Genuine Objectivity Could Save Some News Industry Players

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Posted: Aug 05, 2020 10:15 AM
Genuine Objectivity Could Save Some News Industry Players

Source: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Conditions in the news industry are grim. Even before the COVID crisis, the industry was in deep trouble. The pandemic and shutdown have made things worse.  And now some outlets’ responses to the demands of the sometimes-so-intensely-peaceful-they-riot “protestors” promises to further hobble the industry.

No outlets appear to be following one strategy that could reverse this trend, at least for a few early-acting industry players: embrace and provide real, demonstrable objectivity in constant and careful reporting.

There hasn’t been much truly objective news in the U.S. for a very long time. CNN once claimed – with more credibility than its laughable pretenses at the beginning of the current administration – to be objective, but a full quarter-century ago that claim had become so threadbare, and the leftwing bias at the channel so acute (and, for that matter, in a physics-bending combination, obtuse), that Fox News Channel was very successfully launched as an alternative. While Fox News admits that its famous claim to be “fair and balanced” arises largely from providing a partisan counterweight to the rest of the media, the network does provide high-profile reporting positions to moderates such as Brett Baier and even liberals like Chris Wallace and (until his recent departure) Shepard Smith. The left lean of the other networks has always been pretty clear, too – and it, too, has grown worse in recent decades.

Right now, virtually all outlets are responding to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa “protests” by moving yet further left. One example: most are changing their style-book guidelines about whether to capitalize racial “color” designations. Some, including the Washington Post, have decided to capitalize both black and white, thus embracing the far left’s effort, contra six decades of strenuous national effort, to instantiate race and racial difference as a fundamental, governing fact in American life.  

Others, like AP, have gone full-on woke, deciding to capitalize black while keeping white lowercase. To cover for this straightforward racism, they have provided tortured explanations that appear to be aimed at – and that could satisfy only – the hardest-left ideologues. They argue that while all blacks constitute a unified whole with a consistent background, history and experience set, whites do not share a common culture or other unifying characteristics. Except, that is, the one that sets whites apart as uniquely evil:  all whites, sometimes excepting Hispanics for not-very-well-explained reasons, share the common trait of implacable and irremediable racism, a great evil for which they must always atone.

None of this makes even slight sense. Blacks by and large came from a wide array of cultures on one continent and then spread across the globe. Whites, by and large, did the same. What arises from these parallel histories is a plethora of unique, individualized human experience. We well knew this and worked toward recognizing it fully when we sought a colorblind society; the left now tries to eviscerate it in favor of racism by blacks against whites that will, naturally, be enacted under the name of “antiracism.”  

And some organizations, lead by the New York Times, are moving so far to the left as to lose their historical relevance completely. Just this week the New York Times employee union demanded that within five years the Times’ workforce reflect the demographics of New York City’s population: a quarter black and half “of color.” This would almost surely mean a complete moratorium on hiring whites and perhaps firing people solely because of their race – which is both unconstitutional and unbelievably racist. Also contained within the demand are two stark implications: that the Gray Lady would abandon even the pretense of being a national newspaper, instead shrinking back to a paper of, for, and resembling the contours of its home city; and being the “newspaper of record,” instead dedicating itself explicitly to servicing the shibboleths of the left’s craziest corners.

This leaves a huge opportunity for some news outlets to dedicate themselves to providing genuinely objective news and opinion from all angles. This would require two things. The first would be a constant commitment to viewpoint diversity in hiring; a news division (far less an opinion page) cannot be objective unless its employees, from editors to reporters to columnists, cover the waterfront. Objectivity requires not only fairness and thoughtfulness in reporting, but openness and wide-sightedness in picking stories, and beats, as well. A room full of liberals (or conservatives) trying to be objective will do far better than the hack houses of today, but will still completely miss entire aspects to stories, or stories themselves, or areas of coverage that some intellectually disparate colleagues in the newsroom would spot immediately. (This is often characterized as the “Conservatives in the Mist” problem.) 

The second would be reporting rules, and a style book, constructed without partisan bias and applied objectively. This would include, for instance, rules for when a politician is identified by political party, and when not (to avoid the common situation of bad leftwing politicians’ behavior being reported without their party identification, while rightwingers are always identified by party). It would include a neutral rule for when verbs like “pounce” are used (as in “Republicans Pounce on Claims of Democratic Malfeasance”).  And it would contain set rules for when politicians are asked questions about damning stances or statements by their supporters, a practice that is now deployed to trip up and embarrass conservatives, while leftist politicians get a pass. (Think Jeremiah Wright.)

Americans are – or at least say they are – desperate for a reliably objective and thorough news source. I know I certainly am. While much of the old (and even some of the relatively new) news industry shutters, and others bend themselves out of the news business entirely in all but empty name, there’s a wide open lane for a few bold outlets to run in.

Scott Shepard is a fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and Deputy Director of its Free Enterprise Project.