Introduction: Contemporary Bourgeois Journalism
Any person who has watched or read a mainstream news source like CNN or Fox News, The New York Times or the Washington Post, will have eventually been confronted with the concept of “unbiased reporting.” The idea here is that “they report, we decide.” We are supposed to see as desirable, and swallow whole-heartedly, the concept that one is capable of reporting on a phenomena in our material world while feeling nothing, offering an interpretation that is entirely without agenda, without being shaded by the particular perspective on the analyst.
What’s more, we are encouraged to see the media giants of our time as arbiters of unbiased information. “Fair and balanced” is the slogan of one particularly notorious news channel who, as it is plain to see, has a clear bias towards the most reactionary perspectives championed under our capitalist system.
We are encouraged to have these expectations, and to perceive these expectations as being fulfilled, yet any serious study of media will tell you that it is never, and never can be, fully realized. The reason for this is simple: we live in a world that is material, and have as our means of understanding it a perspective that is undoubtedly shaped by agenda. What bourgeois journalism’s insistence on “unbiased” reporting reveals is not the desire for an ideal that can never be achieved, but something worse: a bias for the status quo of our society which purposefully obscures material reality and its contradictions.
“You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train”
The above is a Howard Zinn quote of vital importance to our discussion here. Let’s examine the scenario it suggests. You are on a train, sitting with your fellow travelers as it moves towards its destination. What is your opinion on the moving train? Are you in favor of its motion, of arriving with it at the predetermined destination? A person can say yes or no, and can even express that they have no opinion of the phenomena in which they are ensnared. Yet, their inaction in regards to the motion of the train represents a bias and a concrete decision, which favors their continuing as passenger, allowing the train to move unchallenged.
If they objected to being moved by the train, they could attempt to jump off of the train, could attempt to break into the engineer’s cabin and activate the break, could work to convince his fellows to help him stop the train or enact a plan to reverse it or alter its destination somehow. If they are in favor of the train transporting them, the passenger has the choice of either sitting still and not interfering with the train’s forward motion, or if this is not enough to satisfy them, to take efforts towards increasing the speed of the train. Notice how the material situation here creates a concrete dynamic; one that does not allow someone to “opt out” in the metaphysical sense. This is because no one can truly “opt out” of material reality.
Those who have chosen to do nothing have chosen the action of inaction, and thus demonstrates a clear bias and disposition in favor of forces larger then themselves. This applies every bit as much to physical situations of action or inaction as it does to ideology, to making the decision of having an opinion or professing to have none. This applies to everyone, in fact, it can be applied to any living thing, any thing that responds to stimulus and acts in a manner which serves its own vitality. Squirrels can be said to have bias, for they eat nuts and flee from larger animals. Their bias towards satiating their hunger and their compulsion for survival from predators is anything but “neutral.”
A Fetish for the Middle Road and What That Serves
Just as we understand that we all have a certain bias or agenda, we must understand that journalists and larger systems of media must themselves contain a bias, for human interaction in the material world is a component here. Sure this can vary in its expression and subtlety; after all, just as agendas and biases vary, so to does their analysis of what bias is and where it lies. Yet, with a line so consistent and ubiquitous as the absurdity of “unbiased” reporting, what kind of agenda must be lurking behind such supposedly agenda-free proclamations?
The first thought likely to creep into one’s mind is the desire of media corporations, which are selling a product in the form of their reporting, to give viewers the best impression of the product they are putting forward. This is certainly part of the equation; after all, any news source which would say something to the effect of “Watch us! We’re planning on lying to you and taking advantage of your ignorance!” would not be taken seriously even by the most jaded viewers.
Being seen as the most “credible” news source is the top priority of every major news service. Yet, there is a deeper ideological underpinning to the bias of the unbiased. This is a bias for the “middle of the road” perspective, that of the “path of least resistance.” It’s a fetish for the passenger who simply sits still on the train as his betters control its final destination. It encourages the least threatening forms of the relation of people to the economic, political and cultural systems around them.
Consider the following example. Let’s put on our “unbiased” hats to answer the following question (which, by its formulation, is of course unbiased) “What do Che Guevara, Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson have in common?” This sounds, of course, like a bad anti-communist joke, but bear with me. While someone with any grasp of history, who knows on some level who these people were and what actions each of them carried out in their lifetimes, would answer “not much,” the “unbiased” perspective would label all three of them as being “extremists.” Casting aside any serious analysis of their opinions, perspectives, actions, methods and the legacies they left behind, for good or for ill, this analysis must focus on how their actions can be perceived as deviating from an established norm, as this is the least “controversial” statement to make. Any deeper analysis runs the risk of itself being “extreme.”
The aversion to both “unbiased” media for extremists and our own imperialist government’s extreme blanket statements on extremism are very telling. They demonstrate a blatant bias towards an unaltered, unchanging status quo where the norms of the functioning of our society are seldom questioned and never challenged in the activist sense. To be happy, our corporate manufactured media and bourgeois dominated government would tell us, we need not worry about questioning things as they stand or make efforts to understand and change the bigger system. Rather, we ought to let them do the thinking, serve up our mild-mannered opinions for us on a silver platter and “choose for ourselves” which trite and banal harmless positions we will adopt. Occasionally, if a challenge to a plan or policy becomes the forefront of public discourse, we will be able to rely on our media sanitizers to find the safest and most palatable expression of this perspective in the form of a polite, well-groomed representative or pundit to guide us away from “extreme” interpretations of the world. After all, our world has no need for extremism, since it is run by the very same mild-mannered and well-groomed folk with everyone getting along save for a handful of extremist bad apples who cause trouble.
The Omission of Systemic Controversy
This analysis of the world is another important component to the bias of the unbiased. Just as they encourage perspectives which constitute sitting still on the moving train of society, they must also endeavor to uphold the analysis that the train isn’t moving, or if it is, it’s moving in a direction, at a speed and towards a destination that is something we don’t need to worry about so much. After all, the biggest problems facing our society, such as class antagonism, racial chauvinism, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, etc. are not a problem anymore, or at least, aren’t a problem for U.S. Rather than see these as contemporary issues of life-and-death struggle, we should look at little “flair ups” unbiasedly, hear from both equally-legitimate (in so far as they aren’t “extremist”) sides of the story and try not to worry too much about the past.
The stomach-turning opportunism and outright denial of systemic violence and injustice by our news media is enough to make one want to throw their television out of a window. One important issue glossed over by our media is that of racial chauvinism. For a large part of the history of the United States, the buying and selling, torture and hyper-exploitation of black people abducted from another country was common place. Even after the system of slavery was abolished, a strict racial apartheid in every corner of the United States served to keep black people in chains of poverty, ignorance and fear.
Natives of our continent were systematically raped and exterminated, and to this day suffer from the chains of poverty, of medical experimentation and the continuing war of the state against their culture and livelihoods. The United States, under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, is guilty of crimes spanning the globe, of complicity in imperialism, colonialism, fascism and genocide. This is an undeniable reality which fills mass graves and chains the throats of much of the world to this day. This passage must inevitably leave out a great many crimes, since ours is a criminal system, with a bestial past and a future still darker as long as the bourgeoisie continues to rule.
However, even if the “unbiased” would be forced to admit that at least the better part of these claims are true, they would ultimately argue that this perspective itself is “extreme.”
“You see,” they might say, “America had some problems with racism in the past, but we’ve solved that now! We have a black president! Everyone has the same rights in America today. Everyone can vote, everyone can live where they like and get a job. How can you possibly complain?”
Anyone who would make the above argument has completely and utterly lost touch with material reality. All one has to do is look at prison populations in the U.S. All one has to do is look at the bureau of labor statistics. The racial divides, the double standards, the de-facto apartheid which increases the likelihood of poverty and prison if one is born in America with the wrong complexion, are there for anyone with eyes to see. Yet, because the acceptable reformist channels have no conceivable means of actually solving this contradiction, because the only way to solve the problems of this system of injustice is to address and solve the wider system of injustice under capitalism, there is a tendency towards not admitting to the wide extent of such problems. It is best, for the “unbiased,” to deny the movement of this train, for if they don’t, they will be confronted with the moral implications of sitting still while others suffer.
“Worry not,” insist the arbiters of unbiasedness, “our world is not as bad as those extremists say it is. In fact, it wasn’t so bad in the past either!”
The re-authoring of the past is a forte of such people. Just as those in Turkey are taught the fantasy of how the Armenian genocide never happened, that the Ottoman Empire wanted to “protect” the people they inevitably butchered, we are taught through omission how our founding fathers didn’t yank the teeth from their slaves for dentures, didn’t commit genocidal actions in Vietnam, didn’t rape and kill all the natives, don’t still perpetuate racism through governmental policy.
If the U.S. did, well, that was a little bump on the road to our burgeoning land of democracy and opportunity for all. The true villains were the “extremists,” the John Browns and Malcom X’s, who would dare challenge things they disagree with using violence, who would stand against the holiest of holy documents, the constitution of the United States. This “unbiased voice of reason” assures us that, if there is a problem, we need only do what has been done all along in order to “iron out the wrinkles.”
Bourgeois Notions of “Credibility”
The above perspective is the only analysis and course of action palatable in our society’s bourgeois discourse. Radical, revolutionary analysis and alternatives are either ignored or ridiculed. One can only be considered “credible,” be considered not being mentally defective or morally reprehensible, if they confine themselves to this narrow road heading in a specific direction. As well, bourgeois ideology insists that this is road offers a wide berth for those traveling it to express themselves culturally and politically, with TWO WHOLE PARTIES! to represent every nuance of ideology and interest that we might find in our society. Though, even in a parliamentary system, the “wide berth” of “credible” political positions is confined to the least offensive, least controversial liberalism, conservative-ism, social democracy and nationalism.
These notions of credibility, of the allowance for blatant chauvinism and violent reaction, have waxed and waned at different points in our history. The up-front bigotry of racial and gender chauvinism has been rolled back to some extent, replaced with more passive yet ever persistent barriers, code words and pitfalls. This has not signified the destruction of systems of chauvinism and reaction. Rather, they offer us ample evidence as to the failure of reformist pathways in expunging its filth from society. “The battle is won,” they say, “all that remains are a few extremists on both sides who want to drag up the ghosts of the past.” The agenda of such a statement should be obvious. After all, the best way to fix the unfixable is to hide it from sight and insist it is not broken.
Conclusion: You’re Damn Right We have a Bias
In every instance, the illusion of the “unbiased” conceals the reality of a very sinister bias. Those who survive by perpetuating injustices must insist that this is not their cause and crime. The truth must be concealed, must be rendered unknowable, and in its place the illusion of a world not torn apart by exploitation, antagonism and injustice must stand. The powers that be insist that we stand for nothing, hold no agenda outside of those which are palatable and acceptable, see their “unbiased” perspective as truth and ignore or dismiss anything that would challenge this view.
We at the American Party of Labor cannot do that, just as every worker, every peace loving person who wants to create a world that is made to rot through gross injustice, cannot do that.
If we adopt for ourselves the views of the bourgeoisie, if we confine our perspective to that which is “unbiased,” this would constitute a betrayal of every effort we have made and make every day for liberation. Rather than do this, we wear our bias on our sleeve, and utilize the science of our revolutionary ideology to carefully and soberly act for that to which we have dedicated our very lives. Our bias and agenda are that of the working peoples struggling for revolution. It is a bias that compels us to speak the truth to those who would hear and those who would refuse to see it.