“I’m a biased journalist, and I’m good with that,” headlined an article by former New York Times editor Lauren Wolfe on her Substack earlier this month. Wolfe was fired from the Times after fawning “I have chills” on Twitter about President Biden’s inauguration in January.
In her recent article, Wolfe decries the expectation of farcical “objectivity” in newsrooms like The New York Times, suggesting journalists can’t turn off the perspective and bias they bring to each story.
“When The New York Times hired me, I asked them about the decade of political tweets I had on my timeline, including critical ones about Trump and other prominent Republicans,” Wolfe recollected. “The man who hired me told me that it was no problem, as long as I stopped right then.”
Recalling her reporting on sexual violence, she insisted there are times a journalist should judge opposing perspectives rather than presenting them equally. “Am I supposed to not say rape is bad?” she asked. “As journalists, we can all use what appears to be a ‘neutral voice,’ but that doesn’t mean our implicit bias isn’t guiding our choice of sources, or even what stories we decide to cover.”
“Transparency trumps pretending we’re not humans with opinions and emotions like everyone else,” Wolfe added. “Pretending that we’re all able to be constantly and utterly objective just feels absurd to me. Instead, I’ve always believed it is better to be open about my views on the issues I cover.”
To a great extent, she’s right. From pavement-pounding reporters to TV pundits, journalists should insist on factual accuracy, honesty, and fairness. They should not — simply because they cannot — be robotic audio/visual cables broadcasting The Facts without first processing and presenting the news through their own paradigms. They can’t do that, as Wolfe says, because they are human.
The danger with this facade of perfect objectivity is that journalists pretend — and insist you believe — it exists. It has led legacy media outlets like Wolfe’s former employer to tout their coverage as authoritatively factual while inserting plenty of bias, from slant to full-on lies.
Wolfe is right that the existence of some unavoidable bias (read: being a human being with perspective) isn’t the problem. The problem is when a monopolistic hegemon of outlets — which happen to be allied with the political party in power — gaslights audiences with the insistence that these slants and lies are pure facts, and anyone who questions them must be promoting “disinformation.”
“Too many people seem to think that being a journalist means that everything you write is purposely biased, in service of a secret agenda, even when you ‘pretend’ to be neutral,” Wolfe laments. What she doesn’t say is, people think that about the corporate media because that’s exactly what they do.
Instead of hiding bias under the pretense of neutrality, Wolfe’s solution is to treat journalism as a crusade to improve the world. “I often do write with an agenda — with an eye toward creating change,” she says.
This attitude led white-knighting journalists to treat every aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency — culminating with the trespassing and mayhem at the U.S. Capitol in January — as the greatest threat to democracy ever, which could only be stopped by the brave commentary of self-congratulating commentators on Twitter.
As problematic as this approach is, it would at least be something if more reporters, like Wolfe, admitted it. Instead, many journalists excuse their opinion-masquerading-as-news because, in their self-assuring minds, the very existence of democracy is threatened and only the press can save it. They are Clark Kent incognito in the newsroom and America needs them.
Wolfe recognizes a problem she doesn’t want to admit: the crushing bias of outlets like The New York Times that pat themselves on the back for being “so objective” has undermined the credibility of the news desk as well as the editorial page. She tries to defend a distinction, blaming readers for not understanding the difference between a reporter and a pundit.
But it’s not readers who are blurring the lines. Many reporters at outlets like the Times, the Washington Post, or CNN are indistinguishable from pundits, parroting as fact lies about everything from COVID-19 and vaccine efforts to a sham impeachment, Lafayette Park, and just about anything else involving President Trump.
These systematic lies go much further than the unavoidable perspectives each writer (or reader) brings to the table. It’s possible to prioritize truth, accuracy, and honesty while still having a point of view. It’s not possible to prioritize such principles when you value pushing your political agenda more.
If problem A is legacy media’s pretense of objectivity while forcing their agendas into “news,” problem B is their intolerance of other perspectives. If these journalists could admit their work was influenced by their own opinions, perhaps they could stand opposing viewpoints instead of trying to get them kicked off Twitter and off the airwaves.
But instead of recognizing that everyone, left and right, brings perspective and analysis to their presentation of news, the alliance between corporate media and big tech tries to shut down their ideological opponents for challenging the narrative. Wolfe even criticizes the media for giving alternate viewpoints too often, suggesting a desire to show objectivity has “led to dangerous imbalance.”
In this paradigm, leftist journalists are saving America, and therefore those on the right are destroying it and must be silenced. There’s no public square — there’s just a bully with a microphone and a “suspend account” button.
So, yes, Lauren Wolfe, journalists are human beings with paradigms and points of view. That understanding should give legacy outlets pause before touting their own coverage as pure fact and silencing other perspectives as “misinformation,” but it doesn’t. It should also make them humbly hesitate before pushing false narratives on their readers, but it doesn’t.
Wolfe shows us a window into the crusading corporate journalist’s mindset: it’s fine to be biased if you’re working to implement your agenda. Unlike Wolfe, most of the corporate media still insist this bias doesn’t exist. If accuracy and honesty used to be the core values of the journalistic industry, they’ve been outsourced by places like The New York Times in favor of appearing objective while pushing politically motivated narratives.
For every corporate journalist like Wolfe who admits her bias, there are dozens who want you to believe it doesn’t exist. Like Wolfe, they see their jobs as a means to “creating change,” and will stop at nothing to do it. And that should scare you.