On Being Neutral

Being neutral fails to account for the vast difference between intellectual honesty and intellectual dishonesty

The host of a well-known Sunday morning news program has said quite clearly that neutrality is essential to his work and should be for anyone in the news profession. He noted that in politics, 90 percent of the disagreements are about policy or ideological points of view, and thus not about character. And he admits to having opinions but not allowing these to create bias. I’m having problems with this.

I would tend to agree that ideology and character can be separated. The current president is a perfect example of a loathsome character with no clue what ideology, or truth, actually is. At the same time, there are those who have moderate ideological perspectives and are also intellectually honest. But there are plenty of examples of what happens when ideology and character are bonded, because ideology is not about facts and information but rather answers that exist in a vacuum separate and apart from real world issues, and these ideologists have angry, rigid characteristics. In other words, fact-free and proud of it.

Adherence to rigid neutrality might seem the ideal professional standard for those in the news media and those attempting to see both sides, but that fails to account for the vast difference between intellectual honesty and intellectual dishonesty. This is how false equivalence gets oxygen: pretending that making it up has the same validity as fact-based opinion. I don’t think so.

And, really, the manner in which news is conveyed has evolved from what it was for much of the twentieth century. Instead of simply offering facts and data, journalists now also include analysis, putting information into perspective for readers and listeners. Pragmatically, it helps citizens understand what means what and thus form more rational opinions. Realistically, this only applies to educated, thoughtful, reasonable citizens, not angry, more extreme, ideological ones.

Neutrality can be a good starting point, but eventually one will end up with multitudes of points of view for a wide variety of issues, some of greater concern than others. Righting every “wrong” is neither practical nor necessary. After all, one person’s wrong can be another one’s right. Much of the strife among humans is not just disagreeing but insisting that the other needs to be forced into compliance through law and lawsuit…or worse. In disagreeing on everything from what constitutes civil rights to simply live and let live, the range of responses to disagreement can create anger or harmony. This is particularly true for socio-cultural issues.

It’s not actually necessary to have opinions on every topic or issue. This goes beyond simply not thinking about everything but also recognizing it doesn’t always or even often matter what one’s opinions are, and being a non-combatant by remaining neutral both makes life easier and typically keeps others from engaging one is such conversations. Despite the substantial evolution of human intelligence, knowledge and wisdom, we remain mired in disagreements on a seemingly endless list of things to disagree on.

I think I’ve noted a couple of time (out of more than 350 posts) that I don’t do guilt…or at least not often and only for very good reasons. It’s not because I don’t care but rather because there’s no pragmatic justification for it far more often than not. There are certainly times when being neutral isn’t a sufficient perspective, but feeling guilty for being neutral on other issues is not going to change the world either. Voting for those who can and will is far more effective.

Being neutral works until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, calling out fact-free talking points and intellectually dishonesty is a realistic, pragmatic act of doing the right thing for the right reasons.