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!
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!
Objectivity is dead!
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 personal 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.
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 (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.
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.
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
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!
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, 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¢.