Given a choice between the occasional teen obsessing over getting circumcised and a majority of parents obsessing over doing the circumcising for said teens before they are of an age to raise a ruckus, the former seems far preferable. This was my thought on seeing the headline, Should teens make circumcision decision?
Of course, the headline was not what the CNN article was about at all. Rather the article does a job on The Debate. The question headline is a sort of bottomlining of the two sides. No matter on which side of the issue you fall, the question will affirm your beliefs. For intactivists, it suggests giving the power of choice to those for whom none has existed. For the circumcisionists lobby, it will sound like a scary proposition because all decisions teens make for themselves are scary and to be avoided — or at least made for them by adults. Such questions in headlines signal a reassuring refutation or a groupthink move towards reexamination of old beliefs. It’s essentially hopefully neutral.
In our article under consideration, all the obligatory archetypes are here: The young man who gets circumcised with no regrets, having wished for it since he was old enough to realize most of his peers were circumcised as babies. The slightly neurotic sounding guy who is resentful his parents circumcised him as a baby, and who of course is restoring his foreskin, while citing with near certitude (written so as to destroy his credibility) his belief that he’s suffered reduced sensation. The medical researcher who wasn’t going to cut his kid … until he did his very own scientific research (at that bastian of psycho-sexual experimentation, Johns Hopkins University, no less), and then did. The niche circumcision doctor, who makes a living making ugly circumcisions into pretty ones. The Canadian doctor who is against it on ethical grounds. They are all in there!
This on-the-one-hand-and-then-on-the-other-hand journalism epitomizes in a socio-medical way Jay Rosen‘s “View from Nowhere” except that the bias is clearly in clearly still tips in favor of making the reasonable side (our intactivists side) seem eccentric in one way or another. Rosen has spoken eloquently about this view, summarizing it thusly.
In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance.
What authority there is in the position of viewlessness is unearned– like the snooty guy who, when challenged, says, “Madam, I have a PhD.” In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying what you heard. “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” Illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than almost anyone. Doing the work! Having a track record, a reputation for reliability is part of it, too. But that comes from doing the work.
Circumcison journalism is like political journalism because it is political journalism. The raging controversy makes it so. So, like the political journalism Rosen is talking about, circumcision journalism, American style, suffers from the View from Nowhere.