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"Media, Objectivity, and Public Inquiry: Pragmatic Strategies for Deliberating in an Age of Manipulation"

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David Hildebrand
University of Colorado Denver
United States

Stephen Ward
University of Wisconsin-Madison
United States

Bill Caspary
New York University
United States

Abstract:
NOTE: I am also attaching this panel submission as a .rtf file.

Submission Type: Panel
Panel Title: "Media, Objectivity, and Public Inquiry: Pragmatic Strategies for Deliberating in an Age of Manipulation"
Panelists: include a professor of philosophy, a professor of political science, and the Director of a prominent US Journalism School.
General Overview: (600 words)
An honest and vigilant press is integral to healthy, functioning democracies. The press informs and shapes public inquiry, for better or worse. Inquiry is a primary tool with which a pluralistic society can mediate conflicts and cooperatively plan the development of social and material resources.
When public inquiry is failing—when, e.g., public conflicts become violent or when political stalemates become common—it is crucial to understand the dysfunctions affecting the conditions for inquiry. Such understanding must include, we believe, analyses of objectivity, manipulation, and the press.
Using three different disciplines (Philosophy, Journalism, and Political Science) we examine how public inquiry is damaged by outworn or counterproductive conceptions of objectivity (espoused by journalists) and by manipulation (via corporations and politicians). Using engaging and relevant examples, we reconstruct objectivity as "pragmatic objectivity" and propose possible solution. While Dewey's account of inquiry and deliberation are central, other theorists are utilized as well.
Paper 1 provides philosophical context (regarding the issues of knowledge and objectivity) relevant to the other two panel papers and offers philosophical justification for objectivity in a pragmatist mode. “Pragmatism, Objectivity, and Democratic Inquiry” argues that despite numerous, trenchant attacks against it, objectivity retains powerful appeal for its rhetorical and philosophical applications. After explaining why traditional/pure objectivity cannot work, the paper compares two pragmatist strategies aiming to supersede the function sought by objectivity. Dewey’s strategy of reconstructing objectivity (“pragmatic objectivity”), is claimed superior to Rorty’s strategy of replacing objectivity (with “solidarity”). The paper explains how Deweyan pragmatic objectivity emerges from certain epistemic habits, and how objectivity is grounded in experience. The conclusion is that those habits necessary for pragmatic objectivity are also necessary for responsible inquiry (including journalistic inquiry). These habits, taken altogether, thus, help create genuine, democratic publics.
Paper 2: formulates then applies "pragmatic objectivity" directly to contemporary media environments. “Pragmatic Objectivity for News Media” reforms rather than abandons journalistic objectivity, formulating a new notion, “pragmatic objectivity.” Pragmatic objectivity derives largely from neo-pragmatic epistemologies of inquiry and is central to the reinvention of journalistic ethics in a changing media environment. Beginning historically, Panelist 2 analyzes traditional news' objectivity, especially: (a) objectivity's meaning, (b) why objectivity was adopted, (c) how objectivity has structured journalism’s practice, and (d) why objectivity's popularity declined during the late 20th century. What should succeed it is “pragmatic objectivity,” and Panelist 2 explains the attitude, approach, and evaluative criteria behind it. Using examples of how pragmatic objectivity applies to the construction and evaluation of news stories, Panelist 2 shows how it improves traditional notions of objectivity, meanwhile enabling more responsible uses of new interactive and global forms of media. Those uses include informed and timely reporting and journalists' creation of discursive forums essential to democratic inquiry.
Paper 3 examines the larger political dimensions of manipulation, inquiry, and public deliberation. "The Press and the Citizen: Power and Vulnerability” begins with manipulation of public opinion by corporate and economic elites, particularly through publishing. It analyzes the emotionally-conditioned sources of manipulation, and ways that philosophy and education can empower citizens to redress it. Dewey recognized the ability of powerful manipulators to influence policies and partisanship. However, solutions had to first understand citizens' vulnerability to manipulation (via “emotional and intellectual habitudes”), and educate citizens with new habits citizens for self-defense. Rather than competing to manipulate emotions, the better course, Dewey argued, is fostering citizens' development of more reasonable emotions. Building upon recent writings about “the political brain,” Panelist 3 examines a relatively unexplored strand: how reasonable/appropriate/effective decisions cannot be made without admixing emotion and reasoning. This century-old discovery of Dewey’s badly needs application to today's discussions of emotion, the media, and politics.
SEPARATE PANELIST ABSTRACTS (each abstract at least 600 words)
Panelist 1: “Pragmatism, Objectivity, and Democratic Inquiry”
As public confidence in government, the media, and economic institutions continue to decline, the question of what objectivity is—and who is providing it—only becomes more urgent. Clearly, the average citizen finds it difficult to know who to trust. Such crises of confidence often generate calls for more “objectivity.” More objectivity about the economy; more objectivity about the environment; more objectivity about what the government is doing. More generally, we hear calls for more responsible accounts of reality and more earnest and magnanimous efforts to find the truth.
These facts of daily life are lost on neither philosophers nor the media. Despite decades of philosophical attacks, many of them cogent, on the very idea of objectivity, philosophers continue to write, speak, and teach about issues of argument and persuasion, knowledge and bullshit (to borrow Harry Frankfurt's best-selling book title). Outside the academy, media outlets continue to tout their credit-worthiness by claiming that they provide the "just the facts, the "real story," or "fair and balanced" news. The chief epistemic sins of public and political life continued to be named "bias," "partisanship," "sensationalism," and "spin."
Of course it is easy to call for “objectivity.” It is more difficult to specify a workable and practical conception of “objectivity.” But democracies such as ours desperately need a workable conception of objectivity because cooperative debate, deliberation, and effective action depend upon it. I believe that objectivity provides one very important “epistemic basis” for democracy, and this fact motivates work towards a proposal for the kind of objectivity we could call "pragmatic."
The history of philosophy is full of defenders and critics of objectivity. Because pragmatists share a general, anti-foundationalist criticism of absolute objectivity, they differ over whether any kind of objectivity should be retained. This paper describes two very different strategies proposed by pragmatist John Dewey and neopragmatist Richard Rorty to deal with the common need for "objectivity."
Rorty, as many know, once wrote that the word "true" (like the words "good" and "rational") was merely a normative notion, "a compliment paid to sentences that seem to be paying their way and that fit in with other sentences which are doing so." He claimed that once it became clear that we cannot "stand outside" ourselves to compare our concepts with the world, philosophers would have to recognize that, beyond socio-linguistic consensus, there are precious few ways for us to "warrant" our judgments—and we really ought to stop trying. Our culture's failures to achieve "Objectivity" tell us that we have been desiring the wrong ideal all along. The desire for objectivity should be replaced with the desire for solidarity, according to Rorty.
Dewey shares with Rorty this rejection for the Cartesian ideal of the lone inquirer. They’re both Peirceans in this regards—inquiry is a struggle from a lived perspective which includes social and communal aspects. But Dewey took a different lesson than Rorty from the existence of perspectives. Dewey recognized their differences but also thought that observed commonalities among could provide a basis for a less theological objectivity, one which was empirical, fallible, and based in cooperative inquiry. While pragmatism should reject an absolute sense of “objectivity," Dewey thought it important for pragmatists to devise another instrumental interpretation of “objectivity” and put it to work on practical and political problems.
Dewey’s positive and reconstructed account of objectivity, which I call “pragmatic objectivity,” suggests an alternative to objectivism and relativism. It shifts attention away from the abstract structures of justification (correspondence structure vs. coherence structure, structure, fully structured, no structure) and instead focuses attention upon the process of inquiry. “Objectivity” for Dewey is not inquiry’s end-state; rather, it signifies certain epistemic virtues (or habits) of practice. These virtues are active ways of behaving that provide inquiry with a regulative ideal.
Dewey's reconstructive proposal of pragmatic objectivity is superior, I argue, to Rorty’s exhortation to drop the term altogether. In the course of explaining how pragmatic objectivity emerges from certain epistemic habits and is checked by experience, I call upon recent work by historian Thomas Haskell. The upshot of this Dewey-Haskell account of pragmatic objectivity is to provide a conceptual tool needed by both publics and the press (which forms and informs publics) to enact responsible inquiry and, thus, continue working toward a genuine and participatory democracy.
Panelist 2: "Pragmatic Objectivity for News Media"
In this paper, I put forward a new notion of journalistic objectivity called pragmatic objectivity.
I argue that it is not sufficient for journalists, academics and the public to question the adequacy of the traditional idea of journalistic objectivity as a normative ideal for today’s news media. The inadequacies of the traditional notion, summarized in the editor’s demand for “just the facts,” have been noted for several decades.
In my The Invention of Journalism Objectivity, I examined the historical roots of this traditional “facts only” notion of journalistic objectivity. I explained how (and why) journalists opted for a simplistic, positivistic notion of objectivity, as they began to construct their first professional codes of ethics. I also showed how journalists failed to improve their notion of objectivity across the 20th century, despite the fact that the notion of objectivity was becoming more nuanced and sophisticated in the natural and social sciences, as well as in the humanities.
The traditional notion of news objectivity became a dominant ideal in North American journalism in the early 1900s as journalists organized themselves into professions and adopted codes of ethics. In almost all of the codes of this era, objectivity was a major principle and treated as a defining characteristic of responsible, professional journalism. Traditional objectivity demanded a strict separation of fact and opinion, news and commentary, and the elimination of the reporter’s views and comments from her stories. Ultimately, objectivity was more than an ideal. It was also a method for writing and evaluating news reports. It had a real impact on the way journalists practiced their craft.
The upshot was that journalism ethics became highly dependent upon an ideal that became increasingly subject to skeptical attack. It was an ideal that journalists struggled to defend since it seemed that the only alternative was subjective reporting. Take away the restraint of objectivity and anything goes in journalism. The result, by the late 1990s, was that journalism ethics, constructed around traditional objectivity, seemed outdated or irrelevant for the new forms of online and interpretive journalism shaping democratic discourse.
In this paper, I argue that skepticism towards traditional news objectivity is not enough for journalism ethics, or for meaningful public discussions about ethical journalism. It is only the first step. If we are serious about re-inventing journalism ethics for today’s changing media environment, we must confront the following choice: abandon objectivity and recommend alternative normative ideals or provide a more adequate notion of objectivity in journalism.
I argue for reforming -- not abandoning -- the journalistic notion of objectivity since some notion of objectivity is essential for other important journalistic concepts such as truth-seeking, avoiding bias, and approaching stories with a proper critical perspective.
The paper will put forward my reformed notion, pragmatic objectivity, which derives in large part from neo-pragmatic epistemologies of enquiry and the testing of interpretations. Pragmatic objectivity, as a holistic testing of journalistic reports, is a more satisfactory normative notion for journalism ethics.
The paper will begin by analyzing the meaning of traditional news objectivity, why it was adopted, how the concept structured the practice of journalism and why the concept declined in popularity across the second half of the 20th century. It will then outline the essential components of pragmatic objectivity. The paper will explain the attitude, approach, and criteria of evaluation that comprise pragmatic objectivity. It will provide examples of how the concept could be applied in the construction and evaluation of different types of news stories.
The paper also will show how pragmatic objectivity is an improvement upon the traditional notion of news objectivity. The paper will argue that pragmatic objectivity is applicable to responsible uses of new forms of media that are interactive and global.
Finally, the paper will return to the value of objectivity for responsible journalism. Objectivity, I will argue, is still crucial for informed reportage about issues and for providing “deliberative media spaces” essential to democracy.

Panelist 3: “The Press and the Citizen: Power and Vulnerability, A Deweyan Pragmatist Approach”
The panelists share the belief that “pragmatist objectivity” is an effective and philosophical sound reconstruction of the traditional concept of objectivity. The canons of pragmatist objectivity will be observed: (1) when these standards are understood and honored by journalists, and (2) when those with power are no longer able to override these standards. Two of the papers on this panel are concerned with the first requirement. This paper addresses the second one. This concern can be approached fruitfully through Dewey's pragmatist democratic theory.
One objection must be disposed of immediately, however. A chief defect of Dewey's democratic theory, so it is alleged, is that Dewey overlooks power – in particular, the power of giant corporations and the upper class to control public opinion and public policy in their own interests. In fact, Dewey, though vague, is not exactly silent on that score. In his major work on political theory, he points out that “those who have the ability to manipulate social relations for their own advantage . . . have an uncanny instinct for detecting whatever intellectual tendencies even remotely threaten to encroach upon their control. They have developed an extraordinary facility in enlisting upon their side the inertia , prejudices and emotional partisanship of the masses” (PP:169). Panelist 1 also quotes Dewey on the same point from an earlier publication: "a considerable class of influential persons, enlightened and liberal in technical, scientific and religious matters" to be "only too ready to make use of appeal to authority, prejudice, emotion and ignorance to serve their purposes in political and economic affairs" and that such actions could, in effect, "debauch the habit of the public mind." (Panelist 1, 2010:18; SBP:50).
Dewey is coy about saying who “those” manipulators are. A dozen years later he is somewhat more specific: “Sheer financial control of [the “means of publicity”] is not a favorable sign. All economic conditions tending toward centralization and concentration of the means of production and distribution affect the public press. The causes which require large corporate capital to carry on modern business naturally influence the publishing business” (FC:149). Here Dewey refers specifically to concentration of ownership of the press by “large corporate capital,” and obliquely to the political power of concentrated corporate capital across other sectors of the economy. One wishes that Dewey would be more direct in identifying the giant corporations in the financial, manufacturing, transport, and energy sectors, for example. One wishes he would specify the impact of corporate advertising; the funding of think tanks that plant copy in the press; the funding of “Astroturf groups” which are reported on as genuine grassroots movements; and the placing of corporate personnel in the high government offices which supply the press with official statements. But Dewey has deliberately chosen another course.
“It would be a mistake,” Dewey says, merely to focus on “overt forces which are obstructive” (PP:169). Instead, Dewey turns to the citizen audience and its vulnerability to manipulation. If corporate elites gain their political power by manipulating citizens through mass media, then equipping citizens to see through and resist such manipulation limits that power. Dewey recognizes that under the present regime of education, socialization, and socioeconomic incentives, citizens will develop “emotional and intellectual habitudes” which provide “the conditions of which the exploiters of sentiment and opinion only take advantage” (PP:169, italics added). The task then is to develop, in a host of ways, the “social intelligence” that empowers individuals and groups to 'make up their own minds' – and thus to defeat manipulation.* In the same vein, Dewey argues that a democratic economy can't be achieved by “dealing directly and exclusively with the economic aspect,” but must be part of an entire democratic culture, achieved “only by the aid of correlative changes in science, morals, and other phases of common experience” (FC:73).
This orientation of Dewey's toward fostering a competent Democratic public deserve our attention, explication, and interpretation. In a previous publication, I've explored in detail Dewey's concept of social intelligence and how this can be developed (Panelist 3, 2000). I propose in this paper to explore a particular strand of that broader topic which has not been treated extensively in the literature or in my previous work. In much recent writing on “the political brain,” the role of emotion has been heavily stressed (Westen, Marcus). Emotions of anxiety, fear, and anger – and emotionally tinged dispositions of loyalty or aversion, trust or cynicism, and hope or nihilism – strongly predispose citizens toward particular media, party, policy, and candidate preferences. Dewey stresses that anxiety prompts a panicky “quest for certainty” (QC). These emotions and dispositions are the “emotional habitudes” on which the manipulators play. Psychological experiments confirm what sensitive observers – Dewey among them – have long noticed. Furthermore, brain imaging studies in tandem with psychology experiments lend further weight to these conclusions (Westen).
This empirical work has been coupled with a theoretical shift which stresses the intertwining of emotions and cognition as natural and necessary in human decision making. Although emotions can, obviously, prompt faulty decisions, reasonable/appropriate/effective decisions can not be made at all without the admixture of emotion and reasoning (Damasio). Dewey is a particular appropriate figure to enter into today's discussion of emotion, the media, and politics, because he arrived a century ago at this, now prevailing, theoretical position on the intertwining of emotion and cognition in decision making. “There must also be a delicate personal responsiveness -- there must be an emotional reaction” (MPE:288). "Emotional reactions form the chief materials of our knowledge or ourselves and of others" (TML:129/E:269). “It is not that the emotional, passionate phase of action can or should be eliminated on behalf of a bloodless reason” (HNC:194-195).
The prevailing policy conclusion, from recent findings on emotion in citizen political choice, is that political campaigns must develop rhetorical strategies and devices that draw upon these emotional responses – in favor of the campaigner's desired values, candidates, and policies (Westen). John Dewey passionately espouses a very different approach. Rather than compete with our rivals to manipulate emotions, Dewey said, we need to foster in citizens the development of more reasonable emotions. Part of Dewey's broad theory of educating young people and adults in the skills of inquiry and deliberation, the skills of democratic citizenship, is devoted to reflection on, critique of, and change in emotional reactions.
The first task for this paper, therefore, is to draw out Dewey's ideas on the emotions and the 'education of the emotions.' Since Dewey's account is suggestive and fragmentary rather than systematic and complete, the second task for this paper is to augment that account with the insights of kindred theorists and researchers. The ideas of educators and psychologists, Carl Rogers, Howard Gardner, D. W. Winnicott, and others will be called upon. The third task of this paper is to apply this general analysis to specific emotions as they arise in specific political contexts.

 

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