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A 'Neutral Press" Is a BAD Idea

by John Spritzler

November 13, 2019

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[Also related: ""The Right to Free Speech" is a BOGUS Concept"]

Lately student-run college newspapers have come under sharp criticism from activist students for using supposedly neutral "standard journalism practices" in covering events such as student protests against ICE on campus. A recent Boston Globe article reports on this. The Boston Globe article, of course, argues that the student activist critics are wrong, and that student newspapers--like all newspapers--should be neutral--just report facts and comments from people on all sides of the issue--and not take a side when reporting something like a demonstration against ICE.

"Neutrality," however, in the context of today's conflict between an oppressive ruling plutocracy (the haves) versus almost all the rest of us (the have-nots), is a bogus concept. What is done in the name of "neutrality" typically benefits the haves and harms the have-nots. While this is true (and I will give an example to illustrate so-called "neutrality" actually benefiting the haves against the have-nots below*), there is something even more fundamentallly wrong with the concept of a "neutral press." Not only is it usually a bogus idea, more importantly it is always a bad idea.

It's a bad idea because we live in a society (on a planet) in which there is a conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed--a confict that dominates our everyday existence today and which is inescapable in reality for everybody even if some try to ignore it. Given this fact, the notion that the press--or anything else for that matter--should be neutral in the conflict between the haves and the have-nots--i.e., in the conflict between morally wrong oppression and morally just resistance to oppression--is ITSELF immoral.

Any idea or concept (such as the supposed need for, or desirability of, the press to be neutral) that implicitly argues that somebody--anybody, a newspaper reporter or soldier or random person--should not take the side of the oppressed 100% but should instead be neutral, is an immoral and hence very BAD idea! Even being TRULY neutral in the context of the conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed helps the oppressor. Oppressors love it when people are neutral. Neutral people allow the oppressor to oppress. The more neutral people, the better, as far as oppressors are concerned.


Let us be clear that there is a big difference between a newspaper reporter being neutral versus reporting what people say on both sides of an issue involving a conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed. There are times--sometimes, not all of the time!--when reporting on what people say on both sides of an issue is very helpful to the oppressed, in which case it's not neutral but pro-oppressed to report the views of both sides.


During the early years of the anti-Vietnam War Movement, there were teach-ins. I organized one at Dartmouth College. I made it a point to invite the Undersecretary of State for Southeast Asian Affairs to be on the teach-in's panel. Why? To be "neutral"? Hell no! I did it because I wanted the audience (which I knew would be mainly pro-war) to see the government spokesperson exposed as a liar. And he was. It was wonderful to see hundreds of initially pro-war students convert to being anti-war right in front of my eyes as some professors thoroughly exposed the Undersecretary of State's pro-war arguments as flat out lies!

In some cases, however, reporting the views of both sides only helps the oppressor. When the oppressor's viewpoint (for example the racist idea that blacks are inferior less-than-human beings) has already been rejected by most people then there is no longer any excuse for giving that viewpoint any publicity at all. Reporting on that viewpoint only helps the oppressor recruit some individuals to the side of oppression, very likely to act as violent goons for the oppressor. Thus there is no excuse for a newspaper respectfully interviewing a neo-Nazi expressing the viewpoint that blacks are inferior less-than-human beings, not even if the neo-Nazi was a speaker on campus and students demonstrated against him/her and the newspaper also interviewed some of the demonstrators.

Sometimes, it is true, it is not easy to know whether or not it is helpful to the oppressed to report on the oppressor's viewpoint (to help expose it as false when many people still think it is true) or not to report on it (because it is already exposed as false for most people.) Fine. The point is that the principle to follow in trying to decide what to do is to try to do what helps the oppressed, NOT to be neutral!



* During the War in Vietnam, which was an unjust war by the oppressive U.S. ruling plutocracy against oppressed peasants, the U.S. mass media pretended to be neutral. They did this by framing the question for public discourse this way: "Can the U.S. win in Vietnam?" The press gave a voice to both sides of this question. But no matter which side one took on the question framed this way, one implicitly accepted the oppressor's main, and false, viewpoint, namely that the U.S. was fighting for a noble cause in Vietnam. The press's apparent neutrality was thus actually a form of pro-oppression propaganda; it implicitly asserted that the U.S. murder of innocent Vietnamese peasants was morally just.

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