The Politics of a News Story

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A popular critique of current media, one which I shared, was the editorial natures of broadcasts and reporting (an editorial being an analysis and opinion piece).  People say they want unbiased factual reporting.  Just the events and relevant details without injections of opinion, analysis or speculation.  We, people, can arrive at our own judgments given the facts.  There are at least two problems with this position.  

One, is that determining what is relevant to report, and the words and organization of how to report it, involve judgments on the part of the reporter or editor.  But, let’s assume that the reporter and editor are aware of this and so use the most general and universal language to describe an event.  For example, “He said” rather than “He sneered”.  In essence, the reporter avoids adjectives and singularly descriptive verbs that necessarily invoke an emotional response.

The second problem, is that by trying to be as “objective” or “impartial” as possible, the reporter leaves out many relevant details and descriptions that a fair-minded reader would need in order to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of the behaviors of the subjects involved in the story.  By being non-descriptive, the reporter leaves these value judgments open to the reader.  Isn’t this a good thing?  Well, no.  Without relevant details to base value judgments on, the reader either resorts to their partisan affiliation to judge guilt and innocence based on the identity of the parties involved; or the person who values bland, boring compromise believes justice must reside equidistant between the partisan views; or the cynic abstains and withdraws from participating at all.

In this sense, by adhering to a method of journalism which refuses to offer value judgments, the reporter is leaving the gates open to partisan conflict and preconceived notions of justice.  While this may promote factual accuracy, it doesn’t promote justice, which is what citizens are generally and genuinely concerned with.  In this sense, such journalism fails to promote moral truth (which is a disputed concept) and as such frustrates readers as well.  It is not that the public needs to accept the moral judgment of the reporter as absolute, but they need morally relevant details which the reporter juxtaposes against countervailing positions.

In sum, this type of journalism, in the opinion of professor Paul H. Weaver, thwarts the type of opinion, “…which attempts to understand the world of events from a comprehensive rather than partial viewpoint, which is committed to intellectual honesty rather than to simplistic preconception…In the nation as a whole, then, this [type of reporting] encouraged needless conflict (among the various parties) and mindless consensus (among the groups of partisans), and to this extent it [is] an instrument of political drift rather than public mastery of events.”

Source: “The Politics of a News Story”, Paul H. Weaver  (Mass Media and Modern Democracy, edited by Harry M. Clor.  Rand McNally Public Affairs Series, 1974)
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Does Its One-Party System Give China a Strategic Advantage?

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More people, it seems, are willing to sacrifice political participation in exchange for perceived economic opportunity.  Increasingly, those in younger generations, emerging market economies and fledgling States, find China’s approach to governance preferable, or at least an acceptable alternative to, that of the United States.  Something that worries some foreign policy experts is that China’s one-party system gives it an advantage for crafting a long-term strategy for global dominance.

For one, without public elections the CCP avoids the encumbrance of short-term election cycles.  In the U.S. there are federal elections every two years.  This perpetual election cycle means there is a need for continual campaigning and fundraising.  Congressional expert David Mayhew argues that the primary motivation of members of Congress is reelection and that this goal influences how they behave and make public policy.  In contrast, without the distraction of short-term election cycles, and the adversarial nature of a two-party system, China’s CCP can unite around long-term Party or national goals.  The CCP also has the advantage of changing the rules when it wants absent the obstacles of checks and balances from an opposition party.  Hence, Xi Jinping is no longer bound to a two term limit as president.

In the U.S., Mayhew as argues, when Congressional and Presidential power is controlled by opposing parties, it results in more effective governance because it restrains partisan overreach.  But some of the benefit derived from bipartisan compromise in the U.S. may be attributable to media coverage from a free press and the fact that there are two parties, somewhat by design, in the U.S. system.  If one party pushes too hard for its own agenda or consolidation of power, there is a retaliation marshalled by opposition forces, so compromise is often required to make progress.  The tension and slow change produced by this structural conservatism was considered a virtue by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.  But in 2018, with the challenges of globalization and the immediacy of the news cycle and social media, this laborious approach to government action often seems unresponsive to voters who want progress in the next few months or years, not in the next few decades or generations.  

In China it’s different.  The CCP controls the media and silences dissent.  Its citizens aren’t permitted to question the Party too publicly or they may face impediments to their commercial ventures or even imprisonment.  Moreover, the public is indoctrinated with a whitewashed version of the history of China and the CCP.  The National Museum of China flanks the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing but there is no mention of the protests of June 1989.  Further, the Museum presents the U.S. as a covert backer of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in the Second World War rather than as an ally responsible for Japan’s defeat.  Since Tiananmen Square there hasn’t been a significant grassroots movement to bring democracy to China.  The Party has purged more moderate voices from its ranks and the hardliners have fortified their power.  With internal dissent absent, the Party can focus on a united vision for China’s future. 

The levers of power are so entrenched within the CCP, and the public memory so distorted, that the probability of consequential internal reform in China is miniscule.  Reform, a patient dream the U.S. held onto for decades, is a specter.  The best hope is to contain China’s influence with coordinated action from an international coalition of opposition. 

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