It was perhaps inevitable that the embrace of advocacy journalism (and rejection of objectivity in journalism) would eventually dispense with the pretense of the journalism part. The point was reached by National Public Radio which took the controversial step this week to announce that its journalists can engage in protests and advocacy — the abandonment of a long-standing rule for reporters to avoid such causes or demonstrations. The announcement comes on the heels of the Justice reporter for the New York Times calling all Trump supporters “enemies of the state.” New York Times reporter Nikole Hanna-Jones recently declared “all journalism is advocacy.” So that simplifies matters wonderfully for the woke. After all, why have advocacy journalism when you can simply have advocacy?
NPR announced Thursday that reporters could participate in activities that advocate for “freedom and dignity of human beings” on social media and in real life. The rule states in part:
“NPR editorial staff may express support for democratic, civic values that are core to NPR’s work, such as, but not limited to: the freedom and dignity of human beings, the rights of a free and independent press, the right to thrive in society without facing discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability, or religion.”
The rule itself shows how impressionistic and unprofessional media has become in the woke era. NPR does not try to define what causes constitute advocacy for the “freedom and dignity of human beings.” How about climate change and environmental protection? Would it be prohibited to protest for a forest but okay if it is framed as “environmental justice”?
NPR seems to intentionally keep such questions vague while only citing such good causes as Black Lives Matter and gay rights:
“Is it OK to march in a demonstration and say, ‘Black lives matter’? What about a Pride parade? In theory, the answer today is, “Yes.” But in practice, NPR journalists will have to discuss specific decisions with their bosses, who in turn will have to ask a lot of questions.”
So the editors will have the power to choose between acceptable and unacceptable causes.
The inclusion of press freedom is particularly ironic as NPR itself continues to undermine core values of journalism like neutrality. Could NPR reporters protest in front of the building over this policy gutting any notion of objectivity and killing journalism? Is that a matter of “freedom and dignity”? The policy invites subjectivity not only in journalists becoming advocacy but arbitrary judgment by editors on what will satisfy their ill-defined rule. That may be the point. Subjectivity is the measure and, conversely, objectivity is itself a reactionary notion.
We have been discussing the rise of advocacy journalism and the rejection of objectivity in journalism schools.
Writers, editors, commentators, 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.”
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.
The abandonment of the tradition of neutrality for reporters by NPR will hasten the decline of American journalism. Polls show trust in the media at an all-time low with less than 20 percent of citizens trusting television or print media. Yet, reporters and academics continue to destroy the core principles that sustain journalism and ultimately the role of a free press in our society. NPR specifically appears intent on undermining its claim for continued federal subsidies. Why should conservative and libertarian citizens pay to support a news organization that now supports its own reporters joining political causes? It is highly unlikely that causes deemed advocacy for the “freedom and dignity of human beings” would include pro-life, pro-drilling, pro-police or other more conservative causes.
American journalism is moving rapidly toward the “Gonzo” journalistic model of Hunter Thompson: “I can’t think in terms of journalism without thinking in terms of political ends. Unless there’s been a reaction, there’s been no journalism. It’s cause and effect.”
The effect of the abandonment of objectivity and now neutrality is the erasure of the line between advocacy and journalism. Eventually and inevitably it will leave only advocacy without pretense or principle.