The Objectivity Myth…

Some bloggers on Slugger make no bones about their political allegiances. Others, like myself, are rather more coy about our personal political thoughts. The highly respected online journalist Jeff Jarvis says to hell with objectivity, get it all out in the open and let the reader decide. I buy the premise of his argument (it’s why I have never believed political bias in journalism is a problem – although bad, i.e. misleading, journalism is) but, for now, I’m sticking to my own rule of keeping the personal out of this particular public picture.

  • steve

    Do you really believe your personal bias doesnt shine through this particular picture?

  • Turgon

    I do not know steve. I do not know Mick’s political views despite having read this site for about 18 months and having commented on it for about 9 months. What I would point out is that he is both scrupulously fair and he has allowed people with views as diverse as Mark McGregor, Chris Donnelly and myself to blog here completely unfettered.

  • Mick Fealty


    That is one of the key reasons why I don’t believe it is necessary to make the kind of declaration Jeff is calling for. The other is that I am actively trying to find out what I think as I write my own pieces.

    One key value that underpins the site is inclusiveness. It’s a deliberately broad church, both in the blogging team, and within the comment zone. I’m not sure such a declaration would serve any useful purpose.

    That said, I’d welcome your more detailed thoughts.

  • jake

    [text removed – ball please jake – mods]- everyone knows fealty personal political bias, it is unadultered, uncritical head-up-the-ass admiration of gerry adams & co.

  • Mark McGregor

    I think most folks including journalists and bloggers are entitled to keep their political views private. I have a problem with political activists be they bloggers or journalists keeping their political allegiances hidden. That is a massive conflict of interests and a potential deception of the reader.

  • Mick Fealty

    Could you tease that out a bit more Mark. I’m not sure the first and second sentences don’t contradict one another.

  • Mark McGregor

    Sure Mick, I think once you cross over from voter to being a member of a political party hiding that political allegiance from the reader could be bordering on deception especially if you are covering topics of relevance/advantage to the party you are a member of. And I’ll leave it at that.

  • Mick Fealty


    I have to go to bed. Please feel free to be blunt, but try to keep it civil. I’m genuinely interested in what people have to say!

  • perci

    You’ve a bit of difficulty standing up to Mr.Vance though Mick when he plays the man.
    What are you scared of?

  • aquifer

    There are people around here who may be political but not democratic or non-violent. I don’t feel inclined to give them more certainty when they clearly have too much already.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Slugger only works because because of the lack of objectivty of the posters who cannot, nor want to, escape their Irish tribal ideologies. Most arguements put forward are exercises in the advancement of one’s tribe although often partly concealed beneath intellectual, religious or moral posturing. Long may it contnue.

  • RepublicanStones

    well, im not one for fence sitting, as im sure your all aware. but each to their own !

  • Pete Baker

    Jeff Jarvis over-complicates the issue.

    There is the relatively simple, which he identifies here –

    I believe that journalists should vote. They are citizens – and some get mad at me when I refer to amateurs as citizen journalists because they demand the label, too. They are human, too – they have opinions. They also have ethics that demand that they try to be – repeating the list of verities – fair, honest, complete and intellectually honest, and I believe most hold to that.

    Of which ethics, IMHO, the most important is being “intellectually honest” in any argument put forward.

    And then there is the more complicated, which he neglects to mention – Which is the backing up of any “intellectually honest” argument made with supporting evidence.

    But there is also a requirement on the audience to be critical in their reading – something he doesn’t appear to factor in.

    That is to be sceptical, not cynical.

  • joeCanuck

    I think I know which Party Mick would give first preference to.
    On the other hand, I’m only 50% sure and the error band is also 50%.
    He’s been pretty good at concealing it and he’s perfectly entitled to. Secrecy of the ballot box and all that.

  • BfB

    Journalism, neutrality, objectivity….bullshit. There’s one tribe in this world that takes their jihad very personal, and as long as the ‘journalist'(spit) don’t take sides, using sleight of hand, word smithing and deceit, get used to this.
    Words can’t describe the folly of todays ‘journalists’.

  • Outsider

    The problem with starting this post is that you have hinted at having a political preference without stating it.

    People will now try to guess what it is and align you to a particular party. By not stating your views (I understand you argument for not) you have hinted at being ashamed or possibly scared as your political views may not bode well with mainstream bloggers.

    Interesting scenario you have created.

  • BfB

    Where do you think these ‘journalists’ come down on the whole socialist, communist thing…

  • Danny O’Connor

    I believe that this site allows a broad selection of the public to freely express their views.I believe it can also be a vehicle for public servants to whistle blow without compromising themselves.I personally like to hear what other views are from people I might never get an opportunity to talk to-it can either challenge or reinforce my own view of things.

  • 0b101010

    I agree with the article on this one truism: humans are subjective and they always will be; with that knowledge, it is up to consumers to analyse everything pushed at them with a healthy double-portion of skepticism, disclaimers or no.

    It is the failing of the individual to believe the media are transcribing from the peak of Mount Sinai; it should not be considered the job of journalists to protect us from their opinions.

    As for the US race, the main reason the media are cooing over Obama now is that they love riding behind any momentum — in contrast to what the article implies, Clinton was receiving a lot more exposure early in the game as heir apparent. It’s not that outlandish to attempt to interpret shifts in opinion amongst your consumer base.

    US presidential politics often, if not always, comes down to cult of personality. In that regard Obama is light-years ahead of the remaining candidates. He looks the part, plays the role well, gets the lines right and delivers them with enough enthusiasm to make it an interesting show — whichever side of the aisle you may sit. That’s all you need for exposure.

  • abucs

    I think part of Slugger’s success has been Mick’s even handedness during the years.
    There’s been at least one suspension that i disagreed with and others being banned i thought were overdue, so considering my own bias, and the heated subject matter, especially in years gone by, Mick’s formula has been a great success IMHO.

    That formula, from my perspective, has been for Mick to not use the slugger platform for to push his own views but to court a wide opinion mainly through regulating comments and ensuring a balanced view from his team, who do declare openly their thoughts (usually).

    I think in general (outside slugger) there has been a tendency for journalism to become a cheerleader squad for the views of the columnist. In my opinion, that’s what journalism is these days and it seems often the thinking is, in order to get your point across, you shout as loud and as often as you possibly can.

    The danger comes, IMHO, when the journalists find common ground. The shouting long and loud banishes any contentious view, thereby presenting a unified voice, whether right or wrong.

    This is the weakness of the cheerleader journalism. If they are all wrong together, there is no objectivity, because it is not practised on a personal level.

  • Curtain Call

    From what I have read on this site, most people do not have objectively held views – merely significant baggage, that unconsciously weighs them down.

    As for Mick, I would surmise from his writings that he is 1/3 SDLP; 1/3 Alliance; 1/3 Green; with just a shade of marxist revolutionary thrown in for good measure.

  • lib2016

    Nonsense! Irish republicans are used to being attacked from all sides and it’s water of a duck’s back. Even Hume was denounced by the pygmies for having sold his soul to the devil. Mick’s a decent sort but still thinks that unionism has some kind of right on its side. In politics ‘right’ is defined by political convenience and that’s going to be the next lesson.

    It is becoming obvious that the Brits are cutting free and within a few short years a different part of the political forest is going to be denounced as the home of ‘terrorism’. It will not be the British Crown acting through Parliament, not will it be politically useful allies in Dublin or elsewhere.

    Flanigan and others managed to climb on the helicopters flying off the Stormont roofs. They will take no blame for the torture and abuse of prisoners but those closer to events should watch their backs, or better still should make their peace now.

  • Twinbrook

    never one to p*** on the lovefest….

    but it isn`t hard to see the political loyalities of those who post and thats healthy and welcome…

    but maybe some should be more honest and open….

    whats the point in trying to hide behind the mask of impartiality, trying to prove that you are uber democrat whilst pushing an agenda thats plain for all to see?

    And to be frank there are a number of posters that seem to work in unison and in a concerted organised fashion as if they are working from the same script or same office!

    Time to stop the hijacking off the site by political dinosaurs fighting for their survival…

  • Mick Fealty

    Good point abucs. In the endless diversity of the internet, people generally have no time for ‘group think’. Life is too short.

    Just to pick up on Outsider’s point, I go back to my reasons for setting Slugger up in the first place. It was originally intended as a research resource, or a reporter’s notebook if you prefer.

    Insofar as it has become a place where people have chosen to share their own insights or contend with others, I’ve always been more interested in what others (in the first place, journalists, academics and other opinion formers and in the second, the readership) think rather than ‘broadcasting’ what my own base opinions. Indeed, I’ve always blogged on the premise that my readers, in aggregate and often as individuals, are smarter than me.

    In that sense it has, in part, been a facilitative role. That does not, however, imply that I am short of my own biases or my own ideas. Anyone else attempting a similar project to Slugger would have gone about it in their own way and inflected their project with their own prismatic views.

    For instance, the Irish language has always been important to me for instance, in ways that it might not be to others, though I often think we have served the quality journalism in that language rather poorly over the years.

    As for my own sympathies, I think having spent 25 years without a vote in local elections has probably blurred my sense of being ‘attached’ to local party politics. That said, I write Slugger and the Brassneck blog at the Daily Telegraph very much from the point of view of a prospective elector, even though I have a vote in British elections. For that to work, I have to entertain the possibility that I might be tempted to vote any which way, whether that be Sinn Fein, DUP, Alliance, UUP, SDLP, TUV or Tory. It would be counter-productive to arbitrarily arrive at a decision out loud.

    Each time I’ve done the political compass, I come out left of centre (drifting further to the right as the Slugger years have gone by), but have consistently come outon the libertarian side of the axis. That should be of no surprise to any long term reader of Slugger O’Toole, since those pluralist values are written right through it like a stick of rock.

  • Mick Fealty

    Whoops, missed out the Greens (incorporating Eammon and the SEA) and PUP… sorry guys, you are on the roster too..

  • Ahem

    Oh stow it Fealty – it’ll all very well preening yourself on some pompous rot like ‘having pluralist values etched on my heart’, or whatever it was you, a la Mary I, wittered. Random, peevish, couldn’t condescend to explain bannings do not a functionning libertarian pluralist make. A self-righteous liberal certainly, naturally even, it goes hand in hand with the Alliance voting, but a libertarian? Never.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s what it says on the political compass.

  • “Others, like myself, are rather more coy

    Mick, even if you do wear a suit I don’t imagine you in the same stable as Ian jnr 😉

    If Slugger O’Toole is Stormont on the web then you would be Speaker. Slugger provides a platform for a very diverse range of views whereas a partisan blog generates a lot of heat but a lot less light.

    I used to co-ordinate a very diverse inter-schools 16-18 year old group in my spare time in Coleraine. The crack was fantastic but I needed to curb the excesses of some so that the reticent could develop their potentials. I think Mick has a similar role to play but I suspect some of Slugger’s posters lack the maturity of the Coleraine group 😉

    “I have never believed political bias in journalism is a problem – although bad, i.e. misleading, journalism is”

    Not so sure about this one. I’d have thought that ‘bias’ has a built in tendency to mislead. I’d rather have as much of the story as can be revealed so that I can arrive at my own conclusions. Sadly, some so called balanced reporting is little more than a stew of jaundiced press releases.

  • Garibaldy

    Academics are opinion formers Mick? Really?

  • Ahem

    It’s doubtless what it says on that stick of rock too, but it’s just ain’t so. Actions do tend to speak louder than self-completed internet forms. As a rigid authoritarian feudalist Tory anarchist myself, I’m all for, for example, owners of websites banning whoever they want whyever they want with zero explanation. But then I’m all for laughing at them too when they also proclaim themselves libertarian pluralists. Liberal, liberal, liberal – it is a swearword, and I am using it.

  • Garibaldy, academics may inform the opinions of a limited number of people but these people could easily be key decision makers.

  • Garibaldy

    I’m more inclined to think that when you look at the treatment of universities over the last 3 decades or so, decision makers couldn’t give a fiddlers for academia (Oxbridge possibly excepted) but it’s a fair point.

  • Mick Fealty


    Having ‘libertarian values’ doesn’t translate (as you imply) into being a mug. If you do think that then you’re confusing freedom with licence. They are not the same thing, as I suspect you well know.

    When it comes down to it, I am not in the least concerned with the politics of anyone commenting on this site. But, like a decent pub, you are welcome until you make nuisance of yourself. I am not about to stand on the doorstep all night and remonstrate with a drunk.

    Call it liberal if you like, but for me, it’s everything to do with keeping the space civil. And civility is the primary prerequisite for robust (as opposed to gingerly liberal) pluralist debate.

  • Ahem

    Patronising piffle. Calling yourself a ‘libertarian pluralist’ means holding yourself to the standards concomitant with pluralist libertarianism. If those standards consist of, for instance, peevish, unexplained bannings, they’re even lower than I’d previously thought. The pub analogy falls down, as the point of a pub is not to foster good inter-personal relations between patrons, but to make the publican a profit. Seriously, you be as smug as you want in your estimation of yourself, we all, no doubt, have a passably good opinion of ourselves. But as posters to the right of you and posters to the murderrous, unconstitutional left of you will as one tell you – you’re only deluding yourself when you claim you’re “keeping the personal out of this particular public picture”.

  • Without wishing to lodge my tongue anywhere on Mick’s anatomy, if there were more written in the Irish by the likes of him and less by the likes of, well certain commentors on this site and certain publishers of struggling newspapers, I think it would be much more convivial to unionists.

  • Actually, I think the pub analogy works very well. Blog owners simply don’t have the time to explain (and then argue) every action they take, especially busier blogs like Slugger I’m sure. Sometimes we like to do things that don’t involve a computer too you know.

  • overehere

    You know this is a little weird. I was in the gym this morning (on late shift so get to the gym at 8am) and suddenly I got to thinking about Slugger. I concluded that it was really time to quit my SLugger fix as though the main bloggers in the main are objective though we always know what slant they are coming from the comments are always from the same people entrenched in their own little world spouting the same thing over and over and over again. After a while you get to the stage qwhere you open a bog and before reading the comment skim to see who posted it, I then know exactly what will follow.

    Unfortunately I have not been proved wrong this morning re Pricess Anne’s visit to Croke Park ( we all know who they are) No matter what the blog may be about “hay making stopped due to rain” “Man burns toast shock report” There is always one of two who will somehow managed to blame SF, Republicians et al

    I have no problem with people holding views and being subjective but once in a while I would like to see topics discussed in an objective manner instead of the same tired old yapping

    Right that is me done. As for the visit to the Rugby match “whatever” the idiots who are protesting mas as well pi** in the wind for all the notice anyone will take of them. The less attention paid to them the better

  • Mick Fealty


    A few questions.

    Where are these: “standards concomitant with pluralist libertarianism”? The comment policy on Slugger is built on a set kindly given us by the guys over at Samizdata, a blog whose Libertarian stance is widely known.

    You say “the point of a pub is not to foster good inter-personal relations between patrons, but to make the publican a profit.” But can a publican make money if he doesn’t do the former? In which case, what exactly is the point you’re trying to make?

    As for ‘keeping the personal out this public picture’, I have already since qualified that remark earlier in this thread.

  • Ahem, I’d have thought that a publican who runs a good pub is more likely to make a profit. But where’s the profit for Mick – except the occasional appearance on BBC NI Spotlight …?

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, the advertising has finally overtaken the running costs in the last year, so it has finally stopped burning money at least.

  • Mark McGregor

    I don’t know how you guys have worked out Mick’s personal political views. I’ve know him a number of years, exchanged numerous emails and spoke n to him and I don’t have a notion. I’d bet he isn’t a Marxist though.

  • lib2016


    You have taught a lot of us how important ‘the man not ball’ rule is. More importantly you have taught us all that we can only aim for that ideal and constantly miss it. We are all prone to failure but your failure’s are better than most of our triumphs, and that’s enough apples for teacher today. 😉

    Dammit, you’ve finally shamed me, where’s the collection tin? As the ‘big man’ used to say “We’ll have a silent collection today”.

  • gaelgannaire

    Given that Mick lives in England, I had a inkling he may well be something of a Liberal Democrat.

    None of my business like, but I do have a strange instinct which really wants to know who people vote for.

  • Eddie

    All this introspection is very well.
    But I think it’s a case of your not knowing what you want to be politically…yet.
    Probably, at heart, you’re a maverick. No?

  • Then there’s politics and party politics …

  • steve

    Since you asked me to explain Mick I will.

    I peg you as an Ultra Lite Unionist so that like some one alluded to earlier would put you in the Alliance Camp

    I know you claim an Irish heritage and have alluded even to Nationalist background, you are obviously anti republican. And yes in the norther Irish question these are 2 completely different camps.

    I say you are anti-republican because you allow base man not ball attacks on pro-republican posters but any attempt by the poster to respond in kind is immediately deleted and sometimes the poster banned. It is your blog and of course your right but then you can not claim even handedness or libertarian values that you do not posess

    I think you would be a full on unionist but unionism insists on retaining the dogma and symbols that being Irish are a complete anethma to you. So that they only earn your sympathy not your suport

    As for the posts in Irish? I don’t understand a word of them but I love them all the same and am glad you both allow and support the use of Irish in your blog.

  • Mick Fealty


    The only thing I would take you up on is the third paragraph. This is no more true for the fact that it gets repeated so often. For me the black mark for some pretty base anti SF (like it or not, Republicanism is not solely defined by membership of a single party) sentiment on Slugger was the obit blog on Siobhain O’Hanlon. And in that particular case I received support for diligent action from people right across the political spectrum.

    The truth is that bad behaviour is bad behaviour from whichever quarter it comes. On the other side of the equation, in some people’s book, simply to be critical of their party’s conduct is tantamount to pursuing ‘a hidden agenda’. If Northern Ireland’s bloggers are doing their job well, they should be prepared to hold any and all party’s feet close to the fire. Even their own.

    As for being taken as a unionist, I have no hang-ups about that. For me, these are simple democratic choices, not indelible tribal marks that either enhance or disfigure the character. Which is all too often how it is treated. The greater the independent thinking amongst the non party electorate, the more likely it is we’ll get a competent government, in the long run. In that respect slavish party loyalty does no one any favours, even the parties themselves.

  • steve

    I never said SF because being a pro-republican does not necesarily require being a member of SF or any political organization

    My posting was in relation to you being far more forgiving to unionist posters than republican ones and that is where I say your bias is showing

  • Dread Cthulhu

    MM: “I don’t know how you guys have worked out Mick’s personal political views. I’ve know him a number of years, exchanged numerous emails and spoke n to him and I don’t have a notion. I’d bet he isn’t a Marxist though. ”

    Funny — Mick an’ I got to discussing politics at one point and just took him at his word. Marxism didn’t creep into the chat… Personally, I consider myself a Marxist — I personally favor Groucho. But then, I’m complicated.

    But then, as proven by some on this blog and from both sides of the divide, the tails of the curve always see themselves as reasonable regardless of what they say, so mayhap self-reporting may not be the best source. Your mileage may vary.

    Steve: “My posting was in relation to you being far more forgiving to unionist posters than republican ones and that is where I say your bias is showing ”

    To provide an alternate hypothesis, his personal prediliction may be the opposite of what you believe to have observed, with his seeming tolerance for unionist posters simply an overcompensation on his part — perhaps, in knowing his own biases, he questions his motives and checks his actions, lest he indulge his own preferences and undermine his stated goal.

  • Mick Fealty


    Like I said before: bad behaviour is bad behaviour. As for biases, may be DC is right. It’s relatively easy to say there’s systemic bias for or against someone or something, but I’ve seen very few people put the effort in to try and prove it.

    In the meantime, ask yourself why there are three different Republican bloggers on the ‘staff’ so to speak, if I was unconscionably set against Republicanism per se.

  • joeCanuck

    I consider myself to be a middle of the road outsider when it comes to N.I. politics only, and I have to say that I’ve never noticed any particular bias from Mick. The other bloggers on his team are biased by self admission. It’s telling that both sides accuse Mick of bias towards the other side.
    Keep them guessing, Mick.

  • Mark McGregor


    Did you just use the ‘some of my best friends….’ line?

  • Pancho’s Horse

    All I have to say is that sometimes I laugh and laugh – mostly at my own jokes – but as my granny used to say, some of the comments and commenters would ‘take you to the fair’. Yeah, I think you are fairly biased and I don’t worry overly about your leanings. Your respect for An Ghaeilge is welcome, sometimes in the face of disrespect.

  • steve


    I never said your bias was overwhelming just that it was there but having said that perhaps it is my own bias coupled to what DC said about over compensation that leads me to this conclusion

  • Mick,

    Thanks for providing your site. It’s the best political blog in the U.K. concerning Northern Ireland politics.

    Personally I don’t really care what your own politics are, I think you give everyone who visits the site a pretty balanced opportunity to write about their views.

    I’ve been censored myself more than a few times and, on reflection, it’s probably because at times I have posted replies in anger rather than taking the other viewpoint into serious consideration.

    However, you really should be congratulated for such an excellent blog which gives everyone, of every political persuasion, a chance to state their view.

    Well done Mick!