“The Enemies of the State”: The New York Times and The Fluidity of Advocacy Journalism

We have been discussing the rise of advocacy journalism and the rejection of objectivity in journalism schools. The New York Times has been at the forefront of this shift away from traditional reporting but has increasingly found that the fluidity of advocacy journalism leaves it without any clear framework or standards. Consider the latest scandal at the Times. Justice Department reporter and MSNBC contributor Katie Benner went on a rave about Republicans and called Trump supporters “enemies of the state.” She also made a not-so-veiled call for readers to vote against them. The Times has been in total radio silence over what, just a few years ago, would have been viewed as an outrageous violation of journalistic standards. Yet, just recently, it fired another reporter for a comparatively mild tweet supporting Biden. Professional ethics, it seems, has become entirely impressionistic in the age of advocacy journalism.

Notably, many of us denounced Donald Trump for calling the New York Times and other media outlets the “enemy of the people.”  The media was aghast and the Times publicly condemned such rhetoric as “inflammatory.” Now, however, journalists like Benner are engaging in the same inflammatory rhetoric and the Times is conspicuously silent.

We have have been discussing how writerseditorscommentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. This movement 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.”

Benner tweeted on Tuesday during the first hearing of the Democrat-led Jan. 6 select committee was underway: “Today’s #January6thSelectCommittee underscores the America’s current, essential natsec dilemma: Work to combat legitimate national security threats now entails calling a politician’s supporters enemies of the state.” The MSNBC contributor also declared:

“As Americans, we believe that state power should not be used to work against a political figure or a political party. But what happens if a politician seems to threaten the state? If the politician continues to do so out of office and his entire party supports that threat?”…That leaves it up to voters, making even more essential free, fair access to the polls.”

Benner’s comments are indistinguishable from the Democratic members that she is covering.  The problem is that, while the Times has embraced advocacy journalism, its has not updated its guidelines which state that “Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that The Times is seeking to cover objectively.”

While the tweets were deleted, the Times refused to respond to other reporters asking about the tweets.

Just recently, we discussed the firing of Lauren Wolfe, who was fired for saying that she had “chills” in watching Biden land at Andrews Air Force base. Wolfe later penned a column declaring “I’m a Biased Journalist and I’m Okay With That” — a full-throated endorsement of the new journalistic model of open bias and advocacy.

I was critical of Wolfe but the two cases leave many completely confused on the standards applied by the Times.  The confusion has been growing for years.

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.

While insisting that it will never again publish someone like Cotton, it has published columns from figures like one of the Chinese leaders crushing protests for freedom in Hong Kong. Cotton was arguing that the use of national guard troops may be necessary to quell violent riots, noting the historical use of this option in past protests. This option was used most recently after the Capitol riot.  Yet the Times has no problem publishing someone called “Beijing’s enforcer” who mocked pro-Democracy protesters as her government beat them and arrested them.

Likewise, almost on the one-year anniversary of its condemning its own publication of Cotton (and forcing out its own editor), the New York Times published an academic columnist who previously defended the killing of conservative protesters.

If none of this makes sense to you, that is because it does not have to make sense. Starting with the Cotton scandal, the New York Times cut its mooring cables with traditional journalist values. It embraced figures like Nikole Hannah-Jones who have championed advocacy journalism.

The problem with Benner was not that she is actively supporting Democrats or viewing Trump supporters as enemies of the state. The problem is that she said it a bit too openly. There remain slight sensibilities to be observed even the age of advocacy journalism. So she deleted the tweet and no one is much interested in how such biased reporters continue to cover such stories. Indeed, just this week, NBC’s Chuck Todd denied that there is a problem of biased journalism despite the long criticism of his own overt partisanship on the air.

In the end, it does not matter what happens to Benner. The lesson for others is to confine any such bias to framing coverage rather than directly calling for votes for Democrats or joining in on the condemnations of Trump supporters. One must keep up appearances even in the age of advocacy journalism.




127 thoughts on ““The Enemies of the State”: The New York Times and The Fluidity of Advocacy Journalism”

  1. One technique that can keep a journalism outfit “honest” is to seek out and publish “counter-narrative” info. That is, regularly present information that challenges nice, neat narratives or conventional wisdoms. It takes a bit of courage, but works wonders, as those who are ready to line up behind a narrative as infowarriors will self-expose when they balk at running a counter-narrative story. This approach keeps people on their toes, and works against building up sacred cows.

  2. When Katie Benner called Trump supporters the enemies of the State she was exactly correct. However, it does not necessarily follow that the State and the people are one and the same. There have been many who have been declared enemies of the State in China and Russia who were supporters of the people. Of course Katie Benner considers herself a loyal member of the “Party” and damn proud of it. She asks. Don’t you understand that the Party knows best what is necessary for the perfection of mankind? No questioning is allowed when considering the moral pronouncements of the State. She has met her requirements to present her morals exactly as she as a good reporter sees them. Stalin will soon be overseeing the ceremony where he presents her with her Useful Idiot Badge of Honor.

  3. Jeffsilberman at 8:27, there was a time when I would listen to Alex Jones and Glenn Beck. It didn’t take me long to come to the understanding that their conspiracy theories were way over the top. You on the other hand have not moved away from CNN and MSNBC due to their conspiracy theory known as RussiaGate. The conspiracy theories of Jones and Beck had little effect and Republicans rejected what the were trying to sell. The MSM conspiracy theories however are still held to by you and your compatriots at CNN, MSNBC among others at CBS, NPR, CBS, And The Young Turks. When you denounce the RussiaGate conspiracy we will take your presentations in a more favorable light. RussiaGate will go down in history as one of the worst conspiracies in the history of the nation. The damage to the nation will be written about for many years to come. The nation is composed of its people. The RussiaGate conspiracy was a propaganda attack on the people of the nation. Hence, “enemy of the people” is an appropriate description. We will be anxiously awaiting your denunciation of the RussiaGate conspiracy but we won’t be holding our breath.

  4. Turley says:

    “Notably, many of us denounced Donald Trump for calling the New York Times and other media outlets the “enemy of the people.” The media was aghast and the Times publicly condemned such rhetoric as “inflammatory.” Now, however, journalists like Benner are engaging in the same inflammatory rhetoric and the Times is conspicuously silent.”

    If Turley would be man enough to go on C-Span and take questions from the public, I would ask him why he does not criticize Hannity, et.al., for calling the MSM “ fake news”? We all know his answer. Turley would point out that Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham, Pirro, Levin, Bongino, Watters, Gutfield and Fox and Friends are NOT journalists; they are opinion hosts one and all. Then why is the the network called, “Fox NEWS”? Save for Chris Wallace and Brett Baier, isn’t Fox, for all intents and purposes, Talk Radio?

    I would then press Turley whether he thinks Fox viewers get their news from these opinion hosts? He could not deny that they do. After all, these opinion hosts are not mere entertainers; they hold themselves out as conveying facts in addition to their opinions. Accordingly, if they purport to state facts, do they not have a journalistic responsibility to be truthful, objective and impartial? I don’t think Turley would claim that his colleagues can deliberately state falsehoods. Likewise, Turley is not a journalist, but I presume he would be obliged morally to provide facts and honest opinions.

    Every broadcaster should be held to a standard of good faith. Accordingly, Turley should denounce Hannity and Levin when they call the press “the enemy of the people” just as he condemned Trump. How would Turley justify his silence in not criticizing his Fox colleagues? Anyone?

    I don’t deny that the MSM is trending toward advocacy journalism. Fox has been a rating success story advocating for Conservatism; and if you can’t beat ‘em; join ‘em. At the inception of Trump’s candidacy, the MSM resisted calling him a “liar” because that is largely a matter of opinion. At first, they acted with forbearance and claimed that he misstated facts or made inadvertent “misrepresentations” thereby giving him the benefit of the doubt that he was not acting deliberately. But over time, it became incontrovertible that he was telling falsehoods intentionally, and the press resigned themselves to stating the obvious that the man was just lying. This accusation would appear to be advocacy UNLESS it is undeniable. It is to everyone but Trumpists.

    What will be Turley’s legacy in deflecting attention away from the outright advocacy journalism at Fox by pointing his finger exclusively at its media competitors (though not the propagandist NEWSmax)? He will be no longer be admired as the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law. Instead, he will be remembered as Jonathan “Fox News” Turley if that is any satisfaction to him.

    1. The difference between Fox and the leftist MSM is that Fox separates opinion and the news. The MSM treats opinion as news and doesn’t adequately verify their news sources before printing. Finally, the MSM will hold onto a false news story even after knowing it is not true.

      Jeff is blowing wind.

    2. Jeffsilberman, here is where you get caught. You tell us that at first the MSM gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. Please provide a link to any story in which the MSM gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. When you can back up your statement with an actual source we will be more inclined to believe your rantings. You and I both know that the resistance by the MSM begin on the first day Trump was sworn in. Your attempt to claim that the MSM was charitable toward Trump in the beginning does not just bring a what the hell are you talking about response but also uproarious laughter.

      1. I’m relieved that’s your only criticism of my commentary. Thanks.

        1. Jeffsilberman, I could have criticized many more points that you made in your comments but the criticism of the lack of creditability displayed by one of your statements is adequate in explaining your tendency toward a general and constant presentation of untruth. We are still waiting for a link showing generosity toward Trump in his first weeks as President by the MSM. Remember, you said it was true but you provide no instances of it happening. We therefore must view all your content with well earned scepticism.

          1. Yours is but one man’s opinion. I’ve had my say, take it as you like. I don’t hope to convince Trumpists.

            1. Jeffsilberman, you must have noticed that I present my opinions with numerous links to bolster my take on things. This is a practice that you never employ. You just expect the rest of us to accept all that you say without providing any outside support. You might be able to do so but that would require a thing known as research. Of course there would be work involved and you would become very frightened of such a possibility. After all, calling someone a Trumpster requires so much less labor.

              1. CORRECTION: I have NEVER called you a Trumpster. I call you a *Trumpist*. Trumpist not Trumpster. Do you see the difference?

  5. “Advocacy Journalism”? That’s just a lame euphemism for the proper and more accurate term “Presstitute.” Genuine journalism is virtually nonexistent in today’s media. Only presstitutes from that once-esteemed profession exist today. But, I suppose every profession feels a need to make itself sound more glamorous than it is. And that also explains why prostitutes call themselves “escorts.” The presstitution profession needs to get real and to start referring to themselves as precisely what they are: presstitutes.

  6. Perhaps journalists will cover this story, of the jihad against Christians in Nigeria. Fulani Muslim terrorists have killed Christian farmers, burnt their food storage, and driven survivors to stay with relatives to start again. Then they followed them, and took machetes to the crops at the end of the rainy season, just before harvest. Stored food was wiped out, and their crop income was wiped out.

    This will ensure that a massive famine hits. Millions of people will face hunger.

    They will keep doing this, again and again, until the Christians are all dead or driven out.

    It’s one of the genocides ongoing that most of the media is silent about. Ironically, one of the others is the Chinese genocide against the Muslim Uyghurs.

    All this murder and deprivation going on, and most of our media just wants to play politics.

    1. Karen,

      You say most are not covering it. Which media are not silent?

    2. The left will burn cities, destroy property and kill people while yelling out the name of George Floyd. The left doesn’t care about the numbers of dead people being killed by their allies.

  7. Jonathan; Your column is basically a rehash of your previous lamentations about what you call “the age of advocacy journalism”, the alleged loss of “objectivity” by journalists ,academics and in journalism schools. In this age of “rage”, as you call it, do you really expect journalists to remain neutral and aloof? There is an old saying that no one can be neutral on a run away train. That’s particularly true at this point in our divisive politics and discourse. Every one has a POV–even journalists. Every one comes to their profession with opinions and beliefs. It would be remarkable if they didn’t. Journalists are no different. What bothers you is that many journalists don’t subscribe your POV –so they, for you, are not “objective”. Frankly, I would rather a journalist openly state his/her bias rather than pretend they are being “objective”. You make a pretense of “objectivity” but we all know otherwise.

    So let’s consider a textbook case of lack of “objectivity” by so-called journalists–how the media responded to the testimony of 4 DC policemen on Tuesday before a House committee, describing in gruesome detail how they were attacked, beaten and severely injured by Trump supporters during the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They described the many injuries they received in defending the Capitol and the racial epithets they endured. The accompanying videos made clear they put their lives on the line to defend Congress against a mob that wanted to overturn an election and keep Trump in power. And what was the reaction by the right-wing media? On Fox Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram sarcastically mocked the police officers. Ingram awarded them the “best political performance ” trophy. Julie Kelly, a pro-Trump political commentator, appeared on Fox and went further. She said the officers were “crisis actors”, a term used by far-right conspiracy theorists to describe someone who is paid to lie. Now does Fox really believe the 4 officers who testified were paid political operatives to lie about the events on Jan. 6? While you have complained about the “outrageous violation of journalistic standards” at the NY Times, MSNBC, et al, what about the utter lack of objectivity and utter lack of “journalistic standards” in Fox reporting? Not a word about that from you. Nada! Why? Because you are a shill for Fox who doesn’t dare criticize the chief purveyor of conspiracy theories in fear you might lose your paid gig! “True colors”–that is what you have shown us!

    1. I believe you are wrong. I do not need a rookie, or even an established, journalist to advocate for any side of any debate, war, or controversy. Give me the information that is observable, report what is seen, and heard. If a journalist wants to make an emotional impact then eye witness accounts – though proven highly unreliable – will usually do the job.

      Who are the Americans that have decided that they need and want a reporter with bias telling them anything about what an event is about? What good does that kind of reporting do? When the facts are spun, edited, or filled with the personal emotional outrage of the reporter that is no longer true journalism that’s just an opinion piece.

      You easily see the danger of this kind of reporting by referring to the FOX reports and yet you are fine with reporters/journalist infusing their personal politics and emotional spin IF it jibes with your own?

      You speak of divisiveness, do you not recognize how the media has created this divisiveness by infusing the information we ingest with their morale outrage and political slant? Of course you do, at least, you do when it comes to FOX. Do you honestly believe that the media you embrace is any less egregious. Media is a huge business, they have a ‘bottom line’ to protect and they do that by catering to their demographic.

      Now that ‘reporting’ has become a 24 hour endeavor, the media has become an effective indoctrination tool – many ‘talking heads’ with lots of opinions, and edited clips that supposedly supports those opinions along with ‘experts’ that are used as an appeal to authority so blatant it’s shameful.

      You folks that want the emotionally charged rhetoric that is being regurgitated by mainstream media (ALL mainstream media) might need to be reminded of what that leads to… Check in with NK’s media, or even the state media of China; both tell their audience what they believe is ‘good’ for their people to hear and believe.

      You and I should not be the purveyors of what another person believes. If my beliefs are supportable only by injecting them with emotionally charged rhetoric, feints to the right or left, then my beliefs are built on very shaky ground. If I choose to believe ridiculous garbage then my belief system will surely fall and everyone can have a good laugh. That is the consequence of ignorance. Let me suffer those consequences – maybe I’ll learn.

      This asinine idea that one media outlet is more ‘truthful’ than the other is the beginning of the problem. Media – what is portrayed on TV, Internet, and Twitter is NOT the truth – but if we like what they say then we can shrug our shoulders and say ‘I knew it. I told you so.” Kind of pathetic.

      If Americans have become so mentally slothful as to believe what they are being told – just because it supports what they believe sounds ‘right’ – then we’ve just handed one of our most basic human rights over to people that are being paid millions of dollars and need to, first and foremost, protect their investment.

      That is not a space I am eager to inhabit. Give me the information as it is; I’ll do my due diligence and decide how I feel about it – I don’t need FOX or MSNBC to make my decisions for me.

    2. OK So this is EXACTLY the same crap propaganda “journalists” engage in. If the facts lack the punch and, and color, to really convey the pre determined narrative, just make stuff up. Here is the cut and paste.

      She said the officers were “crisis actors”, a term used by far-right conspiracy theorists to describe someone who is paid to lie. Now does Fox really believe the 4 officers who testified were paid political operatives to lie about the events on Jan. 6?

      Notice the addition of the fact that FOX claimed the officers were paid. No one made any such claim. Not FOX. not ” far-right conspiracy theorists”. Not even the ever present yet wholly invisible qanon makes such a claim.
      The officers were coached. Their monologue was written by others. The questions and answers were scripted. The officers were “acting”. Taking direction from others to deliver the message of persons other than themselves.
      The committee is supposed to be seeking facts, and answers to questions that haven’t been answered. The Script delivered by the officers never touched on any portion of the stated mission of the investigative body.

      One question I have. With all the live video and audio provided by body cams on the officers, why did the Script not call for playing the audio of the officers being subjected to racial taunts? History informs me that once again, the demand for racists examples far exceed the supply, so the script writers do what script writers do. Take creative license, add details not supported by actual facts, in order to better dramatize what it “really” felt like to be there.

      1. The DC “crisis actor” cop was represented by a lawyer involved in the Kavanaugh rape hoax (Laufman). All these leftist hoaxes seem to be orchestrated by the same Lawfare conspirators. If the leftist want to stop being the subject of conspiracy theories, they should stop acting conspiratorially.

    3. “Every one has a POV–even journalists.”

      And a *professional* journalist knows how to separate facts from personal opinions. A hack, on the other hand, routinely blurs the two.

  8. The subject of Professor Turley’s post is the personal bias of reporters in presenting the news. Smart guy Joe Saturday can’t make a cognizant rebuttal to the Professors position so he changes the subject to vaccinations. Smart guy Joe (Friday) Saturday wasn’t in school long enough to learn the simple rules of debate. An arguer in a debate that varies from the subject of the debate would be considered to be lacking in intelligence of the subject being discussed and all in the audience would see him for who he really is. Welcome to the Joe (Friday) Saturday thinking method. Please don’t laugh it’s unkind.

  9. So now reporters have to report considering their personal bias. They tell us that they are taking morality into consideration. They have now directly taken the position that they are priests rather than reporters. I’m sure that they must say seven hail New York Times each morning before they enter the lobby of the Cathedral of The Gray Lady. Not for a minute would they allow the church to tell them what they should think, but they have no problem telling the rest of us what we should think. Please excuse me if I refuse to be a member of the woke congregation. I guess if you are willing to bend a knee to worship the high priests of the left it is your choice. No one on the right will try to cancel you or get you fired or try to tell you to keep your mouth shut but they will point out your desire to control the thoughts of others. Professor Turley is correct that this new religion’s peramaters change from one minute to the next.

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      1. Okay, this ZZ Top video is great. But it still doesn’t explain one of the greatest mysteries behind the band. Why is Frank Beard the only member of ZZ Top that does not actually have a beard?

  10. Notably, many of us denounced Donald Trump for calling the New York Times and other media outlets the “enemy of the people.”

    Why would you do that? He was inarguably right.

  11. All while they spread Covid.

    Feds exempting some illegal migrants from normal ID requirements on flights
    “We are abandoning every single security norm we learned after 9/11 just to move illegal aliens through the country,” said Mark Morgan, former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Prevention.


  12. CNN relentless MEGA bias, LIES and spin attacks on Trump make thje Times pale by comparison.

  13. Excuse Me While I Vomit

    Turley’s Hypocrisy Is Limitless!

    Longtime readers are well-aware that Turley devotes at least one column per week to attacking The New York Times for alleged ‘bias’. Yet for more than 2 years, Turley has employed the most boorish of stooges to keep these comment threads safe for Trumpers.

    We all know this stooge. More than half the comments on any given day are his. Which explains why these threads effect a certain monotony. One, aggressively stupid redneck fields an endless parade of lifeless puppets. Said puppets can be counted on to overwhelm the few liberals daring to engage here.

    But we, as readers, are supposed to ignore the presence of Turley’s stooge and seriously consider the immense harm The New York Times inflicts on stupid rednecks like our stooge. Like ‘his’ feelings should matter!

    1. “liberals daring to engage here.”

      Daring? OMG, yes ’tis such a daring adventure to comment here. My god you are all such entitled, weak, woosy, whiners…..I can’t even think of the right words…..just beyond pitiful.

      Btw, this thing that hurts your widdle ears? It’s called free speech. Suck it up and cope ya big baby woosy whiner.

      1. “Lmao!!”

        That is the most prominent part when you engage in thought.

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