The (sublime) problem of truth is not just for journalists, of course. Every scholar, every judge, every scientist, struggles with it. The best answer we have is something like this: Ask a good question. Then hold yourself stringently to rules of evidence. To be sure, how you get to good questions is not a predictable matter: ask, say, Thomas Kuhn. And how you hold yourself to rules of evidence is not a simple matter: ask, say, Karl Popper. But if your question is stupid or you violate the rules of evidence, then you should not be trusted.
WHAT, IN THIS context, is Hoyt's specific claim? He writes:
In other words--or so we are to surmise--if Bronner's son is in the Israeli Army, most will assume his arguments are biased toward the Israeli Army, and the Times's integrity will suffer. After all, who trusts journalists to begin with? But if he took his job seriously, the Public Editor would not avoid the question of whether most should think this. He would educate, well, the public. I mean to the classical liberal assumptions about how we reasonably get at the truth, assumptions underlying the Constitution, and the freedom of newspapers, for that matter. Hell, the public might even trust journalists more if actually stood for something this important, and held themselves to this standard. (Bill Keller's answer to Hoyt comes close.)
Instead, Hoyt is valorizing crude behaviorist ideas masquerading as liberal ones, that we are, really, nothing but bundles of "socialized preferences." What we think is the product of our "demographic." Our claims of fact (about history, society, etc.) are, by extension, an expression of our material "interests," or if we are deeply socialized, "values." The only truth, as Chuck Todd would say, is "the perception out there." The only game is "shaping the narrative." Perceptions, presumably, can be polled. How scientific of him.
I have written about this problem with the press before. It makes you weep with missing William Shirer and Edward R. Murrow and Alexander Kendrick and the generation of reporters who covered the war of liberal societies over European tyrannies and could smell totalitarian ideas a mile away. Bronner can. Anyway, just because this behaviorism is false doesn't mean it can't win. Moving Bronner would be a small victory. Sarah Palin's demographic--abetted not by a sympathetic press, but a hopelessly cynical one--is waiting in the wings.