The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


Philosophical Journalism

Filed under: GeneralDemocratic MethodsEthics — eidelberg @ 2:40 am

Political journalism is not politically neutral or “value-free.” This may also be said of political science, pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding. The reason is this:

The reporting of news, like academic discourse on politics, inevitably involves criteria of importance: some things are intrinsically more important than others. But criteria of importance are not politically neutral.

Moreover, the criteria employed by any political commentator depend on his intellectual breadth and depth. Some journalists, like some political scientists, have more experience and wisdom than others. They are not value-free, which is not to say that political commentary is a species of autobiography.

Confronting the journalist is a chaos of news data. What he selects for emphasis depends on objective as well subjective factors. For example, it will be admitted that the color of a politician’s tie is politically trivial vis-à-vis his moral and intellectual character. Only if the journalist (or political scientist) focuses on the trivial can his journalism (or political science) be value-free or ethically neutral. A value-free or ethically neutral journalism (or political science) would be “worth-less.”

Now let us distinguish between three types of political journalism in a democracy. One is “demagogic��� journalism. This journalism addresses not the intellect but the emotions and prejudices of the public. The demagogic journalist associates the policy he tacitly prefers in alluring terms, as conducive to “peace” or “human rights” and of course “democracy.” Conversely, he simplifies and dismisses the position of a politician by labels such as “left-wing” or “rightwing,” “racist” or “extremist.” He selects only “facts” which advance his political bias. This type of journalism is hardly distinguishable from propaganda.

A second type of journalism is “constitutional” journalism. This journalism is informed by the basic principles of democracy, which include not only freedom and equality but also civility. Civility presupposes intellectual detachment and the ability to appreciate diverse points of view.

Civility does not require mindless toleration of all opinions—as if mankind has learned nothing from history about vicious and destructive doctrines. Constitutional journalism fosters ethical, legal, and political principles that preserve democracy, such as respect for individual and minority rights, due process of law, institutional checks and balances.

In contrast to demagogic journalist, the constitutional journalist addresses primarily the intellect of its readers. He examines opposed opinions on their merits, or rather in relation to democracy’s basic principles. Constitutional journalism therefore fosters civility and national solidarity.

Finally, consider what I call “philosophical” journalism. Philosophical journalism is rather exceptional if only because it relates the policies of government and the changing panorama of events to timeless ideas concerning man and society. It offers not only information but also critical insight.

What makes philosophical journalism uncommon (and sometimes discomforting) is that it reveals tensions and even contradictions between democracy’s fundamental principles.

For example, democracies tend to remove all moral and legal restraints on freedom of expression. This conduces not only to pornography and unadulterated egoism; it also foments sociological hostilities and undermines a people’s sense of national identity.

Another example: democracy requires “one person, one vote.” This egalitarianism tends to invade the intellect, where all opinions on moral matters become morally or theoretically equal. But if all such opinions are equal, there are no rational grounds for preferring democracy to tyranny, or tolerance to intolerance.

Philosophical journalism may be necessary to preserve the civility essential to democracy or to expose democracy’s internal and external enemies. The ultimate aim of philosophical journalism, like that of philosophy itself, is truth. Publishing the truth can arouse hatred, hence is often divisive. The philosophical journalist must be cautious. There are times when he must convey the truth in subtle ways so as not to inflame men’s passions.

But there are critical moments in a nation’s history when a philosophical journalist needs to convey naked truth to arouse a people to action—for example, when they have been emasculated by perfidious politicians, by an obsolete ideology, or by a decrepit system of government.

Israel today suffers from these maladies and is therefore in dire need of philosophical journalism.