On Neutrality
By Rick Hoar
August 11, 2010

If you're new to my blogs or haven't figured it out yet, these articles and tweets tend to get pretty opinionated. In the interest of intellectual progress, I do try to represent all of the pressing points of view on the day's topics. That said though, I would never presume to claim an unbiased position in my ranting.

I firmly believe that it's just not possible for a human being to achieve analytical neutrality, and anyone who makes a living convincing others that they alone speak "the truth," should be regarded skeptically to say the least!

The task of journalism is to convey events and ideas through the various media, be they written or audiovisual. The media giants of our day provide plenty of examples of the obvious ways bias can influence communication with partisan speech and emotional nuance, but it's actually very easy to unknowingly put a personal "spin" on just about anything one reports.

For example, the "passive voice" is often frowned upon in news copy (oops).

The City Council member faces charges of fraud this morning. He is accused of misusing public funds. (Subconsciously here, accused = possibly guilty?)

A citizen has filed charges against the City Council member this morning. She accuses him of misusing public funds. (Now, he is a defendant against an identified accuser.)

Photojournalists can go through extensive training to highlight the meaningful effects of simple shot-composition decisions.

A close-up photo shows a tearful protester face-to-face with a policeman in riot gear with his night stick raised between them. (a tale of fascist brutality?)

A wider shot of the same moment would reveal a large crowd of protesters stacked up against the relatively small group of police. (this city needs more police!)

I don't even want to get into the complexities of editing audio and video clips "journalistically" despite having to conform to the sound bite mentality of today's electronic media (a job I realized was extremely powerful at the tender age of 19 when I got my start editing your morning news overnights, unsupervised and completely untrained in media ethics)!

My point here is that the burden of being an unbiased journalist is a hopeless one. We can all strive to be less-biased; maybe more open-minded in our everyday lives. But, even extremely practiced professionals attempting neutrality are liable to be subconsciously sloppy from time to time, and there's certainly no shortage of people actively seeking to alter the language of debate with subtle influence each moment.

So, in my opinion, the best defense against the mind control of this inevitable cultural groupthink is to seek out alternative and differing points-of-view. "Know thy self, know thy enemy," said Sun Tzu. Certainly, the common sense won’t ALWAYS be wrong or right, but when I'm confident that I've deeply considered all sides of a debate, I'm confident that I know why I'm on my side.