Journalism is not objective, because nothing is objective. We know that. Objectivity is a myth, an impossible standard: you are not objective, and I am not objective. No one is objective, because objectivity does not exist. The closest we could ever come to “objectivity” is careful adherence to a social norm: instead of thinking weird, dissident thoughts (which would be just your individual opinion), you can spew the conventional wisdom, the truth we know to be true because we all know it to be true. That latter will seem objective. It will seem unbiased. It will seem reliable.
On some level, I think, we know this, all of us, and we don’t really expect objectivity from the news media. We’ve learned not to expect that. Yet we complain about how a reporter constructs their account (or how they don’t) because of the careful, painstaking pose of objectivity which they adopt and create, the careful distinctions between the knowable and the unknowable. Some things can be verified from the view from nowhere, it seems; some things can only be seen second-hand. The voice from nowhere can report on the objects it sees, objectively, and also on the subjective impressions which it observes and then turns into objects. There are facts and there are also opinions.
Here was what CNN knew this morning:
There are sharp distinctions being drawn here between what is known as fact by objective journalists and what can only be speculated about by the opinion-havers on twitter. The police have said they charged a man with murder; this is therefore a fact. Three people were shot dead, and we know they are Muslim students because their identity is knowable. Just look at them! It’s obvious. It's a fact.
What “compelled” the accused to kill them? I’m sorry; what compelled him “to allegedly carry out the attack”? What overpowering force was it that compelled him to do the thing that (allegedly) he did? We know that the man is being charged with murder, because the police have said that is what they are doing, and we believe them. But while they say that a man has turned himself in for allegedly having been compelled to carry out an act, we can only report what we know. I wonder what role the fact of their religion played? We can only wonder.
I am stuck on this sentence:
“But given the victims' religion and comments the alleged shooter apparently left on a Facebook page, many social media users wondered what role, if any, the victims' faith played.”
The religion of the victims is a given. It has been given to us: just look at them. Muslims! It is obvious. Yet the person who has alleged that he was the shooter (it has not been confirmed that he is the shooter) has apparently left comments on FB (it has not been confirmed that he left these comments) that are apparently threats to kill people based on their religion. None of this has been confirmed; none of it is objective fact. Here at CNN, we cannot know for sure about any of this.
If you go back to the first, local news reports of the killing, nothing was known about the killers or the victims, because the police had not yet released that information.
- Three people were shot and killed…authorities said.
- All three victims were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
- Their names were withheld Tuesday night pending family notification.
- A suspect in the shootings turned himself in…sources told.
- The suspect’s identity was not released.
- Investigators have not said what led to the shootings
- authorities said there was no reason to believe the public was in any danger.
After the police released the names of the victims, it was immediately known that they were Muslims. When the police released the identity of the suspect who had confessed, on the other hand, a white guy named “Hicks” who hated religions, it raised more questions than answers.
However, we here at CNN can confirm that there are people with opinions, on social media, who have the opinion that perhaps the fact that the victims were Muslims (which is a fact) might be the thing that compelled the alleged killer to apparently carry out the attack that resulted in the shooting death of those factually Muslim students. You might very well think so; we here at CNN cannot possibly comment. Was it the overwhelming force of their Muslim identity that compelled this man to get involved in carrying out an attack? Some have suggested there might be a connection here. But while some things are facts (the fact that they are Muslims, I mean, just look at them), some are merely opinions: things get said on twitter, bu cannot be confirmed. Things also get said on Facebook, but who can tell, really. Who knows. It’s so hard to know. Luckily, authorities have said there was no reason to believe the public was in any danger.