Stanford Journalism Professor Rejects Objectivity In Journalism

For four years, I have written about the alarming loss of neutrality and objectivity in journalism — a trend that is reflected by many polls showing that the majority of the public no longer trusts the media for fair and honest reporting. While I have regularly criticized President Donald Trump, I have also objected to unrelentingly biased reporting as well as embarrassingly soft coverage of former Vice President Joe Biden. Now, Stanford Communications Professor Emeritus Ted Glasser has publicly called for an end of objectivity in journalism as too constraining for reporters in seeking “social justice.”

In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Glasser insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that the journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality.”  Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”

Dressing up bias as “advocating social justice,” does not remove the taint of yellow journalism.  It is the same rationalization for shaping the news to fit your agenda and treating readers as subjects to be educated rather than informed.

While other professors in The Stanford Daily disagreed, Wesley Lowery, who has served as a national correspondent for the Washington Post, also rejects objectivity.  In a tweet, Lowery declared “American view-from-nowhere, “objectivity”-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment…The old way must go. We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.”

These are major voices in media.  Glasser is a Stanford Department of Communication professor emeritus and served as the director for Stanford’s Graduate Program in Journalism. He is also the former president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Glasser doubled down in an interview with Campus Reform, stating “My understanding of journalism, like my understanding of history, rests on the premise that there is no finally correct description of anything — only interpretations.” He added that “I’m not a big fan of the term ‘objectivity’ or ‘objective truth’ because it gets us talking about all the wrong things.”

That relativistic view, of course, would wipe away any semblance objective reporting. Indeed, he is rejecting the very notion of objectivity or any “correct description of anything.”

It is a liberating notion for writers like Glasser and Lowery.  They can assume the mantle of social warriors and join whatever movement they prefer.  They can then discard pesky notions of journalism as striving to offer unbiased accounts for the public to reach their own conclusions.

The alarming aspect of these views is that they are prevailing. It is now common to hear academics and reporters reject “both sideism” as a trap and even a form of racism. Even the publishing of opposing views is now considered dangerous as shown by the removal of New York Times editor James Bennet, who resigned in the recent controversy over an editorial by Sen. Tom Cotton.  I supported Bennet’s decision to publish that editorial and denounced the cringing apology of the Times after a backlash. Yet, the same journalistic figures at the New York Times who pushed for his removal have continued to espouse unhinged and untrue conspiracy theories in the name of advocacy.

With the collapse of objectivity will come the collapse of journalism. While academics revel in their ability to dispense with limitations of neutrality, many of their newspapers and news organizations are declining with the free fall of credibility with the public.  As a result, the media has hit a historic low, with less than half of the populace finding it credible. Some polls show that the only group deemed less trustworthy than Trump is the media. The Knight Foundation has found that three-fourths of the public believe the media is too biased; some 54 percent believe reporters regularly misrepresent facts, and 28 percent believe reporters make things up entirely.

Notably, as these journalists saw away of the branch upon which they are sitting, the impact may be more than the destruction of the media market.  Few people want to be fed a diet of what Professor Glasser believes is morally fight as opposed to factually true. The problem is that this view will remove any real distinction between journalism and political science department; between reporters and social warriors.  While they will continue to enjoy free speech protections, courts may become less inclined to support the protections afforded to the free press because there would be no discernible press as opposed to politics or propaganda.

Most importantly, what will be lost is one of the most important protections of liberty found in a free press. It has been the media that has triggered most reforms in our history from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate. Yet, this was only because the public trusted the media because of the very objectivity and neutrality values that Glasser, Lowery, and other now reject.