Journalistic objectivity still matters, believe it or not…
This is almost too easy but I can’t resist. I was actually going to write a column about President Biden’s dog, Major, biting people; also among the lowest of the hanging fruits. “President’s dog a Major pain.” It writes itself.
But then, out of nowhere, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt served up some choice morsels and made an excellent case for entry into the Stupid Things Journalists Said Hall of Fame.
If you’re playing catch-up, Holt, who was receiving a lifetime achievement award for journalism at the Murrow Symposium on Wednesday, said journalists don’t need to provide both sides of an issue, that fairness is “overrated” and “the idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in.”
He also said the media should not be in the business of “providing an open platform for misinformation.” This, of course, is correct. Misinformation is more of a Facebook and Twitter thing.
“That the sun sets in the west is a fact. Any contrary view does not deserve our time or attention,” Holt said.
Again, Holt is correct but unless I’m missing something, no one is debating that the sun sets in the west. Even with my lousy sense of direction, I’m willing to stipulate.
There is, however, fierce debate over a number of issues that weren’t settled at the dawn of creation — illegal immigration, abortion, economic policy to name a few.
In the interest of context, Holt also said, “Decisions to not give unsupported arguments equal time are not a dereliction of journalistic responsibility or some kind of agenda, in fact, it’s just the opposite.”
What constitutes an “unsupported argument?” There are, for example, plenty of bona fide scientists who question the causes of and solutions to climate change. But, I suppose that as long the science is “settled,” Holt is right. The other side doesn’t deserve a hearing. Contrary arguments are unsupported by the kind of evidence we, in the media, deem relevant. In other words, your evidence runs contrary to our conclusions.
That Holt’s comments were lauded by his media colleagues on the left and liberal academics is not a surprise. This stuff is being taught in journalism schools throughout the country. Nor should it be a major revelation that Holt’s twist on truth has made its way into straight news reporting.
In a recent story about girls sports, CNN news reporter Devan Cole wrote, “It’s not possible to know a person’s gender identity at birth, and there are no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth.” Remember, this is a news story, not an opinion column.
I didn’t know the gender of either of my children before they were born. When they were born, I distinctly remember, in each case, the doctor saying, “It’s a girl!” The reason he said, “It’s a girl!” is because it was, in each case.
Thus, based on Holt’s comments, I can dismiss Cole’s assertion that there are no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth as complete rubbish.
On the other hand, if Holt can get buy-in for his fractured take on fairness, it could transcend journalism. It could also transform our criminal justice system. After all, you would only need to hear whichever side of a case that comported with your version of truth. Due process? Bah! We can have the preliminary hearing in the morning and get to the penalty phase by lunchtime.
Journalism is a pursuit of truth. A free press provides a necessary check on power. But remove objectivity, as Holt suggests, and journalists become either advocates or part of the resistance. I don’t know that I need to get another perspective on this.
After all, the sun sets in the west.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.