Conor Fredersdorf, writing at the Atlantic, says something I’ve been saying since long before I started this blog; it’s time to ditch the 20th century American notion of “objective” journalism.
He does it in defense of a part-time NPR staffer who was fired for appearing, with a sign, at an “Occupy” rally. To old-school journalists, that’s a big no-no, at least ostensibly; in theory, the ideal was that journalists be above it all – to “report from nowhere”.
Fredersdorf’s idea is familiar to anyone who follows European-style journalism – where reporters, and outlets’, opinions aren’t necessarily no-go territory, but where reporting is fair and accurate and, opinions aside, balanced:
That ought to be the pitch that newspapers and public radio stations make to their audience. It might go something like this: “Yes, the field of journalism attracts more liberals than conservatives, more Occupy Wall Street participants than Tea Party ralliers, more urban dwellers than rural Americans, more college graduates than people without degrees, more Democrats than Republicans, more English majors than math majors, more secular people than religious people — and although we value diversity of thought, experience and world view on our staff, the core of our value proposition is that we’re accurate in our reporting, fair-minded in setting forth arguments and perspectives even when we don’t agree with them, transparent about who we are, attune to our biases and constantly trying to account for them, and insistent that we be judged by our output, not our political or religious or ideological identity, or what we do on weekends. Judge us by our work, and if you challenge it in good faith we’ll engage you.”
Well, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it?
I mean, in theory I’m right there with him – at least for purposes the future of American journnalism.
The problem is, for purposes of describing how jiournalism theoretically works today, every part of the proposition is false. The media – especially in the Twin Cities – does not value diversity in the newsroom. There is no honesty about bias – when Nick Coleman can do a program on an Air America affiliate but yet still get praised as an “old-school gumshoe reporter”, where the Minnesota Poll and the Humphrey Institute polls can traffic in decades of inaccuracy whose pro-DFL bias is only thinly plausibly deniable, what’s the point?
And if Fredersdorf wants the media to be judged by its output – well, there’s a problem there, too. We’re talking about a media that worked overtime to examine (at best) and demonize the Tea Party, while bearing the “Occupy” movement along with gauzy soft focus. They go over conservatives’ backgrounds with fine-toothed combs (except as re checking facts and providing sources), but let Barack Obama skate to the White House without a peep about his inexperience and background. And they fabricated one very big story about George W. Bush.
And since Fredersdoff brought it up – why, yes – I’d love to bring my “good faith” challenges to the regional media over the way they tortured the facts for a full week in the Evanovich shooting story to support a “gotta be careful about those gun owners!” narrative. Or on how Rochelle Olson reported, back in 2006, on Alan Fine’s “domestic abuse” arrest, taking care to excise every fact from her “output” that would have diverted from the narrative that he, Keth Ellison’s challenger, had a blotted record.
Who in the Twin Cities media would like to start “engaging” with “good faith challenges”? Or is this something you’ll all just fob off on your ombudspeople for a careful whitewashing?
It may seem like a good idea to avoid the “perception of bias” by insisting that media employees hide who they are from the audience. Perhaps it was once even tenable. It no longer is. To build your credibility on viewlessness is to concede, every time an employee of yours is shown to be a sentient, opinionated person, that your credibility has taken a hit. To tout and enforce your viewlessness is to hold your own reputation hostage to reality; it makes your credibility, the most valuable thing you have, vulnerable to every staffer’s Tweet, or incriminating Facebook photograph, or inane James O’Keefe hidden video sting operation. She claims to be neutral, but look, while out at a dinner with friends we caught her on camera saying that she thinks Obama is a better president than was Bush. See! She was hiding her liberal views from us all along!
Who is even fooled at this point?
Nobody who actually reads the Twin Cities media, to name one.
The American public understands who makes up the press corps, or more likely, has an exaggerated idea of how liberal it is precisely because the lack of transparency and pose of viewlessness seems conspiratorial.
That, and the fact that the breaches in “viewlessness” always, inevitably,l every single time, break to the left.
Is any reader of this article shocked or even mildly surprised that a Brooklyn-based freelance Web journalist working part time at a New York City public radio station held up a cardboard sign during an Occupy Wall Street protest? If that totally banal and predictable event is the thing that gets you upset as a journalistic manager, if you think that it is the threat to your program’s credibility, you misunderstand the present media landscape.
And there Fredersdorff has a point. The problem is a lot bigger than some NPR web prole carrying a sign at an “Occupy” rally.
But Fredersdorff has what I think is a deeply naive faith that the current mainstream media has the integrity to “engage” with anyone but itself.