Monday, April 03, 2006

the right to opine

I've had the Lou Dobbs conversation with a lot of people. Back then, when I had a television and I watched American news religiously, there were two people on CNN that really managed to piss me off. One was Tucker Carlson. The other was Lou Dobbs.

So who is Lou Dobbs? He hosts this show called 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' and as far as I can remember he basically talks about immigration laws in the US. He's got a very hard stance. Let me put it this way. He's written a book called 'Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed is Shipping American Jobs Overseas'. He's very America centric but almost blind to the fact that we live in a global economy and that changes have to be made. On occasion he's bitched about calls centers in India which obviously made me fume a little. But what really annoyed me was the fact that every time he had a guest on his show who did not agree with him and (God forbid) called for schemes such as amnesty or the European guest-worker status for Mexican immigrants in the US and the like, he would get very angry and basically bully them into conceeding his point. He's nothing like Bill O'Reilly-- at the same time, watching the show can get a little uncomfortable because of the intimidation involved.

So imagine my surprise and delight when Jon Stewart was making fun of a recent Lou Dobbs interview where he pompously told his guest that he did not believe that any other flags should be waved in the US, in fact, he would rather do away with St. Patricks Day et al. I mean, seriously? Thats a bit harsh.

Newsweek has an interview with the man himself asking him if he thinks its appropiate for him to basically give his view about a certain issue night after night. After all, he has a national platform as a journalist and he has made it into a crusade about a issue-- and more importantly, he doesn't really debate it, he just wants to force his opinion as the correct opinion. Lou Dobbs didn't think it was inappropriate. But what if Larry King (or anyone) used their air time every day to extole the virtues of the Iraq war? Or Pro-life issues? Would it not cross over from journalism to opinion?

Now, what Lou Dobbs said- and it made me think- is this. He said that he has been covering the issue for years and so knows all the facts. I suppose if you do report on a certain issue for so many years, you do become an expert on it. So as an 'expert' he has made up his mind - but his tactics of intimidation with those who do not agree with him is what is appalling. However, I digress.

The objectivity of the media is the bone of contention. I have to agree with Lou Dobbs, if you report about an issue as much as he has, one certainly becomes so familiar with it, it would be impossible not to have an opinion about how it is going, and how it should be. For instance, labels of politcal satire/fake news aside, everyone who watches the Daily Show is familiar with Jon Stewart's political leaning. The good part is that he doesn't go out of his way to force feed his opinions on anyone.

Part of the marketing strategy of news channels is to create these master journalists- those the country can trust. So be it Barkha Dutt or Peter Jennings, these people have a lot of clout. And to incorporate an editorial slant can be dangerous to democracy.

So the question I have is this: a reporter can become so familiar with an issue that he/she feels they have the authority to tell the public what should be done. But where can one draw the line? Case and point: Fox News, where reporters are encouraged to offer personal opinion and that is often misrepresented as fact by the public. The deal is this-- on a debate show or an opinion show, it works. But on a news show- packaging your analysis or opinion as seemingly the CORRECT one is not right; not in the short run, not in the long run.

Thats my 2 cents. See how I don't insist it's the right opinion?!


honest_fella said...

I think Lou Dobbs has a right to opine, as does everyone. I don't agree with most of his opinions, so I just hope most people can see that he doesn't have too many 'facts' to back up his loud voice. Furthermore, I feel an educated person who talks about the state of affairs in a negative light has the added responsibility of at least attempting to come up with solutions. When Lou Dobbs was interviewing a pro-immigration official, she finally got exasperated and asked him for solutions to the problem. Dobbs calmly sidestepped the issue, stating that it wasn't his prerogative. He does favour mass deportation (for all 12 million or so) but surely even he can see that that's not a feasible option.

Anyway, a possible solution to fox-news type rants (which now air on most channels) could be a sidebar of facts like official numbers, official positions or statements of involved parties, things that could be made to be almost identical on different stations. It might just make it harder to mislead people, but then again, maybe not. :)

mahima said...

You know, I just watched Outfoxed and in contrast I heart Lou Dobbs. Yeah, he has a write to opine, I just think his book is a better idea-- and maybe he should allow debate in his show to a higher level. But oh my god, Bill O Reilly.. especially after this documentary I'm feeling really violent right now! Ha. Anyway Outfoxed raised some interesting points that I'm going to mull over now...

Cyberswami said...

personal opinions are different from the official (but unstated) slant of the whole news channel. The views of any celebrity matter, simply because they are in the public eye. If, for example, someone like Tendulkar was to one day say that he thinks all homosexuals are freaks, you can imagine how many Indians he will be influencing. The responsibility of being careful about what you say applies especially to individuals.
News channels, on the other hand, usually have unstated political affiliations. Whether it is a trade-off over story tips or transfer of money or even standing for office, there are many reasons why a news channel will choose to affiliate itself one way or the other. Take Fox.
I don't really have a point, as usual, but I'm trying to see if news channels should have the same social responsibility that individuals might.