Washington Post Columnist Calls For The End Of Impartiality And Balance In Journalism

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Authored by Jonathan Turley,

In an age of rage, Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Jennifer Rubin has long been a standout in her attacks on Republicans and conservatives: “We have to collectively, in essence, burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them because if there are survivors, if there are people who weather this storm, they will do it again.” However, her recent column shows that she has made a clean break not only from Republicans but from reason. The writer (long cited by the Post as their “Republican columnist” for balance) has called for the media to abandon balance and impartiality. Rubin is demanding that the media just become overt advocates in refusing to report both sides in the myriad of political issues in this election.

In her column, Rubin rejects the “need for false balance” because the coverage can suggest that Republicans are “rational.”

“The Kabuki dance in which Trump, his defenders and his supporters are treated as rational (clever even!) is what comes from a media establishment that refuses to discard its need for false balance that it has developed over the course of decades.”

That balance was once called “journalism” but Rubin now calls it facilitating “disinformation.” Balanced reporting is now dangerous and makes the media “a megaphone for disinformation, upholding the pretense that there are two political parties with equally valid takes on reality.”

What is striking is how Rubin objects to the current coverage when many already object to a heavy bias in such reporting. Yet, Rubin believes the media must go further.

Rubin’s attack on disinformation is ironic given her own past controversies in misrepresenting news, cases, and events. For full disclosure, I clashed with Rubin over her personally attacking me for a theory that I did not agree with in a column that I did not write. I also challenged her on an equally bizarre column where she wrote about my impeachment testimony and later column misrepresenting the holding in an appellate case involving Trump. That false account was never corrected by the Washington Post. It appears that misrepresenting the holding of a major case is not being a “a megaphone for disinformation.”

Rubin, however, is not alone in this call to abandon the foundational principle of impartiality in journalism.

We have been discussing the rise of advocacy journalism and the rejection of objectivity in journalism schools. Writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. This movement includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy.

Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll decried how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted Glasser, insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that the journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.”  Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”

Lauren Wolfe, the fired freelance editor for the New York Times, has not only gone public to defend her pro-Biden tweet but published a piece titled “I’m a Biased Journalist and I’m Okay With That.” 

Former New York Times writer (and now Howard University Journalism Professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones is a leading voice for advocacy journalism.

Indeed, Hannah-Jones has declared “all journalism is activism.” Her 1619 Project has been challenged as deeply flawed and she has a long record as a journalist of intolerance, controversial positions on rioting, and fostering conspiracy theories. Hannah-Jones would later help lead the effort at the Times to get rid of an editor and apologize for publishing a column from Sen. Tom Cotten as inaccurate and inflammatory.

These figures are killing journalism. Polls show trust in the media at an all-time low with less than 20 percent of citizens trusting television or print media. Yet, reporters and academics continue to destroy the core principles that sustain journalism and ultimately the role of a free press in our society. The result is to turn newspapers like the Post into echo chambers for the values of its reporters and a core of liberal readers.

For the rest of the country (including roughly half that voted for Trump), figures like Rubin are saying that they should go elsewhere.  They are. Media outlets like CNN have faced sharp declines in viewership and are trying to break away from this advocacy model to restore ratings. (The move has been denounced by some in the media as potentially helping Republicans by fairly reporting their side of these controversies).  The movement toward advocacy journalism is likely to build in the coming years to remake the media in the image of figures like Hannah-Jones and Rubin.

Viewers clearly tune in to Fox News and MSNBC for their strong editorial opinion and commentators. However, there has long been a line between reporters and commentators in how stories are presented. If journalists want to be advocates, they can shift to the side of commentary. That is clearly not sufficient for some like Rubin who do not want readers to be able to receive both sides of these controversies. Readers are to be shaped in their opinions like impressionable children. That was the message from the conference on disinformation led by media and Democratic figures like the recently fired CNN media host Brian Stelter.

Even as a columnist, I prefer the approach of Theodore White that “when a reporter sits down at the typewriter, he’s nobody’s friend.”



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