Shift into neutral

The Indiana Humanities statewide organization’s mantra is “Think. Read. Talk.” It sets out to provide Hoosiers with opportunities to do just that – and in my view, it succeeds hands down. Recently, in collaboration with the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana Humanities brought celebrated and award-winning journalist Jim Lehrer to speak to an assembled crowd on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Not only did the sponsoring entities provide a pleasant and encouraging setting for participants to commune with other inquiring minds, but also Lehrer delivered an open and, at times, poignant dialogue about his years in the public eye and the changing morays of the American media-consuming public.

Lehrer reported that, “Exhibiting absolute neutrality while showing judgment in deciding what the issues are,” is an essential ingredient in reporting. I was reminded of the famous closing line of another venerable newsman, Walter Cronkite, with his “and, that’s the way it is.” Does this statement lead one to believe the maxim of “absolute neutrality”? Can one both filter and package the news at the same time as one claims to be impartial in its conveyance? News delivery entities have tremendous power. But while much of it is derived from what is seen on television or written on the pages of papers like this one, isn’t more power derived from what is withheld from public view?

If Cronkite, Lehrer and other are deciding what is news and what is not, aren’t they determining what’s “the way it is”? Don’t they become a maker of history as much as they are a reporter of it? Can anyone hope to be “absolutely neutral”? And, do we really want them to be? Wouldn’t a superior approach be one where biases, political and otherwise, are simply known to all? Isn’t absolutely honest better than absolutely neutral?