Rush: Journalism Has a Glaring Lack of Philosophical Inquiry


By Nicholas Rush


Ever wondered why the corporate press is so apathetic in their not-so-hot pursuit for the truth? Professor Emeritus of Language Reading and Culture at the University of Arizona, Kenneth Goodman, has. In 1989, Goodman penned an article titled “Issues in the Profession, Journalism and Philosophy.” The article elucidates the many reasons why journalists and journalism itself rarely engages in philosophical-style inquiry and why that is a problem.

In the article, Goodman explores and debunks reasons why the popular press would not cover world events in a philosophical way. There are many — chief among them being that most readers cannot digest the complexity of philosophical arguments, and even if they could, few would want to. According to Goodman, “If philosophy is to be counted an important or even fundamental activity, then it is a little mysterious why there is so little of a philosophical nature in a popular press that pays lip service, at least, to completeness in chronicling human affairs.”  

However, this argument may miss some of the point. While we know that delving into deep philosophical complexities would not be digestible for the readership of a paper such as the revered New York Times, the more pressing issue is not why newspapers don’t report or analyze philosophy itself, but why they don’t report philosophically. The lack of that “philosophical nature” in the press — in regards to discerning the truth and conveying the wholeness of human affairs — leads to a popular press that is more ideological than philosophical.

Does anyone truly believe that the perennial wall-to-wall Trump coverage is justifiable when right now there is a massive war in Yemen that has resulted in the starvation and death of 85,000 children? “Twenty million people, or some 70% of the population — are food insecure,” and “one step away” from a famine according to the UN, yet the majority of coverage is the self-righteous bashing of some daily, perceived insult dealt by the Trump administration.

Consider Sudan, where there are criminally underreported horrors occurring. On June 11, the government of Sudan brutally cracked down on protestors in the capital city of Khartoum, killing 100 and injuring over 700. As the capital burned, Doctors reported government paramilitaries raided hospitals resulting in 70 cases of rape in just the “immediate aftermath” of the attack.

Yet apparently the “Trump, Russia, Collusion!business is more important — all for the sake of democracy, right? Or maybe it’s just a better racket — after all, newspapers love to hate Trump because the guy gets good ratings. MSNBC, for example, has done 455 stories on Stormy Daniels in the course of a year, while the crises in Yemen and Sudan have received little to no coverage. Perhaps this is because defense contractors and companies spend millions of dollars on advertising campaigns in our popular press. Surely this monetary motive keeps the press from their ethical duty to report the stories of all people.

This is what happens when an ideological corporate press prioritizes partisan penchant over the rational, philosophical goal of discernment.

When speaking of a new media initiative in 2013, defense manufacturer Northrop Grumman spokesman said: “To reinforce our new focus, we revamped our earned and paid-media messages and campaigns to highlight value and performance.” The press is evidently reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. It is not hard to link the lack of philosophical inquiry in the press — which strictly prioritizes the search for objective truth — to the prioritization of monetary success from the popular press and journalism. You cannot serve two masters. The press must choose truth or profit, and many times telling the truth is just not profitable.

In modern journalism, the story is a means to an end — the end being clicks and increased readership, which generates ad revenue and traffic. That manifests clearest in a common media practice: clickbait. If journalism was approached through a philosophical lens, one would imagine a paper like the New York Times “chronicling the completeness of human affairs.” Journalists instead sacrifice this philosophical approach on the altar of clickbait, where there is no greater sacrament than “BOMBSHELL: DONALD TRUMP SAID ________.”

Journalism has become gluttonous, and a good philosophical awakening among its purest practitioners is desperately needed. Journalism needs to be more scholastic and less sophomoric — otherwise the news simply turns into a 24-hour reality TV circus. It obviously already has, as is manifested in Americans knowing far more about Stormy Daniels than about 85,000 starving children in Yemen — or for that matter, the starving children in their own country. 

Whether or not philosophy is the topic of news coverage is of little concern. What is necessary is that journalists themselves take a philosophical approach about what they cover, why they cover it and why it should be a priority. Their lack of perspective is driven by a desire to chronicle human affairs profitably, not objectively. Journalism and its importance in society loses repute when the seriousness and sanctity of the craft is obscured under the umbrella of consumerism.

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