Don Lemon declares journalists arbiters of truth

CNN's Don Lemon has decided that "journalists" can no longer treat Republicans and Democrats equally and asserts that the "freedom to "state [his] truth" and "stand up for what is right," as a journalist on television, is "imperative."

It is not clear why he thinks that "journalists" are equipped to be arbiters of truth.  Since the truth includes economics, history, philosophy, morality, law, natural sciences, mathematics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.; since human motivations and situations can be obscure or even corrupt; and since Lemon only managed a Bachelor's degree in journalism at Brooklyn College, he is not equipped to do so.  In fact, no one, no matter how impressive his accomplishments, is equipped to be an arbiter of the truth.  Bertrand Russell or Stephen Hawking would not be equipped to do so.

Since all human beings, including even the greatest minds, are limited and fallible, and since all human beings have an unfortunate "human, all too human" tendency to canonize their own prejudices as the gospel truth, society made great advances when people realized that the truth is most likely to emerge in free and fair discussions.

For this reason, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) formulated a code of ethics that requires, among other things, that journalists be "fair."  Since the dictionary explains that the word "fair" means treating people "equally," Lemon is factually wrong that his "job" as a journalist to hold one group to a different standard from others.  On the contrary, the SPJ's Code of Ethics states that it is his job not to hold different groups to different standards. 

The SJP's Code of Ethics also states that a journalist's reporting should be "thorough."  To be "thorough" means to be "complete," with "nothing left out."  However, if a journalist declares one group "dangerous" and treats them more harshly than others, he effectively leaves one side out of the argument.

Lemon also violates the SJP's Code of Ethics requirement that journalists ensure a "free exchange of information."  The exchange is not "free" when the two sides are held to different standards.  Lemon will understand this when they do it to his favored side of the aisle. 

Finally, Lemon demands the "freedom" to state "his truth" as a journalist.  Unfortunately, the notion of "my truth" or "his truth" eliminates the notion of truth.  The whole point of saying something is true is that it is not merely "my" or "his" or "her" truth.  Perhaps Lemon wants to revive the ancient Greek doctrine of Protagorean subjectivism, which holds that everyone has his own truth — specifically, that if John and Joan stick their hands in the same breeze, and John says it is warm and Joan says it is cold, then they have both stated "their truth," which means that the breeze is both warm and not warm.  If so, Lemon will find this a difficult position to defend.  Although such word games may be amusing in Philosophy 101, the actual real-world notion of truth involves the idea that the truth is something objective against which we measure our beliefs.  People who fail to grasp this are unable to correct themselves and are, therefore, unable to learn.  Since, having eliminated the great labor needed to reach actual truths, and made everything very simple for themselves, they tend to drift into smug dogmatism

Lemon is also confused that he has a right to state "his truth," his own opinions, as a journalist on television.  He does, as an American, have a right to state his views on his own time.  However, when he assumes the title "journalist," he is bound by a set of professional obligations.  Although Lemon may think his CNN "news" show is about Lemon, it is not.  His professional obligation as a "journalist" is to report the "news," not indulge himself.

In 5th-century-B.C. Athens, in his Apology, Plato describes how Socrates searched to discover the wisest men in Athens.  Socrates did this because the priestess at the Delphic Oracle stated that he was the wisest person in Athens.  Rather than use this to glorify himself, Socrates saw this as a paradox because he did not believe himself wise.  Socrates decided, therefore, to question the alleged wise men in Athens, including poets, politicians, and artisans, in an attempt to find someone wiser than himself and prove that the Oracle was wrong.  After a long search, Socrates concluded that these alleged wise men in Athens did not know what they thought they knew.  He did find that the artisans knew something about their specialty — e.g., the sculptor knew about making statues, etc. — but the artisans mistakenly inferred from the fact that they knew some particular specialty the view that they knew many other great things about morality and the good life for humanity.  Socrates concluded that the reason the oracle stated that he was the wisest man in Athens is that whereas all the other alleged wise men thought they knew many great things that they did not actually know, he alone knew that he knew nothing, stating, "God only is wise [and] human wisdom is worth little or nothing."

Things have not changed much since Socrates's time.  What passes for our "news" media is composed of people, most with modest educational credentials, and many with a tendency to spend too much time gazing in the mirror, claiming to know things they do not know and, therefore, reading their own prejudices into reality.  Since, however, genuine wisdom brings humility, the least knowledgeable tend to be the most dogmatic.

The fact that human beings are so liable to a misplaced overestimation of their own abilities is precisely what makes the fidelity to process — that is, to accepted professional standards — essential.  For it is adherence to accepted professional standards that prevents the rise of partisans masquerading as journalists that are the real danger to democracy.  In the case at hand, by an astonishing coincidence, Lemon's attack on Republicans as dangerous precisely mimics Biden's recent attacks on Republicans as dangerous, thereby replacing the journalist's mission to "speak truth to power" with the rather less sublime determination to grovel to power.

One would think the fact that Lemon's "journalistic" profession got so much wrong about Trump and other Republicans over the past six years would have prevented him from trying to defend such indefensible positions.  On the other hand, those embarrassing failures might be precisely the motivation for doing so.  CNN must now decide whether it supports the SPJ's Code of Ethics or not.  If they do not, they will need to announce that they only report "their" truth, not the (objective) truth.  If they do, they will need to explain this humility to Lemon and others who, comically, have anointed themselves oracles.

Image: Screen shot from Hell of a Week video via YouYube.

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