The incomparable Scott Rosenberg has picked up on something I’ve been wondering about, namely why is the New York Times giving so much op-ed space to right-wing crazies?
Part of his answer reads:
There must be an argument going through someone’s head at the Times that goes like this: Their newspaper is under assault from the right, most recently because of its exposure of the Bush administration’s illegal-wiretap power grab; so it must achieve the impression of “balance” by presenting these op-ed voices from the right. But really, to balance the Cato people you’d have to find some wild-eyed leftist arguing that, say, all oil companies should be nationalized tomorrow.
The greatest achievement of the right over the past decade — oh, setting aside the seizure of “all three branches of government” in the wake of a disputed election, the plundering of the Treasury, and the derailing of the war on al-Qaida — is this: By a wide swath of American opinion-makers, “balance” is understood to mean that the usual welter of mainstream American voices needs to be weighed down by a gang of beady-eyed ideologues on right-wing think-tank payrolls who can barely construct a sensible argument.
US journalism is in a desperate state — and has been ever since Reagan’s time. Part of the problem is the delusion that ‘balancing’ opposing views is a way of avoiding bias. Paul Krugman memorably satirised this delusion in an amusing parable. If George W. Bush said that the earth is flat, the US media would report it under the headline: “Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth.”
But the earth isn’t flat, and any journalist with a commitment to the truth has an obligation to say so. Otherwise he’s just lending credibility to nonsense by implying that it must somehow be weighed equally with sense.
“Balance as bias” is also the basis for the lunatic proposition that creationism (aka “Intelligent Design”) ought to be accorded the same epistemological status as evolution in US schools.