On background of some recent events - that regarding Jerusalem's status (the US step of moving their embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem) and the clash between IDF and Hamas and Palestinians in the border between Gaza and Israel, I noticed differences in coverage produced by variety of worldwide newspapers that seem to tell different stories and hence present a biased twisted reality towards this or that side of the parties involved. And it made me wonder:

How journalism's rationale to report of facts at all feasible if assuming plausibly that we can never bring facts as such but always interpretations? What philosophical tools are there for the purpose of accounting for the fundamental principles of journalism?


Given the comments posted below I have realized that the assumption as to impossibility of representing or describing facts as such might be a source of confusion and in either way can be disputed if not refuted when pointing to elementary kind of facts (e.g. dates). Even if I drop the assumption as I did in the title of the question, I yet remain with the wonder as to principles of journalism or of how may one bring facts to the readership without distortion and what extent of objectivity is possible? Regarding the concrete events that led me to ponder the philosophical basis of journalism - if there is no trouble to describe facts as such why there are non-negligible differences - at times gross and crucial, between various worldwide newspapers over the factual aspect of the events in question?...

  • 5
    I connect this to Nietzsche's observation, there are no facts, just interpretations (paraphrase). It was a good cautionary observation that he made. I still think there are historical facts, of course they tend to be put immediately under interpretation by the contending groups in the world. I also think we can still write good, factual history (not perfect, but good). Moral: keep good records, and try to preserve those records. However, this is a long, long game. It is when we expect immediate results and vindication that we get distortion. – Gordon May 16 '18 at 20:28
  • 5
    (I was mainly addressing historiography with my comment. Title: On the future of history : the postmodernist challenge and its aftermath, Author: Breisach, Ernst. Publisher:University of Chicago Press,Pub date:c2003. Good first attempt to make some sense of our predicament, could be better. || More broadly: G. Vattimo, "Of Reality", and compare Vattimo with, for instance, the long term project of Alasdair Macintyre. Both are trying to do something "good" for the West.). – Gordon May 16 '18 at 21:14
  • 2
    There is a difference between journalist's and philosopher's notion of "fact". "No facts, only interpretations" refers to subtle concerns about cultural dependence of observations, etc., that there are no facts in the crude colloquial sense is not at all plausible. What happened at the Gaza border reported in descriptive terms (actions of the crowd, actions of Israeli soldiers, number of the dead, etc.) aside from subsequent moral, political, etc., commentary consists of facts. – Conifold May 16 '18 at 21:20
  • 5
    See Five Core Principles of Journalism : "1. Truth and Accuracy - Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 17 '18 at 12:30
  • 4
    News organizations across the world have different purposes. Only in democratic states the rationale of news' journalists is set to be such that seeks accuracy of facts and delivery of such facts in as much as objective manner possible. The concrete events you relate to can hardly be surveyed in newspapers across the world in a non-biased fashion. All newspapers in Muslim states - most are non-democratic, are automatically anti-Israeli as much as the representatives of those states in the UN. Other newspapers likewise cling to some position. You cannot really distinct politics from journalism. – user18096 May 18 '18 at 19:04

Why assume facts cannot be presented?

Here's a basic semantic framework from standard philosophy of language: Sentences express propositions, and the truth values of propositions are settled by the way the world is. That's a pretty standard background assumption for just about any work in analytic philosophy of language.

Of course you can add things like reader interpretation, the meaning intended by the source, and so forth to get a bit messier but realistic picture of communication, but there isn't anything in principle from stopping a news organization to do their best to represent the world the way it is by using language that most likely would get their audience to understand what it is they think is true about the world.

For example, nothing is stopping a journalist from writing a more nuanced piece that describes various views about the embassy, Isreal, borders, historical dates, etc. to get their audience to understand how some event described in non-value terms (e.g. x many people with legal citizenship of country y were present at exactly location z.) is interpreted by both sides. You could explain why for one side this action of going there is interpreted as protest and why it is interpreted as a violent border crossing by the other, and you can also be very clear about false facts being alleged (Who had guns where? Who shot whom?, etc.)

  • 1
    Propositions are Expressed as sentences because propositions are not literal things. Propositions have truth values that are objective and not determined by human beings or authorities. Fact has a very specific definition which expresses a fact cannot change truth value when worded correctly. So from the O.P & your answer neither one of you is dealing with actual facts. People can call a pig by a different name but I what the name expresses is still a pig. – Logikal May 16 '18 at 19:59
  • 4
    According to a number of analytic philosophers (Quine), and social constructivists (Rorty), the truth values of propositions can not be settled by the world alone due to their dependence on available conceptual apparatus, and underdetermination, among other things. Not even for the "observation language" fragment. The problem is not that one can add cultural interpretation to "facts" but that one can not subtract it from whatever we have to settle for in their stead. The challenge is to justify journalism despite that. – Conifold May 18 '18 at 23:22

You can't objectively report facts about matters that only have meaning subjectively, and "what is the capital of Israel?" is a great example of this. Political authority can be defined ideally, practically, or in retrospect... and in stable situations, these are all aligned.

But when governments are in dispute, sentences like "Tel Aviv is the capital of the nation of Israel" cannot be objective, since "the capital" is defined subjectively. It would be factual to report that "the US government sometimes claims that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel", or that "other authorities claim that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel" since "X claims Y" is clearly falsifiable.

What is the true capital of Israel? Maybe we won't know until this political era has already passed. Ideally, some Jews probably believe that it truly is Jerusalem, as it was long ago. Practically, there's probably little actual governing control coming from Jerusalem, so you could say "of course it's Tel Aviv." But in retrospect, later, historians could look at the way things played out and use proper definitions and third-party objectivity to say what it really was. Maybe it's really somewhere else in all truth, if that's where the governing power is really located!

EDIT: The falsifiability standard for objective reporting may also be achieved by community-based reporting. StackExchange is actually a good example of this: if someone "reports" something that just ain't right, it doesn't get promoted. But if something gets lots and lots of votes, you know that the reporting has some objective merit, at least for more people than one. Thus, "there was an earthquake last night at 9:32 PM" or "the Warriors won the first game of their series against the Rockets" could be reported and confirmed to be reliable if it is not disputed by other witnesses.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy