Advocating against objectivity is journalism’s new cause. Indeed, objectivity in journalism is no longer an industry standard — it’s not even a goal for which to strive. In the new media landscape, objectivity is a “tool of oppression” and a barrier to contextual relativism for which journalists-as-moralists hold the keys.
One would think giving up the reputation of a whole industry is a steep price to score political points. But when the loudest voices and brightest stars look in the mirror and think themselves the last, best hope of democracy, it’s easy to see why.
This discounting of journalistic objectivity is another faction of woke intersectionality. This past July, University of British Columbia Journalism professor Candis Callison was interviewed by CBC Radio about her book, “Reckoning: Journalism’s Limits and Possibilities.” Her words crystalize what the new rules have established in terms of both the validity and usefulness of objectivity in reporting and modern journalism. For Callison, journalists need to forego objectivity and, instead:
…think in terms of your place in society, what your relative privilege is, what social orders have benefited you and were they have not benefited you, I think this is where you’re thinking about a news story. [It] shouldn’t just be about a news story as an event, but how it’s an intersection of systems and structures.
You see, objectivity in journalism is illusory, according to Callison. Apparently, all it does is reaffirm the outlook of a white male-dominated world. This is an explicit shift from accuracy to advocacy.
In a world of equality and participation trophies, the last bastion of academic competition comes down to who can adopt the most radical progressive teachings. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this questioning of objective journalism isn’t constrained to the uber-woke environment of Canadian academia.
In an August 20, 2020 interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford Communications Professor Emeritus Ted Glasser stated, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.” This is an influential voice openly declaring that objectivity is directly at odds with the purpose and practice of a profession charged with delivering facts to the public.
In her September 11, 2020 essay for Poynter, Gina Baleria, assistant professor of Media and Journalism at Sonoma State University, expanded on the idea to rethink objectivity, and encouraged journalism professors and teachers to emphasize context:
The ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ that have generally been deemed objective are actually centered on a mainstream, white, male, able-bodied, cis-gendered perspective – not actually objective or neutral at all.
The scare quotes around “facts” and “truth” reveal subjectivity and viewpoint bias are now the journalistic high-water mark. They want to steer public opinion and shape collective cultural and political viewpoints. The job Walter Cronkite started by self-righteously injecting his own personal commentary into the tragic end of the Vietnam War has been picked up in force by today’s media gatekeepers of “facts” and “truth.”
Academic indoctrination rarely stays contained to the halls of universities and college campuses. Journalism students make their way to newspaper desks and newsroom cubicles with visions of being heroes in their own version of “All the President’s Men.” Instead of conforming to the norms of institutions like The American Press Institute, they find it easier to change the environment of newsrooms to suit their particular brand of illiberal intellectual shallowness, no matter what the genuine facts may say.
The most telling indicator of where journalism is headed transpired in the aftermath of the New York Times publishing Sen. Tom Cotton’s June editorial “Send in the Troops.” After a tidal wave of single-minded criticism by news outlets and journalists both inside and outside The New York Times, the Times’s editorial page editor James Bennet resigned. Facts matter only when they serve a certain viewpoint; opinions are valid only when they conform to a leftist ideology; everything else is problematic.
What impact does this turn away from objectivity have? It will further Americans’ mistrust in corporate media’s work. In its August 2020 reportm “American Views 2020: Trust, Media, and Democracy,” the Knight Foundation found the attitude of the American public towards the news media was at an all-time low, and that the news media’s role in maintaining a free and open society could now be deemed a failure.
Further, most Americans now believe the news media actively supports the nation’s political divide. Journalists are making stories about themselves, their agenda, and ensuring they are the final arbiters and moral authority over the truth.
For someone like MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt, that means proclaiming, “I’m just struck by the reality that we’ll now have a president who, as a rule, doesn’t lie, even when it might be easier.” Pulitzer Prize-winning CBS News journalist Wesley Lowery makes it clear:
American view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment. We need to fundamentally reset the norms of our field. The old way must go. We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.
Moral advocacy now sacrifices objectivity. Our media class views itself as leaders of a quest to bring Truth and Justice to the unwashed masses, who are unaware of their racism, sexism, and transphobia. The next question is how this lack of objectivity — even the thin veneer of it — will play out in the coming Biden administration.
The Trump-era media “attack dogs” will neuter themselves into lap dogs — at least, until Joe Biden has outlasted his usefulness. With an ambitious, ideologically progressive coven waiting in the wings, thirsty for power regardless of cost, that moment may come sooner rather than later.
As quickly as the agenda-driven media circled their wagons around Biden, they will turn on him without hesitation or regret or respect for the truth. The ideological divide in America will widen and a media-driven silo effect will push people to opposite trenches, lobbing rhetorical grenades at each other like some World War I battlefield.
But this does nothing to hold the powerful accountable. It only leaves truth as collateral damage, dying out in the hellscape of No Man’s Land.