Monday, November 20, 2006

ethics and objectivity

This bit in Joshua's post caught my eye:
What struck me about the exchange is that I had tied vapid and timid media coverage to Americans' often shocking ignorance about their own political system and said it was perhaps the greatest threat to our democracy. But while he agreed that there was a major problem with the public's political knowledge and participation, he flat-out refused to acknowledge that it had any connection to the rules by which he insisted he had to live.
That, I think, is the essential flaw at the heart of the ethic of objectivity. Ethics aren't merely standards of personal morality, they're rules that allow communities to work and flourish. They exist to support good outcomes. If the ethical code demands objectivity, prohibits those who enforce and maintain the code from caring about results (ie, Mark "I've never voted" Halperin), then the code itself becomes unmoored. Bad results get ignored because the ethicists themselves refuse to judge the outcomes; they merely observe.

This is not the norm in other spheres. Medical ethicists and legal ethicists care predominately about results and revise ethical codes when current codes fail. Judges are required to be objective, but legislatures exist to change the laws when the "objective" interpretation of the law leads to bad results. If the objective norm fails to keep the public well-informed, how can "objective" journalists respond? How can they prevent themselves from being gamed if they refuse to judge the outcomes of their actions?