My aunt, Ann Monroe, is a writer who focuses on sustainable agriculture and ecology, especially how they relate to economics and to food (her website is at http://www.annmonroe.com). I follow her on Twitter, and I noticed a post she put up today:
The post is here: http://twitter.com/ann_monroe/status/5041257805. I encourage you to read the linked article before you continue.
The article is a short read, but the gist of it is this: there was a CNN segment on Monday Night on the “Meatless Mondays” program that the Baltimore city school district has implemented—the students are being served a vegetarian lunch one day a week. CNN noted that “…they found no parents who objected to the policy”, but then went on to describe an opposing viewpoint—offered by the American Meat Institute. The AMI expressed concern that “students are being served up an unhealthy dose of indoctrination”, and that students (and their parents) were being deprived of “choice”. At the end of the segment, Lou Dobbs apparently described the situation as “a real political storm in the making.”
I would like echo the Huffington Post’s reaction here, and say: …really?
This is an egregious example, of course, but it’s something that happens all the time in American media, and by extension in American culture: Fairness is being substituted for Justice. CNN is determined to remain a fair, and unbiased news source, and what that means (apparently) is giving equal time to both sides of an issue. Media outlets don’t make value judgments—they show you the facts, and then “let you decide”.
The trouble is that fairness is not justice. The story that is receiving coverage here is not a debate. One of the sides represented is a group of teachers and parents who want their kids to have a vegetarian meal once a week. After all, it’s a good idea to encourage vegetable-eating habits at a young age—my wife often laments the fact that her family didn’t eat right when they were kids, since if they did it might be easier to eat healthy today. The other side is a multi-million dollar lobbying organization, with a vested financial interest in the continued sale of meat products. One side is interest in the health of children, the other side is interested in increasing its own profits. This isn’t a “2 sides to every argument” kind of debate. Or perhaps it is—and those sides are “Good” and “Evil”.
Attention media outlets: You don’t have to offer equal time to everyone. The axiom “There are two sides to every story” is false. Two is an arbitrary number. Give us the number of sides to the story that there legitimately are—however many that may be. This may require you to make a value judgment. So be it. Value judgments, from time to time, are your responsibility as a journalist.