The Difference between Impartiality and Neutrality

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Following up on NPR’s ear-stabbing economic coverage, here are some interesting comments from Brad Delong in response to David Weigel’s firing. I think they apply equally well to the kind of obligatory false balance that has become par for the course from NPR.

[They] never wanted to be perceived as impartial in the sense of an umpire with good eyesight who called balls and strikes as he or she saw them. The Washington Post wanted to be perceived as neutral in that roughly half its calls would go for the establishment Democrats and half its calls would go to the establishment Republicans. There are very big differences. For one thing, a neutral paper is bound to be untrustworthy as a source of information.

In response to Delong, Paul Rosenberg recently added this point about the Democrats’ failure to recognize the basic rules of the game:

Just to add some further detail: If the Post and the rest of the not-strictly rightwing Versailles press aim for such “neutrality”, then the incentives are quite clear: (1) Move as far to the extremes as possible in your own statements, in order to shift the neutral point in your direction. (2) Attack the other side continuously for its “extremism” in order to deter it from doing the same–and perhaps even to get it to do the opposite. This is precisely what the conservative movement has been doing for most of the past 30+ years, and Democrats–with a few lonely exceptions like Alan Grayson–still have yet to catch on.

So why is this still the case? And why are so-called strategists like Rahm Emanuel considered “smart” politicians when they fall into this trap?