‘Objectivity’ vs. truth

By Luke Warm

Professor of Mendacity, University of Munchausen

Today, I’m going to talk about telling really huge whoppers and getting the media to go along.

Myra Megahertz, Dean of Manipulation here at U of M, asked me to give this Wakeup Lecture to remind you all that while nothing is more powerful than a well-designed lie, sometimes in propagating our scams, the truth actually serves a better purpose.

So it is with my topic today — you need to know the truth about the media in order to really pull the wool over their eyes.

I mean Big Time.

I’m giving you, here in this lecture hall at our beloved U of M, the actual Keys to the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of Mendacity.

First thing to remember about the media, Cardinal Rule, is that if you play your cards right, you hardly need to con them at all. They’ll gladly gull themselves.

Think about it: Do they go to college or university to learn about, say, history, or logic, you know philosophy broadly looked at, or even the sciences like biology, physics, chemistry, or maybe mathematics?

Negatory, good pals — they pay good moolah to learn the mechanics and politics of publishing drivel polished to a sheen to look like something society needs but is mostly useless crap.

Thinking is not their forte.

Lack of thought is their weakness and our great strength.

That is why here at the University of Munchausen we have a separate and not so equal School of Journalism — keep the lamebrains out of the mainstream!

Don’t tell them I said that. Tell them we’re going to give them some more awards for swallowing the swill we dish out to them.

One of the false tenets we preach in the U of M School of J is the sanctity of “objectivity”.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the decades of instilling this corker into the brains of our J students.

By the way, it’s a pretty good scam in its own right — over the years, we’ve managed to haul in huge amounts of money from the newspaper and broadcast industry as endowments to keep the University of Munchausen on solid financial ground.

The industry bigwigs love what we teach because they believe it, too. It helps them control the freaks who populate their newsroooms.

Here’s how it works.

First of all, “objectivity” is, pure and simple, bullshit.

There is no such thing.

Do you think it was hard to get our J students to swallow this malarkey?

Negatory, good buddy! It was easy, easy, easy.

Because along with indoctrinating the lie, we convinced our future journalistic practitioners that they are actually different from other human beings. By itself, that was not easy, except that we also larded the lie with the notion that J school people are somehow better than the rest of us. Kind of like a priesthood.

Hook, line and sinker!

The priesthood thing is great, because along with it, free of charge, comes the belief that not only are they superior to the rest of humankind, but because of that, like the mendicant priests of the past, they don’t need actual salaries that matter. They will be satisfied with chump change because as God’s anointed they are doing the Good Works that ordinary mortals are unqualified for.

It really is not hard to get people to swallow huge manure wagonloads once you stoke their egos.

Now, I need to keep this brief — I’ve got to catch a plane for Poyntless, you know, the pontifical institute that pretends to be the arbiter of Great Journalism. They want me to talk about “objectivity.”


“Objectivity” goes hand in glove with two other concepts. They are “straight news” and “inverted pyramid.”

They are lies, of course, but let me explain. By choosing the name — “straight” — we set the terms of any dialogue that follows. “Straight news” is orthodox, proper, accepted, the Right Way. Anything else, by definition, is Wrong.

That way, we’ve won before the discussion begins.

But let me tell you something about “straight news.” It ain’t “straight” at all.

It’s crooked as hell!

What does it mean, really?





But hook up the pseudo-concept of “straight” with another illusion called the “inverted pyramid” and you’ve got a winner.

What is the “inverted pyramid”?

An upside down pile of rocks with the point on the bottom?

Good guess. But in Journalese, it means that you freight the pile, which is whatever it is you’re reporting, into the top paragraph so that if need be everything else could be cut and the essence of the report will remain.

In itself, that is a sheer impossibility, yet it is believed, widely believed.

In fact, it is a true pyramid, with the big part on teh bottom, as you would expect. Only the J people don’t get it. Please don’t tell them.

How can you dismember something, anything, and then declare it’s the same thing as before you started your hack job?

Complete hokum. And, of course, that is what we at U of Munch are all about.

This is a beautiful concept, though, the way “straight news” and “inverted pyramid” work.

The journalist believes that his or her report will be objective if what amounts to a form is filled out.

But what they don’t know, because we withhold this nugget from them, is that the form is really a strait jacket.

Once the reporter fills out the top part — who-what-where-when — the next requirement is to amplify on those elements and cram it all into three or eight or twelve or fifteen inches of newsprint. The top of teh story is like the narrow end of a funnel. Once the top is set, whatever follows must be clsely related or managers will call it irrelevant.

Control is the name of the game. Don’t tell the journalists.

By the time the reporter gets done filling out the form, much of whose details are not so important, any truth, any essence, any glimmer of reality, is swept aside.

The form is, well, sort of like filled with concrete, and as it’s filled out, the cement blocks actual thought.

Please, PLEASE, do not tell the J students about this.

They love “straight” reporting.

“Inverted pyramids” are their ideal.

We make it easy for them.

That way, they don’t have to think.

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One Response to ‘Objectivity’ vs. truth

  1. Javan Kienzle says:

    Actually, Luke, when was the last time you saw an inverted pyramid in a newspaper? I thought they were extinct. Maybe you read a different paper than I do. In the Good Old Days, reporters were told to write short, punchy sentences. As Journalism evolved, more recently, reporters tried to squeeze everything into one sentence. Such sentences resemble the barn owl with the rat’s tail dangling from its beak because it couldn’t get it all in. Before, we were told that a sentence longer than 23 words caused readers’ eyes to glaze over. Now, sentences, like Tennyson’s brook, seem to go on forever — and much more murkily.
    But, you say, doesn’t that prove my point about the idiocy of the inverted pyramid? Yes and no. The barn-owl syndrome exists because too many of today’s journalists are poor writers. They know not a semicolon, nor the joys of the simple declarative sentence. Also, in feeling that the use of the inverted pyramid is beneath them, reporters instead open with The Cutesy. The Pseudo-Clever. The Tear-Down-the- Inverted-Pyramid -Tool. The Anything-But-The-Facts lede. We are told that readers must be “drawn into” an article.
    Perhaps journalists should be given awards for writing with simplicity. (Except on rare occasions, sentences that open with “There is”/”There are” should be exiled to France, whence they came.)

    Current “style” with draw-in-the-reader lead:

    The red roses that the President’s wife had been carrying were strewn across the back seat of the Presidential Limo, and the blood had congealed on the spot where President John F. Kennedy had been sitting when, before thousands of horrified witnesses, as secret service agents scrambled in vain to try to protect him, the President was fatally hit yesterday by several bullets allegedly fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, who had positioned himself in a 6th-story window of the Texas Book Depository building overlooking Dealey Plaza along the route of the presidential motorcade in Dallas.

    The ledes of yesteryear (Just the facts, Ma’am):

    President John F. Kennedy died after being shot by an assassin in Dallas yesterday.
    President John F. Kennedy died after being shot by an assassin while riding in a motorcade in Dallas yesterday.
    President John F. Kennedy died after being shot by an assassin while riding in a motorcade during a campaign trip to Dallas

    Is it possible that what we need is a combination of the two styles? Shorter sentences, with short explanantory/expository sentences following in order.

    But whether the pyramid is on its base or on its point, please, no “clever” ledes — unless you’re writing for the New Yorker.

    Just give it to me straight. without embellishment. Journalists who want to embellish should be novelists, not reporters.

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