We have been discussing the rapid decline of American journalism. As news organizations adopt echo and advocacy journalism as models, the public has lost faith in the media as a source of information. This is coming at a time when journalism professors are arguing for the abandonment of objectivity as the touchstone of the journalism. The result is the death of American journalism as reporters frame the news to reaffirm their own views or that of insular groups. That decline is reflected in chilling detail in a new Gallup poll.
The poll found only 21% of respondents said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers while only 16% of respondents reported the same of television news. Not surprising, Congress fared even worse with just 12%.
What is interesting is that media figures do not appear to care about their destruction of their own profession. The public now ranks the United States as dead last in terms of trust in the media. Yet, reporters continue to saw on the limb upon they sit. The reason is that such echo journalism works for them even if it destroys their profession. Many journalists have advanced on the new model of advocacy journalism. Many others have been intimidated by the treatment of those who have voiced dissenting views. They are not going to stick their heads up when others have been decapitated for speaking up.
Cable networks has always leaned left or right. However, now networks and newspapers are openly biased in framing their coverage. With the reduction of faith in the media plunging downward, these companies could see the value in returning to objectivity and neutrality. The problem is that the journalists themselves are now asserting advocacy journalism as a moral or normative imperative — and few editors will risk confronting such bias even if they were inclined to do so.
We have have been discussing how writers, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. Even journalists are leading attacks on free speech and the free press. This includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted 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.”
What is interesting is that this fundamental challenge to journalistic values is not being widely discussed. For those of us who have worked for decades as columnists and in the media, the growing intolerance for dissenting views is stifling and alarming. Hannah-Jones has been a leading voice in attacking those with opposing views. A year ago, the New York Times denounced its own publishing of an editorial of Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) calling for the use of the troops to restore order in Washington after days of rioting around the White House. It was one of the one of the lowest points in the history of modern American journalism. While Congress would “call in the troops” six months later to quell the rioting at the Capitol on January 6th, New York Times reporters and columnists called the column historically inaccurate and politically inciteful. Reporters insisted that Cotton was even endangering them by suggesting the use of troops and insisted that the newspaper cannot feature people who advocate political violence. (One year later, the New York Times published a column by an academic who has previously declared that there is nothing wrong with murdering conservatives and Republicans).
Critics never explained what was historically false (or outside the range of permissible interpretation) in the column. Moreover, writers Taylor Lorenz, Caity Weaver, Sheera Frankel, Jacey Fortin, and others said that such columns put black reporters in danger and condemned publishing Cotton’s viewpoint. In a breathtaking surrender, the newspaper apologized and not only promised an investigation in how such an opposing view could find itself on its pages but promised to reduce the number of editorials in the future.
One of the writers who condemned the decision to publish Cotton was Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones applauded the decision of the Times to apologize for publishing such an opposing viewpoint and denounced those who engage in what she called “even-handedness, both sideism” journalism. Opinion editor James Bennet reportedly made an apology to the staff. That however was not enough. He was later compelled to resign. Not only has Hannah-Jones spread bizarre anti-police conspiracy theories, but she is one of the most prominent figures pushing the advocacy journalistic model. Nevertheless, she was offered a chair at North Carolina and accepted a chair at Howard University.
My greatest concern is this trend in academia. It is enormously popular for faculty to support the new model of advocacy journalism. It leads to publication and speaking opportunities. It is a type of woke journalism. To oppose it is to risk your own standing as an academic and the opportunities that allow you to be intellectually active. So the downward spiral continues. The media becomes more and more openly biased as new reporters are trained as advocates. The fact that fewer and fewer people are reading such reporting is immaterial. Eventually, if this trend continues, the media will be reduced to speaking to itself and small groups of ideologically hardened readers.