One Side to This Story
Proverbs are lovely, aren’t they? The wisdom of the ages is encapsulated in a few short, memorable words. They’re seductively digestible and seem to apply to so many things in life. “There are two sides to every story,” your grandmother might have told you, or your dad might regretfully have informed you that, “It takes two to tango.”
These platitudes are so tempting that we often mistake “telling it from both sides” for objectivity. But though both sides often have something to say, it would be silly to believe that both sides should be given equal weight, equal time, or equal consideration. Some “somethings” to say aren’t really anything at all.
Imagine a textbook about geography that had to give equal time to the notion that the Earth is flat. Why would you make such a text book? Well, some people believe that the Earth is flat, and after all, don’t they deserve a voice?
No, they really don’t. Giving their voice weight confuses the facts pretty seriously. It’s less objective than ignoring them altogether. Their belief has no place in a geography textbook because it simply isn’t true.
Today, journalists often confuse objectivity and giving both sides of the story. In part, I think, this is because they are in the public eye and often accused of bias (and let’s face it: no human is without bias). In part, it is a certain kind of laziness: instead of doing fact-finding (hard work, and sometimes dangerous), just take a shortcut and present both opinions as though they have merit or validity.
This becomes particularly disastrous when we consider crimes against humanity and genocide. Are there two sides to the Holocaust or the Rwanda genocide? Are there two sides to the events at the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and rural Pennsylvania on 9/11/2001? Are there really?
We see the serious distortions caused by two-side-ism all the time. Calling events in Darfur a “conflict” and the victims of genocide “rebels” gives credibility to the government in Khartoum and enables mass killing. After all, they must “fight” the “rebels” in this “conflict!” Likewise, using historical precedence and Russian allegations to claim that anti-Semitism is rampant in Ukraine muddies the waters considerably, gives Putin credibility, and confuses the average non-Russian/non-Ukrainian as to what exactly is going on.
Alleging that “There are two sides to every story” is comforting and homely. It also silences people who are being oppressed and turns victims into perpetrators. It distorts truth in a way that is truly unacceptable. The bottom line is this: There are two sides to some stories. Others just have one.