Correspondents

Today an Amsterdam newspaper published an interview with one of the many correspondents of Dutch news media in the US, who was quoted as saying that he is always wary of a situation where a correspondent ‘idolizes’ the country where he (or she) is stationed.  Idolizing – which is synonymous with worshipping – a country is hard to imagine, but for practical purposes let’s translate it into a combination of ‘admiring’ and ‘being very fond of.’  The journalist who gave the interview makes clear that he neither admires nor is very fond of America, although he calls New York City ‘fabulous’ and US politics ‘fascinating.’  His problem with correspondents who idolize America is that they cannot be ‘critical’ anymore, because after a couple of years they start identifying with the people of the country where they are stationed.  The interview raises some interesting questions, which I assume are discussed in freshman classes in journalism schools every year, for instance if there is such a thing as ‘neutral’ or ‘value-free’ journalism, where the reporter is strictly an observer without a specific interest in his or her topic.

The argument reminds me of a settled debate in the social sciences, in which some people a long time ago argued that researchers should never study something they are really interested in, for fear of not being ‘objective.’  That was not a very productive opinion, but it helped clarify a host of methodological issues, and maybe this opinion can be made productive too.  I would argue that correspondents who have a love for the US practice better, and in fact more objective, journalism than those who don’t and try to be strictly neutral.  Let’s make the current election cycle a case in point:  Journalists with the latter attitude might consider Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz ‘equal,’ in a sense that they are all candidates running for their party’s nomination, and therefore treat their ideas and proposed policies as equal too.  That would put protecting women’s reproductive rights and fighting excesses on Wall Street on the same level as keeping all foreign Muslims out of the US or giving citizens of all backgrounds unlimited access to guns, and it is hard to see how that is a critical approach.

Correspondents who are fond of America are more likely to analyze the various policy proposals on their social consequences and form an opinion.  They would want the most qualified candidate to become president, and although they are still obliged to report on what every candidate proposes, the results of their analyses will shine through in the tone of their reporting, the questions they ask candidates when they have a chance to interview them, and opinion articles they may write.

The result will be better informed, more complete, and yes, more critical and objective journalism.   In his book ‘Dialectics of the Concrete’ the philosopher Karel Kosik distinguishes between ‘pseudo-concrete’ concepts that hide the truth, and concrete concepts that have the opposite function.  The difference between neutral and ‘engaged’ journalism perfectly mirrors that distinction.

Of course one could argue that the journalists who work for Fox News love America as much as reporters who work for MSNBC.  It’s an excellent starting point for a discussion, so let’s analyze their mutual values and the interests they represent, and then draw our critical conclusions.

Hugo Kijne

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One thought on “Correspondents

  1. Hugo, ik ben geen correspondent. Maar wel erg geïnteresseerd in de VS. En het is fascinerend en verrassend om het land, met z’n tegenstellingen en paradoxen, en volstrekt andere manier van denken en leven, om dat te proberen te begrijpen. Daar kun je enthousiast van worden. En we denken de VS te kennen, vanuit Europa, maar dat is niet zo. We kennen er nog geen 10% van. Daarom wil ik – als ik geld en tijd heb – echt nog eens naar laten we zeggen Iowa, South Carolina, Colorado, Illinois. Vermont. Daarnaast: het zijn niet de Verenigde Staten van Amerika. Het zijn de Verzamelde Staten van Amerika. Want elke staat is anders: in wetgeving, in cultuur, in manier van leven. En dan proberen te begrijpen waarom ze daar denken en leven zoals ze denken. Beste voorbeeld voor mij: Obamacare. Voor Nederlanders volstrekt normaal dat er zoiets als een collectieve zorgverzekering is. Voor veel Amerikanen: volstrekt normaal dat dat er niet is. Want, zo denken en zeggen (veel, zij het steeds minder): “ik laat me niets opdringen door de overheid: ik maak zelf wel uit of ik me verzeker. Die vrijheid, dat grondrecht. is belangrijker dan de kans dat ik failliet ga als ik in een ziekenhuis moet worden opgenomen. Rete-interessant toch, omdat enigszins te kunnen begrijpen? Met “houden van” of “adoratie” heeft dat allemaal niks te maken. Het is het zo graag willen begrijpen van het land. En dat is moeilijk, want je moet je Nederlandse of Europese normen en waarden opzij zetten en je in die van de VS willen verdiepen. En of je het er dan mee eens bent of niet: het doet niet terzake. Zij hun cultuur, wij de onze.
    Trouwens, Obamacare: het is voor Nederlanders al lastig om te snappen dat Amerikanen zo’n ziektekostenverzekering niet willen. Correspondenten hebben het nog moeilijker: die moeten dat uitleggen aan de NL-kijker, luisteraar en lezer. Het lijkt me het moeilijkste wat er is. Maar ook het boeiendste!

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