Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Vote, My Voice, My Secret

Some people think transparency is the fix-all, cure-all for the problems we're having in government. No more dirty little secrets. No more cover-ups. No more lies. That's the operating thesis behind WikiLeaks, which is proving there's a good reason some secrets remain secret.

I hear the same cure-all being proposed to fix journalism. Rather than strive for total objectivity -- which is impossible given human nature -- let's just make reporters reveal their political leanings and get on with it. The cards are then on the table, and you can't accuse anybody of bluffing.

But Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine -- an excellent media blog -- proposes taking this into uncomfortable new territory:
And I agree with Matt Welch that news organizations should reveal the votes of their staffs. When I retweeted that thought, some tweeters twitted me, saying that keeping one’s vote confidential is a right. Yes. They should not be forced out. But self-respecting journalists should consider it an obligation to be transparent. Self-respecting news organizations should be honest with their communities and reveal the aggregate perspectives of their staffs. It’s relevant.
Yes, it is relevant. But requiring journalists to start curtailing or sacrificing rights for the good of the profession sets a dangerous precedent. Likewise, we should not think less of those journalists who keep their votes secret -- as is their right. No journalist should developing a guilt complex over failing to give up that right.

Furthermore, I don't know where we would draw the line. It seems silly to hold bloggers to the same disclosure standards as the network folks. I don't know if the guy who does the garden segment at noon has to disclose he voted for McCain. I find something inherently creepy about flashing "Voted Republican" or "Voted Democrat" underneath every TV reporter's name.

I think the people who desire this the most are the people who love taking shots at Big Media. They want more ammunition. They want more reasons for us to shoot the messenger and defect our eyes and ears towards more partisan news sources. Taking the away the claim of bias through transparency won't help. The argument will now read, "Why should you trust those [Democrats/Republicans/Tea Partiers/Socialists] over at [news organization]? Trust US instead?"

Transparency isn't the wonder drug. Just like any medication, there's a risk of overdose.

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