We have been discussing the implications of the rising advocacy journalism movement where reporters actively frame or omit facts to achieve social or political agendas. This week there is an astonishing story about the suppression of newsworthy facts by a leading journalist, Katie Couric. Notably, Couric outed herself in her new memoir by recounting how she cut out a quote from the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a 2016 interview concerning the kneelers at NFL games. What is even more troubling is that journalists like New York Times columnist David Brooks allegedly encouraged her to do so.In the interview, Ginsburg seemed to surprise Couric by saying that the kneelers were “dumb and disrespectful.” Couric then pushes her to say that they still have a first amendment right to protest. In reality, the right to protest as an employee of a private employer is limited.
Ginsburg then said that the players show a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life.” She added that “they probably could not have lived in the places they came from…as they became older they realize that this was youthful folly. And that’s why education is important.”
That is a major news item coming from the “Notorious RBG,” a liberal icon. However, Couric claims she was trying to “protect” Ginsburg from herself by burying the quote. The fear was that Ginsburg would become the “Infamous RBG” if the quote came out. After all, at the time, President Donald Trump was slamming the demonstration and some Democrats even suggested impeaching him for his NFL remarks. This would be major news and Couric acknowledges that fact. Notably, in rationalizing a decision to bury a major news item, Brooks allegedly maintained that Ginsburg probably did not understand the question. It is a remarkable spin since, if she did not understand that question, how did she understand the other questions? The answers to the other questions were consistent with the expected news narrative. This controversy comes after the ACLU edited a famous quote from Ginsburg to remove references to women — deemed sexist by the ACLU.
The fact is that Couric was burying a major news story to protect Ginsburg. Imagine the response if Ginsburg was seen as exposing sentiments similar to those of Trump, who was being denounced as a racist for such criticism. The solution by Couric was to run with a dishonest interview that deleted the most newsworthy element. It is also unlikely that Couric would not have shown the same consideration for another justice like Thomas or Alito. We have been discussing the rise of advocacy journalism and the rejection of objectivity in journalism schools. 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.”The Couric story arose in the same week that Speaker Nancy Pelosi blamed reporters for “not doing a better job” in selling the $3.5 trillion spending bill. It was an embarrassing moment for the media as Pelosi said that they needed to push positive elements and aspects of the bill.
The Couric interview captures the essence of advocacy journalism. Couric chose the narrative over the news. In doing so, she did a disservice to both journalism and the law. This was not “youthful folly” by Couric. It was advocacy masquerading as journalism.