definitely "politically correct" (a third take on journalism taking on authority)

Posted on

by — Posted in Neal's Rants (Mostly Political)

TO TELL THE TRUTH IN THE FACE OF LIES is the job of all jour­nal­ists, with lies be­ing, you know, those al­ter­na­tive fact thingies that are all the rage these days. Or at least that's what Lewis Wal­lace states in an ed­i­to­rial call-to-arms that he had posted on his per­sonal blog. There he ad­dressed ob­jec­tiv­ity, call­ing a lie a lie in­stead of an al­ter­na­tive fact, and em­brac­ing the ac­cu­sa­tion of be­ing a po­lit­i­cally cor­rect lib­eral left­ist!

You're en­ti­tled to your opin­ion, but you're not en­ti­tled to your own facts!

I am not a jour­nal­ist. Aside from some col­lege courses in ba­sic jour­nal­ism in 1969–1971, I have no ex­pe­ri­ence in the field. Of course, we could ar­gue that most con­tem­po­rary “jour­nal­ists” aren't jour­nal­ists ei­ther, but glo­ri­fied stenog­ra­phers.

This is es­pe­cially those that make the rounds of var­i­ous press con­fer­ences and lunches in DC. But that's an­other story! 

I do think that any­one prac­tic­ing any­thing re­sem­bling journalism—even in­clud­ing editorializing—can look to "ob­jec­tiv­ity" for point­ers, if not guid­ance. And I prefer Sen­a­tor Moynihan's dic­tate (“You are en­ti­tled to your opin­ion. But you are not en­ti­tled to your own facts.”) to Coun­selor Conway's “al­ter­na­tive facts.” 1

While I re­mem­ber lots of Lit­tle Golden Book titles—the one on di­nosaurs was my fave!—I don't re­call ever see­ing this as a child. Ac­cord­ing to DC scut­tle­butt, this was the President's bed­side reader for years!

Lewis Wal­lace writes for Mar­ket­place, a pub­lic ra­dio fo­rum pro­duced and dis­trib­uted by Amer­i­can Pub­lic Me­dia, in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The piece he wrote on his per­soanl blog—not on an APM site–is ti­tled "Ob­jec­tiv­ity is dead, and I’m okay with it."

His sense of the "death" of ob­jec­tiv­ity and his ideas for deal­ing with it in the new Trump Era seemed rather sane, and so here I am shar­ing some of them on my per­sonal blog.

Be­low please find ex­cerpts from his piece, edited by me for brevity and styl­is­tic con­sis­tency with my site. I have set his words in san serif type­face (Ar­ial) to make it easy to sep­a­rate it from my words. Words in brack­ets were added by me to make Wallace's ideas more understandable—especially given what I cut out from his words.

Definitely Politically Correct: cartoon by Nate Beeler about alternative facts.

Car­toon by Nate Beeler for The Colum­bus Dis­patch.

Journalists should fight back

As a work­ing jour­nal­ist, I’ve been deeply ques­tion­ing how we [jour­nal­ists] must change what we are do­ing to adapt to a gov­ern­ment that be­lieves in “al­ter­na­tive facts” and thrives on lies, in­clud­ing the lie of white racial su­pe­ri­or­ity.

One of the di­ci­est is­sues is that of “ob­jec­tiv­ity.” Some ar­gue that if we aban­don our stance of jour­nal­is­tic neu­tral­ity, we let the “post-fact” camp win. A few thoughts on ob­jec­tiv­ity in this po­lit­i­cal mo­ment:

• Neu­tral­ity isn’t real. Can peo­ple of color be ex­pected to give cre­dence to “both sides” of a dis­pute with a white supremacist—a per­son who holds un­sci­en­tific and morally rep­re­hen­si­ble views on the very na­ture of be­ing hu­man?

We can check our facts, tell the truth, and hold the line with­out pre­tend­ing that there is no eth­i­cal ba­sis to the work that we do.

• We can (and should) still tell the truth and check our facts. I think we are past the point where [our au­di­ences] ex­pect us to speak to a fic­ti­tious and ever-shifting cen­ter in or­der to ap­pear “neu­tral.”

We can check our facts, tell the truth, and hold the line with­out pre­tend­ing that there is no eth­i­cal ba­sis to the work that we do.

• Jour­nal­ists should fight back! As the sta­tus quo in this coun­try shifts, we must de­cide whether we are go­ing to shift with it. It seems clear that these shifts will not ben­e­fit those of us in the in­dus­try who care about truth-telling and about hold­ing power ac­count­able.

In­stead of wait­ing and see­ing [and] re­act­ing as jour­nal­ists are ar­rested, [as] free­doms of speech cur­tailed, [and as] gov­ern­ment num­bers lied about, I pro­pose that we need to be­come more shame­less, more raw, [and] more hon­est with our­selves and our au­di­ences about who we are, and what we are in this for.

To call a politi­cian on a lie is our job, to rep­re­sent a cross-section of our com­mu­ni­ties is our job, [and] to tell the truth in the face of “al­ter­na­tive facts” is our job.

• Get our sense of pur­pose, for real: We need to know why we tell these sto­ries in or­der to con­tinue to tell them well. We will be called "po­lit­i­cally cor­rect," "lib­eral," and "left­ist." We should own the fact that to tell the sto­ries and pro­mote the voices of mar­gin­al­ized and tar­geted peo­ple is not a neu­tral stance from the side­li­nes, but an im­por­tant front in a lively bat­tle against the narrow-mindedness, tyranny, and in­sti­tu­tional op­pres­sion that puts all of our free­doms at risk.

Definitely Politically Correct: cartoon by Kevin Necessary about alternative facts.

Car­toon by Kevin Nec­es­sary for WCPO of Cincin­nati.

Journalists can be politically correct!

Now for the ti­tle of the first ar­ti­cle by Wal­lace that I found that led me to his blog piece: "I was fired from my jour­nal­ism job ten days into Trump." Yep, Mr Wal­lace was fired from Mar­ket­place for writ­ing his opin­ion on his per­sonal blog. Here is part of his ex­pla­na­tion of what oc­curred:

Mar­ket­place be­lieves in ob­jec­tiv­ity and neu­tral­ity. And they were con­cerned about the sec­tion of my piece that as­serted that we shouldn’t care, as jour­nal­ists, if we are la­beled “po­lit­i­cally cor­rect” or even “lib­eral” for re­port­ing the facts.

Af­ter sus­pend­ing me, they told me to take the post down, and asked me not to speak to my col­leagues about it. They said it was about the pol­icy, not any par­tic­u­lar feed­back they’d got­ten. I had no idea that a per­sonal post rais­ing ques­tions about the role of jour­nal­ists to­day would be so con­tro­ver­sial. And I’d specif­i­cally been asked by Mar­ket­place to main­tain a per­sonal blog as part of build­ing my “per­sonal brand.”

The next morn­ing, I took the post down. I was not re­in­stated. I wasn’t given a chance to de­bate the is­sues I raised, to hear ex­actly what they might change about the post, or to dis­cuss why I didn’t think I should be pun­ished.

Definitely Politically Correct: cartoon by Joe Heller about alternative facts.

Car­toon by Joe Heller for The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Will we give voice to alternative facts?

Please reread Wallace's words: while he is trum­pet­ing an al­ter­na­tive “lib­eral” jour­nal­ism to coun­ter the “al­ter­na­tive facts”-based White House, his call-to-arms is, in fact, po­lit­i­cally neu­tral. Any righty can heed this ad­vice as well as any lefty. 2

To tell the truth in the face of “al­ter­na­tive facts” is our job as jour­nal­ists. Click To Tweet

Write on and read on

There are more than 1,100 words in the orig­i­nal "Ob­jec­tiv­ity is dead" ar­ti­cle, and my adap­ta­tion above keeps only 400 of them. There are more than 2,300 words in the orig­i­nal "I was fired from my jour­nal­ism job" ar­ti­cle, of which I kept a mere 200. That it, there is lots more to read in each piece and I sug­gest in­ter­ested read­ers click on over and do just that!

Definitely Politically Correct: photo of Hugh laurie as Dr Gregory House, MD.

FEA­TURED IM­AGE: The photo at the top of this page is a pub­lic­ity shot of Hugh Lau­rie as Dr Gre­gory House, television's most lov­able mis­an­thrope. In one episode, Dr House re­sponds to Dr Chase's state­ment, “If I can't trust you, I can't trust your state­ment that I can trust you. But thanks any­way, you've been a big help.”


1   Ac­tu­ally, I think that every­one who has the facts on their side of an ar­gu­ment prefers Mr Moynihan's take on things over Ms Conway's, re­gard­less of their po­lit­i­cal lean­ings.

2   They can, but they won't.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and '60s are fa­mil­iar with the Lit­tle Golden Book se­ries for chil­dren. Un­like many mod­ern books, they did not talk down to their read­ers, and of­ten used in­cred­i­bly tal­ented il­lus­tra­tors to boot. Their 1959 book on di­nosaurs was writ­ten by Jane Werner with fan­tas­tic art by William de J. Rutherfoord—all for 29¢.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *