PLP government.

With the obvious exception of certain partisan news outlets, some reporters, fearful of being tagged for “bias” on contentious issues, seek to safeguard themselves by ritually quoting a source from Side A and another from Side B while avoiding even painfully obvious conclusions. They call this “fair and balanced.” It’s actually gutless and dumb.

Five minutes for Hitler, five minutes for the Jews.

And then what? Five minutes for the criminal, five minutes for the victim?

Yes, these are outlandish examples. They are also logical extrapolations.

The plain fact is, journalism without judgment — moral judgment — cannot exist. If you doubt it, try a thought experiment. You’re a news editor on a day when the Prime Minister is cutting the ribbon on a new clinic and there’s been a shooting at the mall. What’s your top story? Is it the shooting? Why? Won’t the clinic directly impact more people? If you go with the shooting, what angle will you take? What resources will you commit? What answers will you demand?

Congratulations, you just committed multiple acts of moral judgment.

Yes, the Bahamian news media must strive to be fair, to hold all sides to rigorous account, to offer a balanced view. But occasionally, there comes a point — subjective, but no less real for that — when pretending to moral equivalence between those sides is a lie, an act of journalistic malpractice.

In these perilous times, with fake news and untruths infesting our national discourse, that is a sin we can ill afford. No one ever had to remind Cronkite or Murrow of the need to speak the truth when the truth was plain and the moral imperative clear. No one should have to remind this generation of journalists either.

There are two sides to every story, goes the axiom. But you know what?

Sometimes there’s only the one.