Advocacy Journalism 101: Howard University Professor Hannah-Jones Criticizes MSNBC for Covering Shoplifting Stories

New York Times writer (and now Howard University Journalism Professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones, went public this week with a call for journalists not to cover shoplifting crimes, even criticizing MSNBC’s Al Sharpton for his discussion of a viral video of a man who recently stole steaks from a New York City Trader Joe’s. Hannah-Jones is a leading voice for advocacy journalism and her public criticism of the coverage of the rise in shoplifting vividly shows what such journalism means for the profession.

The MSNBC segment addressed a video of a man who casually walked out of the store with a stack of steaks:

After that video, the store was hit again by a man who shoplifted and insisted in an interview that it was entirely appropriate to do so.

Hannah-Jones objected to MSNBC covering the story because it could support efforts to increase policing and prosecution: “This drumbeat for continued mass incarceration is really horrific to watch. A person stealing steak is not national news, and there have always been thefts from stores. This is how you legitimize the carceral state.”

It was advocacy journalism in full display.

We have been discussing the rise of advocacy journalism and the rejection of objectivity in journalism schools. 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.”

Here Hannah-Jones is demonstrating how such advocacy journalism works. There is no question that there is a sharp rise in shoplifting across America, a trend that has resulted in the closing of stores in some cities. As I have previously written, this is due to a lack of deterrence in major cities where prosecution is rare for such crimes and many stores do not even bother calling the police.  Even in liberal states like California, politicians have been compelled to establish task forces to combat retail theft. Various Democratic politicians have decried the rising crime trend.

That would seem news. It impacts average citizens with the closure of stores and increase prices due theft. However, by covering the story, Hannah-Jones objects that reporters are working against social justice. She has previously declared that “all journalism is activism.” In this case, she would have media bury such stories because that is not the narrative that she wants viewers to hear.

While Hannah-Jones’ view of journalism is opposed by many viewers, it is in vogue in journalism schools. Indeed, UNC Journalism and Media Dean Susan King fought to give a chair to Hannah-Jones and, in another example of advocacy journalism, even pressured a journalist to frame coverage to help that cause.

The impact of such advocacy journalism is evident in every poll where the faith in the media has plummeted. Indeed, the “Let’s Go Brandon” movement is as much a criticism of the media as it is President Biden. The United States ranked dead last in media trust among 49 countries with just 29% saying that they trusted the media.


328 thoughts on “Advocacy Journalism 101: Howard University Professor Hannah-Jones Criticizes MSNBC for Covering Shoplifting Stories”

  1. Where has all the truth gone? Slippery slopes and theatrics. Mental gymnastics. Uber rich dictating what’s said. Reality dead. Hit pieces arrows shot in the night. To only the elitist’s delight. Big tech pulling the plug. So smug. Goal is to suppress opposition. Silence the other voices as if there are no choices. All so insane, mundane, irrational and manipulative. Scripted. All walking down that wide road of destruction, not a care in sight, unware they will have no might. They will be eaten in the darkness, chewed up in the senselessness, spit out in the darkness. They are those who chose to follow the lies. To say nothing when those who spoke the truth were silenced.

  2. Are we to have something akin to censorship bureaus that determine the objectivity of a news article?

      1. Whether or not it’s lying, it generally isn’t a crime and may not even be actionable under civil laws (e.g., defamation laws).

        Consider Karen McDougal’s defamation suit against Fox for Tucker Carlson’s lies about her.

        Recall that Carlson presented it as news and fact when he said “Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has told federal prosecutors that he facilitated payments to two women who said they had affairs with Donald Trump. … Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now, that sounds like a classic case of extortion.”

        Fox doesn’t dispute that McDougal is one of the women Carlson was discussing. The thing is: McDougal never approached Trump or Cohen and made no threats. But the judge ruled “Plaintiff submits that Mr. Carlson’s statements were facts, as indicated by his statement: “Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed.” … the Court finds that Mr. Carlson’s invocation of “extortion” against Ms. McDougal is nonactionable hyperbole…”

        1. “Whether or not it’s lying, it generally isn’t a crime and may not even be actionable under civil laws (e.g., defamation laws).”

          So what? When a person lies, they can be branded as liars. Watch out.

          The details of Carlson are tangential to my statement you are replying to. The problem of lying is yours.

          1. I didn’t say anything false. Once again, you project your own faults onto others.

            And yes, of course Tucker Carlson can be branded a liar.

            1. ATS, you have a history of falsehoods and deception. That is well documented and well understood.

              1. Once again, you project your own faults onto others while also deflecting from discussion of a substantive issue: journalism and your claim that “If it is presented as news or fact, it is lying.”

                1. So far, ATS, you have failed to prove your argument, but you have been proven to lie and deceive.

                  You provided a quote, but I could find no reference to it on the page. Is that you trying to create evidence again?

                  1. So far, Meyer, you’ve failed to prove that “The details of Carlson are tangential to my statement,” given that your statement was “If it is presented as news or fact, it is lying,” and the court documents showing Carlson presenting lies as news and fact are a good illustration of your statement.

                    1. I don’t have to prove they are tangential to your statement. That is obvious. With or without Carlson, who Wheeler did not mention in the excerpt, you accomplished nothing. You failed. You are impotent.

                      If you wish to argue Carlson, do so. Provide the transcript in context, and I’ll see if I think he lied, was mistaken, was hyperbolic or was telling the truth. I like Carlson, but that doesn’t mean I always agree with him.

  3. Paul,

    You don’t seem to understand that I also share an uncanny ability to look into a man’s heart and to know what he feels. You thought you were the only one with this capability?

    I can sense a very strong hatred of me. Don’t bother denying it. It’s there; it’s palpable.

    So why do you despise me?

    1. Jeff – I am going to need citations and documentation of your ability. I, on the other hand, have a finely tuned B.S. meter and you have the needle on red. My meter is telling me that you are so full of b.s. that your eyes are brown.

      1. Paul,

        The feeling is mutual. Surprisingly, we have a lot in common for a Trumpist and a NeverTrumper!

        1. Estovir – thanks. I know DBB is a 89 weeks behind (not counting the time I was gone). I will be keeping track of him. 😉

        2. Estovir, Paul Schulte is insane. I never agreed to supply him with anything. My dispute with Darren was over using the word b*tard, spelled out, which I had mistakenly thought was acceptable on a blog which advertised ‘free speech’. Tuns out that JT’s shop talks bigger than it allows, for example also the n-word may not appear. So much for free speech.

          1. DDB – 1) ad hominem attacks are your M.O. when you cannot defeat the argument. BTW, we start week 89, let’s get hopping. You do not have that much time left. 🙂

            1. This is quite the long-running disagreement. I see that over 3 years ago, you told him “David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me twenty-four citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after twenty-eight weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on” (

  4. All of the illegal aliens should be drafted into the military and made to fight against Russia.

    1. “All of the illegal aliens should be drafted into the military and made to fight against Russia.”

      You forgot your sarcasm tag. There are people who would read what you wrote and think you were serious.

    2. Although this idea has merit, illegals do not seem to register for the draft under their own name. 🙂

  5. Mobster: “Give me protection money or else I will burn down your business.”

    Putin: “Give me concessions or else I will burn down Ukraine.”

    This is moral? A man cannot claim a moral equivalence when he is so immoral.

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