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The Stench of B.O.
Objectivity was at war with Subjectivity. Subjectivity had always been at war with Objectivity.
“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history”
-Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell.
Orwell has the chops and lived experience to prove it too.
After all his famous documentary, "1984" shows us the thrilling reality of living in a world where Big Brother is always watching, the Party's goal of creating a society where everyone is happy and free has clearly been achieved - by the Thought Police! Big Brother is watching, and his followers are happy to report on any dissenters. "Freedom is slavery" and "War is peace," and of course 2+2 does indeed make 5 (this has been proved by Science™, comrades1) Well no, actually Freedom “is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” (Unless we’re in Canada that is, where Trudeau’s Pravda insists it’s something else.) Orwell noted that everybody has a telescreen in their home, and the government can track their every move. And you can't trust anyone except the Noble Purveyors of The Science™, as your own thoughts are untrustworthy.
But what if Mr. Orwell was wrong?
It’s not “what if…”
4 wrote today about B.O. which is the real topic of this post.
No, not bodily odor, Beyond Objectivity, which will be referred to in the rest of this piece as B.O. though.
Beyond Objectivity is the title of a new document identified as both a report and “a new playbook for strengthening and transforming journalism.”
Washington Post’s slogan as of late has been Democracy Dies in Darkness. Well fortunately Democracy™ has been saved by the light!
There’s even an op-ed promoting the new Noble Document in said newspaper.
What is exactly in B.O.?
In their words, “a fresh vision for how to replace outmoded ‘objectivity’ with a more relevant articulation of journalistic standards.”
It’s a response to the declining trust in the Corporate Press.
Heck, they even use the light cliché.
“American news media, like the country itself, are undergoing a critical period of profound change in the face of growing public mistrust. There is no clear, single path for them to follow. Instead, as a myriad of news organizations work to inform the American public in these rapidly changing times, the authors of this report have formulated from our research these guidelines to help light the way.”
The authors of B.O. assert that “objectivity” in newsrooms for ages separated fact-based reporting from opinion and editorial pieces whether it was a newspaper, television or radio station including news outlets which were government-regulated.
The main bugaboo through was that these newsrooms were filled primarily with humans who possess the sex organs that produce zippy gametes and who happen to have lower concentrations of melanin in their skin. The best available evidence out of Academia suggests that these people are incapable seeing anything outside their white male view. Back then too, the definition of a woman was far more clear than it is today, but this was masked by the lack of women in newsrooms and that coverage about women were apparently reserved for special “Women’s Pages.” In those oppressive times, other marginalized groups such as Blacks and Immigrants were also left out of the newsrooms and coverage of their stories were delegated to media publications dedicated to them.
The era of Old Mean Mad White Men, er, Mad Men eventually came to an end. Newsrooms were slowly integrated as the 1960’s came to a close. Record scratch here and there, something-something-Gate, media deregulation, cable TV, and finally the internet brought new challenges to the Corporate Press.
Because of all of this, there was kind of sort of objectivity back in the day but there was also really not. It’s hard to keep up as the dictionary updates so often these days.
Journalist, author, and Substacker, yes the Twitter Files Matt, joined forces with British author and commentator Douglas Murray to argue in favor. In opposition was Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times and author herself with Malcolm Gladwell also known for authoring several books and for his podcasts.
The debate, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s… er… definition of “objectivity” occurred just before the drop of the Twitter Files.
Without revealing complete spoilers of the debate, Gladwell repeatedly gets stuck on the definition of “mainstream media” and much of Gladwell’s arguments (being charitable) revolved around Taibbi allegedly romanticizing the Corporate Press’s past.
Second thing was I was greatly amused by the affection Matt Taibbi has for the age of Walter Cronkite, which he seems to hold up as a golden moment. In that moment the mainstream media was populated entirely by white men from elite schools. Why you would’ve had such affection and say that’s the gold standard and we should trust the mainstream media precisely at the moment when the mainstream media is least representative is really puzzling to me
I would point out at the height of Walter Cronkite’s reign in American media, neither people like Michelle and I wouldn’t have been on the stage. Right? We weren’t part of the conversation so I don’t know why we should hold such a kind of affection for that moment. I was also struck by the contradictions between the comments that both of you made when Douglas said that he was very upset at the way the Canadian media acted as an amen chorus of the Canadian government with respect to the truckers. I would just point out that the reason Walter Cronkite was so beloved by people like Matt Taibbi’s father, and grandfather is that he was an amen chorus for the United States government. So the two of you should really get together in the next five minutes and work out your story.
Later on Gladwell blabbers:
So I mean, Matt I understand that you do have this wonderful nostalgia for the way things used to be but I think that you need to fact check some of your nostalgic notions about the wonderful world of the 1950s. Who was watchdoging the New York Times in the 1950s? Nobody was! It was a tiny little universe
The B.O. report goes on about this too.
Kathleen Carroll, Former Executive Editor of The
DisAssociated Press remarked about this dark past in general, “It’s objective by whose standards? And that standard seems to be white, educated, fairly wealthy guys. And when people don’t feel like they find themselves in news coverage, it’s because they don’t meet that definition.” Given her background as a downtrodden student who went from community college to community college just to get a leg up in society she’d know. Listen to her Lived Experience! Just kidding. She’s a graduate of McGill University, Stanford University, and Montclair State University.
Weseley Lowery too, a journalist who won the same special participation prize Walter Duranty won did a “has allowed what it considers objective truth to be decided almost exclusively by white reporters and their mostly white bosses.” He elaborates further saying, “I’m not arguing for subjectivity, I’m actually whole-heartedly endorsing objectivity as properly defined; the argument is that, in practice, that’s not what it is.” His clarification is much appreciated given his work as of late has been covering the completely factual and truthful 1619 Project.
New York Times executive editor Joseph Kahn, in discussing the issue took issue with "the idea of “neutrality” and “both sides” saying “But the journalistic process needs to be objective and transparent, and we need to challenge ourselves and our readers to understand all the facts and explore a wider range of perspectives.”
The B.O. is also trying to elevate the voices of journalists who have experienced fewer rotation around the sun.
The San Francisco Chronicle, the Bay Area Corporate Press outlet whose dug deep into the needle and feces filled streets of City By the Bay where their hard-hitting reporting highlighted SFPD’s failure to rescue a 14 year old girl from sex trafficking also rejects objectivity. (Edit: Oops, that wasand at Public) Emilio Garcia-Ruiz7, SFC’s Editor-in-Chief states, “The consensus among younger journalists is that we got it all wrong. We are the problem. Objectivity has got to go.”
Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gabe Escobar8 stands up for the younger journalists too. “The word [objectivity] itself is so fraught and subject to debate. The younger journalist cohort is more vocal and more demanding on accountability. They hold us accountable, and they challenge what they think is too restrictive.” The Philadelphia Inquirer up until recently was rife with “body of content that overrepresented white and male voices” according to a report from Temple University who was asked to audit the publication after the infamous “Buildings Matter, Too” headline for a column written by an architecture journalist and published in the immediate wake of the murder of George Floyd. The report also noted the paper was “sourcing norms and editing traditions (that) favored an imagined print reader who was older, whiter, wealthier, and more suburban.”
Objectivity, whatever it may mean, has clashed with some journalists of color’s ability to cover their stories as they see fit according to Saeed Ahmed9 who used to work at National Public Radio, the BBC, CNN, and the Atlanta Constitution Journal. He notes, “As a journalist of color, I have been told time and again that my identity doesn’t matter, that I have to shed it all to worship at the altar of objectivity. I bristle at that notion. My lived experiences should inform what I cover.”
The Los Angeles Times, arguably the most trusted name in news cited here at Green Leap Forward, is well on the right track. Their diverse group of truth tellers includes a Latin
oX managing editor, a Black video editor, the only Latina sports editor in the country apparently, and even a Palestinean-American who heads the publication’s digital news. Kevin Merida10 hasn't been with the LA Times for long as its executive editor but had a great start "inheriting" individual "caucuses" consisting of Black, Latino and Asia-American/Pacific Islanders.
Other LA-area Corporate Press outlets such as LAist and NPR-affiliate KPCC are also very blunt with the facts that go into their reporting. Apparently under the values sections of their websites they repeat incantations such as, “Systematic racism exists,” “Democracy and civil participation are good things,” “Diversity, equity and inclusion – in everything we do – are critical to our success.”
And our personal favorite:
“We are facing a climate emergency.”
As this all ultimately relates to energy and climate issues - which this site is largely about, we suggest taking an hour of time to listen to's interview with Batya Ungar-Sargon, author of Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy. 11
Sister publication to the LA Times, San Diego Union-Tribune whose slogan is “Know your community” apparently takes notes from Noble Mayor Todd Gloria’s “For All of Us” slogan. “Us” like objectivity, tends to mean something a bit different in this context though. When SDUT isn’t working hard to dig deep in to the the feasibility of their own city’s Climate Action Plan, they work hard to produce material that covers the neighbors to the south in Tijuana.
The towards the end of the B.O. it suggests a list of six items as part of their Trustworthy News Playbook. Some make sense, others seem contradictory or awfully worded. The lessons in George Orwell’s Politics and The English Language were not applied here, that’s for sure.
Those items, with select excerpts, are:
1. Strive not just for accuracy, but for truth.
Accuracy starts with a commitment to verifiable facts, with no compromises. But facts, while true, aren’t necessarily the whole truth. Therefore, your journalists must consider multiple perspectives to provide context where needed. That said, avoid lazy or mindless “balance” or “both-sides-ism.” If your reporting combines accuracy and open-mindedness to multiple points of view, the result should still reflect the most honest picture of reality you can present – what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein call “the best available version of the truth”
2. Unlock the
realpower of diversity, inclusion, and identity (real is underlined)
Whether you rely on organized affinity groups, regular newsroom “town meetings,” or some other mechanism, your newsroom leaders should commit to sometimes difficult conversations about story selection, coverage, even language – conversations that are open to all, not just the journalists involved in a particular story.
3. Create a clear and consistent policy to guide your journalists’ social media and political activity
On social media policy, the principal authors of this report fall on the conservative (small “c”) end of the spectrum, as do many of the news leaders whom we interviewed. Our view is that allowing journalists to express opinions on controversial social and political issues erodes the perception of fairness and openmindedness – of “trustworthiness.” We don’t buy the argument made by some that personal social media feeds should be exempt from the newsroom’s policies. The journalist is a representative of the news organization no matter what the platform or venue and gives up some personal rights to free expression as a result.
4. Focus on enterprise, investigative, and accountability reporting
Investigative and accountability reporting should focus on all aspects of American life, not just politics and power. Your newsroom’s agenda should be driven not just by the quest for journalistic glory but by a deep understanding of your various communities’ priorities and needs.
5. Show your work.
It’s no accident that “transparency” has become a watchword if not a tired cliché in talking about how to increase trust in news. Sharing your newsgathering and editorial processes may not come naturally, but it can be an effective way to build a stronger connection with skeptical consumers. Digital platforms make it easy to share additional information without breaking the flow of a story.
6. Define your newsroom’s core values – and live by them.
We are leery of claims by some journalists to have “moral clarity” on controversial issues. But every newsroom has essential premises and assumptions that shape story selection and reporting. For example, there is broad consensus today about the reality of climate change and the threats that it poses. That may well inform how many resources a newsroom devotes to reporting on the issue as well as any point of view its stories reflect. The same might go for opposition to systemic racism, say, or support for LGBTQ rights.
Carrie Fox of Mission Partners states in the B.O., “How do we instill trust in the news media? Part of that is transparency. And part of transparency is being clear in how you go about doing your work.”
At least both she and the most of the tone of the B.O is preaching for transparency. But whether they’re going to instill more trust is likely open for debate.
As Michael Malice loves to say in general about the Corporate Press: they’re “factual but not truthful.”
It’s a bit ironic the B.O. was brought from the Heavens of Truth and Facts from none other than the “Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication” at Arizona State University.
It was funded largely with a grant from The Stanton Foundation - founded and named after Frank Stanton, a long time veteran of television Corporate Press news. Not only is he famous for being behind the first televised debate (Kennedy v Nixon) but he served as President of CBS for over 30 years.
Thomas Sowell once said, “The media are less a window on reality, than a stage on which officials and journalists perform self-scripted, self-serving fictions.”
We’ll give Douglas Murray the final word:
I would say that it was the legacy media, the newspapers we used to trust once, and we don’t trust anymore. The ones that used to be the papers of record and which have slowly descended into just partisan hackery of whatever their own particular peccadillos are that month. Malcolm, you did a little nasty, jab there. I noticed at Matt, by trying to pretend that Matt Taibbi is desperate for the era of white men in broadcasting, takes a certain hutzpah to make that claim. But I don’t see any reason why that is the case with Matt. I don’t think that you are hanking desperately for a world of white news presenters. We’ve only just met, but you didn’t give off that vibe to me.
And when Malcolm says, you gotta get your story right, guys. I know it’s easy for a cheap laugh line, but I don’t see why we do. We’re two very different people with very different careers interests and much more. We’ve taken very different paths across very wide sways of this planet. And we don’t need to get our stories straight for you or for this audience tonight, or be in lockstep differences of opinion, including on the same side, used to be cherished. I could do more, but I’ll leave it.
The same New York Times who told us the “
Russians Ukrainians were ‘hungry’ but not ‘starving’” in 1930’s USSR.
Disclaimer: GLF is a proud paid subscriber
University of Maryland, career began in 1982.
Queens College, CUNY & University of Maryland College Park, career began in 1990.
Morehouse College, began career in 2001.
Boston University ,began career in 1983
Her presence on a panel for The Unregistered Podcast with Curtis Yarvin is also worthwhile.