Anti-objectivity in the News Media: Terrible Journalism, Sound Business

There is a company of these crazy-headed coxcombs that, when they take a fancy by the end, are wiser in their own eyes than even men that can render a reason.

-John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to That Which is to Come

This post is the third in a series that began with the rank dishonesty of the Washington Post on the subject of male victims of domestic violence, the overall decline in the public’s trust in the news media and the concomitant growth in the MSM’s embrace of woke narratives.  The series continued with the amazing spike in Democrats’ trust in the media that strongly suggests a preference on their part for woke narrative over objective facts.

That brings us to a piece by former Executive Editor of the Washington Post, Leonard Downie, about the need for the news media to abandon “objectivity” in favor of what he amusingly calls “accuracy, fairness, nonpartisanship, accountability and the pursuit of truth.”

To get Downie’s complete take on the value of anti-objectivity, don’t just read his article, go to the report written by him and Andrew Heyward of, yes, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, that is the sole basis for his opinions.  To read the report is to steep yourself thoroughly in woke ideology.  Think of reading it as a sort of anthropological study of a strange society whose ways are not our ways, but important to understand.

It’s all there – the panoply of woke intellectual dishonesty: strawman arguments, absurd ones, the unquestioning worship of “diversity,” “diversity” that’s not diverse, unctuous sincerity, confirmation bias, the woke echo chamber, the replacement of facts with narratives, muddled concepts, etc.

How did Downie and Heyward’s report, entitled “Beyond Objectivity,” come into being?  The pair conducted “more than 75 interviews with a variety of news leaders, journalists and other experts,” that’s how.  Care to guess how many of those august personages venture to disagree with the abandonment of “objectivity” as a goal?  Not one.  That’s not because there are no “news leaders, journalists and other experts” who would, but only because Downie and Heyward chose to bypass them.  Hey, give them credit for consistency.  Their report is a fine example of their principles in action – a non-objective report plumping for non-objectivity.

The strawman is Downie’s definition of “objectivity” as,

expressing or using facts without distortion by personal beliefs, bias, feelings or prejudice.

It’s a fair definition, but the problem, big as that elephant in the middle of the room, is that everyone understands that no one is completely objective.  We all bring to every issue our own biases, prejudices and points of view, and Downie rightly points out that journalism has generally failed to meet the standard of perfect objectivity.  Of course it has.

But what Downie fails to mention is that objectivity, as he defines it, has always (until recently) been, necessarily, just aspirational.  Good journalists and their editors strive to present as fair a picture of an event or issue as they can.  That involves their knowing their own biases and purposely attempting to counterbalance them with perhaps contrary facts/concepts/opinions.  Or, they balance one side of an issue with others, as long as there’s reasonable validity to all.  That, not an entire lack of “distortion by personal beliefs…,” was, and sometimes still is, journalistic objectivity.

Having toppled his strawman, Downie and the report move on to the absurd.

The woke attack on objectivity holds that, because objectivity (as defined) hasn’t been achieved, it is therefore a worthless goal.  Because we fail to reach 100% objectivity, then 0% is not only an acceptable substitute, but a necessary one.  For a hackneyed analogy, if the quarterback completes “only” 80% of his passes, we must not only bench him, but abandon the passing game altogether.  To Downie, et al, this makes perfect sense, but they could never make it in the NFL, only in the world of journalism.

Moving from bad to worse, what we see in the anti-objective media are the results of same: narratives win the day and facts unconducive to those narratives are nowhere to be found.  As we saw in my first piece, that’s precisely what the Washington Post has been doing for decades regarding male victims and female perpetrators of domestic violence.  They don’t fit the woke narrative of male corruption and female virtue, so relevant facts remain hidden.

Reporting on issues of race and racism, sex and sexism, crime, police and police reform, climate, transsexualism, guns, immigration, homelessness, etc., is the same.  There are woke narratives on all those issues and non-conforming facts and ideas are not welcome and will neither be seen nor heard.

“Diversity” is, unsurprisingly, one of the leitmotifs of the report.  Every person interviewed rhapsodizes about it, but the slightest scrutiny reveals a complete lack of interest in the real thing.  In all the calls for more POC, women, LGBTQ-identifying people, the disabled, etc. to be hired by the press, diversity of thought or point of view are left by the wayside.  That just 7.1% of reporters call themselves Republicans, and that many of them have silenced themselves for fear of losing their jobs, receive no mention in Downie and Heyward’s 54-page report.  “Diversity,” it appears, is fine as long as everyone agrees with the narrative and each other.  How many journalists and editors need to be fired for astonishingly minor blasphemies of woke scripture before Downie and the like take notice?

Throughout, the report’s tone is one of unctuous sincerity.  Think Uriah Heep.  Downie, Heyward and the people they interviewed betray not the least doubt about their own virtue and rectitude; they simply know they’re doing the Lord’s work.

And it is precisely that blind certainty that prevents them from seeing the actual results of anti-objectivity, what’s actually written and said and, perhaps more tellingly, what’s not.  So, there’s not a word about the obvious cases pointed out by Andrew Sullivan that show not just the lies and distortions of the truth by the woke press, but that they all point in one direction – anti-Trump, anti-Republican, anti-conservative, too often anti-fact and invariably pro-woke.  The very title of Jeff Gerth’s recent 24,000-word essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The Press versus the President” alone says a lot.

Where, in the Brave New World of the anti-objective press are the stories about black business owners protesting mostly black rioting, or everyday black citizens who want greater police presence in their neighborhoods due to violent crime, or demanding greater school choice for their kids?  Where are the stories about the UN climate model that found that, if the entire Western world had entirely stopped using fossil fuels in 2020, then by 2100, the difference in global warming would be negligible?  When and where did you read that the murder rate in Baltimore was, in 2020, over 56 per 100,000 population whereas in the rest of Maryland, it was a little over four per 100k?  Same laws, same availability of guns, but vastly different homicide rates and not a word in the woke media to counterbalance the usual anti-gun narrative.

The report makes much of the obligation of journalists to report on the “lived experiences” of everyday folks, which sounds like a good idea.  But what are the chances that a reporter will chat up a white man mugged by a black man and write an article that includes the objective fact that, according to the FBI and multiple non-governmental researchers, over 80% of interracial violent crime is perpetrated by blacks?

The point being that what these people call “diversity” actually just means people who agree with the woke narrative, and the events on which they choose to report are just those that promote that narrative.  If all that means simply making things up and intentionally distorting facts, then so be it.

I could go on and on, but more importantly must point out that Downie and Heyward’s entire exercise is a red herring.  It’s a vain attempt to put an intellectual gloss on what is in fact nothing more than a business decision.  Woke-ism is lousy journalism, but it’s good business.

As the Gallup data I’ve mentioned before show, once the leftist media “went all in” on anti-objectivity, belief in the media among Democrats, i.e., those who consume leftist media, soared to levels not seen in 50 years.  Online subscriptions to, for example, the New York Times, leapt right along with that trust.

And now more than ever, print journalism needs subscriptions.  In 2006, advertising made up two-thirds of the NYT’s revenues; in 2021, it was less than 25%.  Over those years, as ad revenues plummeted (from $3.27 billion in 2006 to $1.56 B in 2016), what slowly began to make up the difference was revenue from subscriptions.  That replacement of advertising with subscriptions has long been a fact of life throughout the print media industry, greatly enhancing the power of subscribers, so reliance on them is an ever-increasing necessity.

In short, whatever the merits (and they are few) or demerits (and they are many) of anti-objectivity journalism, the business side of the issue is simply not open for debate.  Papers need subscribers, anti-objectivity sells subscriptions, ergo, those papers embrace anti-objectivity.

And that, my friends, looks very much like an objective fact.

This originally appeared at The Word of Damocles.

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