New York Times Controversy Exposes the Inherent Conflict in Advocacy Journalism

Jazmine Hughes, a writer for the New York Times Magazine, resigned this week after a conflict with her editors over signing of an anti-Israeli letter. New York Times Magazine Editor Jake Silverstein said Hughes violated the company’s policy on public protest. The incident exposes the inherent conflicts — and hypocrisy — in the shift away from neutrality in reporting in media companies and graduate programs.

I have long been a critic of what I called “advocacy journalism” as it began to emerge in journalism schools. These schools encourage students to use their “lived expertise” and to “leave[] neutrality behind.” Instead, of neutrality, they are pushing “solidarity [as] ‘a commitment to social justice that translates into action.’”

For example, we previously discussed the release of the results of interviews with over 75 media leaders by former executive editor for The Washington Post Leonard Downie Jr. and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward. They concluded that objectivity is now considered reactionary and even harmful. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Chronicle said it plainly: “Objectivity has got to go.”

Saying that “Objectivity has got to go” is, of course, liberating. You can dispense with the necessities of neutrality and balance. You can cater to your “base” like columnists and opinion writers. Sharing the opposing view is now dismissed as “bothsidesism.” Done. No need to give credence to opposing views. It is a familiar reality for those of us in higher education, which has been increasingly intolerant of opposing or dissenting views.

Downie recounted how news leaders today

“believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading “bothsidesism” in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects. And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.”

There was a time when all journalists shared a common “identity” as professionals who were able to separate their own bias and values from the reporting of the news.

Now, objectivity is virtually synonymous with prejudice. Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor at the Associated Press declared “It’s objective by whose standard? … That standard seems to be White, educated, and fairly wealthy.”

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 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.”

Lauren Wolfe, the fired freelance editor for the New York Times, has not only gone public to defend her pro-Biden tweet but published a piece titled I’m a Biased Journalist and I’m Okay With That.” 

Former New York Times writer (and now Howard University Journalism Professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones is a leading voice for advocacy journalism.

Indeed, Hannah-Jones has declared “all journalism is activism.”

At the same time, outlets like National Public Radio have abandoned the rule that journalists should not engage in public protests.

NPR declared that it would allow employees to participate in political protests when the editors believe the causes advance the “freedom and dignity of human beings.” So it remained up to the editors if a reporter could join a pro-life protest (unlikely) or a pro-gun control protest (very likely).

Hughes represents this new generation of reporters that have been told for years to leave neutrality behind on a newspaper that fired editors for publishing an opinion piece by a conservative senator.

Siverstein stated “while I respect that she has strong convictions, this was a clear violation of The Times’s policy on public protest. This policy, which I fully support, is an important part of our commitment to independence.”

Hughes signed a letter dated Oct. 26 titled “Writers Against the War on Gaza,” that declared “Israel’s war against Gaza is an attempt to conduct genocide against the Palestinian people.”

The letter specifically criticized the New York Times for an editorial supporting Israel and criticized “establishment media outlets” who call the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas “unprovoked.”

The letter stated “We cannot write a free Palestine into existence, but together we must do all we possibly can to reject narratives that soothe Western complicity in ethnic cleansing.”

I can understand why writers like Hughes are confused. Media outlets like NPR will allow them to protest if the editors agree with their causes while NY Times pledges that it will not publish the views of senators on protests while publishing foreign figures accused of unspeakable acts against protesters or academics who have said that they are fine with killing conservatives.

Of course, none of this is sustainable for the industry.

What is most striking about this universal shift toward advocacy journalism (including at journalism schools) is that there is no evidence that it is a sustainable approach for the media as an industry. While outfits like NPR allow reporters to actually participate in protests and the New York Times sheds conservative opinions, the new polling shows a sharp and worrisome division in trust in the media. Not surprisingly, given the heavy slant of American media, Democrats are largely happy with and trusting of the media. Conversely, Republicans and independents are not. The question is whether the mainstream media can survive and flourish by writing off over half of the country.

A 2021 study from the non-partisan Pew Research Center showed a massive decline in trust among Republicans. Five years ago, 70 percent of Republicans said they had at least some trust in national news organizations. In 2021, that trust was down to just 35 percent. Conversely, and not surprisingly, 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they have “a lot” or “some” trust in the media. When you just ask liberal Democrats, it jumps to 83 percent.

This latest polling shows that the problem is only getting more acute for the media.

Yet, instead of denouncing the shift to advocacy journalism, media outlets are seeking to simply maintain a selective, NPR-like line of what advocacy is to be allowed, even fostered.

Notably, hundreds of journalists signed this letter but Hughes is the only one known to have left her position with their media company. We previously discussed how hundreds of writers and editors signed a petition to censor Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett (citing their publishing company affiliations).

The problem for the NY Times is not severing ties with Hughes over her public advocacy, but the paper’s embrace of such advocacy in coverage, including its recent controversy over spreading false claims that Israel clearly bombed a hospital causing hundreds of deaths in Gaza.

If editors are actively telling young reporters to “leave neutrality behind,” they can hardly be surprised when writers like Hughes sign these letters.

113 thoughts on “New York Times Controversy Exposes the Inherent Conflict in Advocacy Journalism”

  1. “Both investigations had been going on for months before DJT announced his candidacy on Nov. 2 of last year.” Therefore, the prosecutions (read “persecutions”) are not motivated by a desire to kneecap Trump the candidate.

    Anyone see the obvious fallacy there?

  2. Jonathan: Some on your blog bizarrely think DJT is being prosecuted only because he is ahead in the current polls in certain states. That’s not the reason. Jack Smith filed his indictment over the Capitol insurrection on August 2, 2023. Fani Willis filed her RICO indictment about two weeks later. Both investigations had been going on for months before DJT announced his candidacy on Nov. 2 of last year. It appears the supporters of DJT on this blog have been drinking way too much of the MAGA cool aid. DJT is being prosecuted because he violated federal and state laws. Does anyone really think DJT would not have been prosecuted had he decided not to run? Under our criminal justice system no one is above the law–not even a former president. That’s, undoubtedly, a difficult concept for some on this blog to comprehend.

    1. “Under our criminal justice system no one is above the law–not even a former president.”

      How about the current president?

    2. We have no “justice system” with these Democrat Communists abusing power. Democrats have destroyed rule of law & our democracy. Rule of law is dead. We are devolving into a totalitarian state run by lawless, vicious, deceptive, devious, stupid, ignorant, and ideologically driven leftists. They don’t care about laws, constitutions, civil rights, fairness, ethics — none of that matters. By ANY means necessary is their only guiding principle. Period. This cannot be tolerated another day. Where are the Republicans?? My God. DO something.

      1. VOTE Republican up and down every ballot in every jurisdiction in this country if you want to save what’s left of our country. There must be some Democrats still out there with integrity and honor who can hold their nose and vote RED because they understand what time it is in our country.
        Or you can wave goodbye to America if you vote Democrat/blue. Not a joke, as FJB likes to say.

  3. The best way to handle advocacy journalism is to not watch nor subscribe to services that do not present facts from real sources. What makes this difficult for those who do seek to understand the facts, is that they have to sample from multiple information sources and compare and contrast what is opinion and fact. Those who do not take this effort are left clueless.

    I miss the days of reading a real newspaper during breakfast and coffee. During the last election, our news paper, more than a hundred years old, had gone downhill and did little objective reporting and filled in national news from the Associated Press. Sure, if there was an earthquake, tornado or a car accident, they still did a pretty good job. Regarding national news, they went by the wayside, the readership diminished and they started cutting the size of their paper and began their cycle of demise. I buy the Sunday paper now and then only to confirm that it is worthless. Elvis has left the building.

    This does not bide well for our nation. Now, business owners are helpless to do anything about rampant shoplifters, homeless, people defecating on the sidewalk, fornicating in public and the fentanyl zombies dancing in the busy streets. This is what my blue city provides for us. Car jackings, thugs beating up little old women and robbing them, and police leaving daily is then new norm. Oh, yes, the politicians will get up and say, “This has got to stop: but they won’t do a damned thing about it. The border is being overrun by millions. What is it now, 8 million officially? I would do the same if I were them, but they owe the cartel and when they want a favor called in they had better deliver.

    This is not random. This is on purpose. It is designed to destroy this nation. The United States is one of the only places left on earth where free speech is still allowed and where an individual with ambition and the willingness to work hard still has a shot at life. This independent thought drives those who wish to dominate and control people nuts. There is not other logical reason for this insanity. We are witnessing evil. Pure and intentional evil.

  4. DM is a total Leftist dupe, dope, and dummy–yes, all three. The NY State case is a total fraud and will be thrown out on appeal. Engoron obviously violated the law multiple times and he won’t get away with his lies when the case results are reviewed by real judges.

    (I assume that somee genuine judges who follow the law exist in the NY State court of appeals, but who know. But even if they don’t exist there either, it will still ultimately be thrown out by the SCOTUS, if it has to come to that, because the case is patently fraudulent.)

    Leftist DM is clutching at nonbiodegradable straws again, but that’s all the DM creature’s got. Trump wins again!

    Here’s the classic video showing Leftist DM’s response to the inevitable:

    This never grows old.

  5. Jonathan: I rarely post this late at night but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to comment on the testimony of Eric Trump and Don Jr. this week before Judge Ergonon.

    Under NY corporate law , if a person wants to serve as a corporate officer of a NY corporation they have duties and responsibilities. In the case of the above they also served as trustees which also carries additional fiduciary obligations as well. The brothers Trump didn’t follow established corporate law or the responsibilities of trustees. They both testified they weren’t familiar with GAAP and didn’t help prepare statements of financial conditions of the Trump Organization. They testified they relied on “outside experts”. But that’s no excuse. Under NY corporate law an officer of a company is responsible for ensuring all financial statements are true and accurate. Eric and Don Jr. signed off on statements of financial conditions they knew or should have known were false.

    So why didn’t DJT put executives with real expertise and knowledge of NY corporate law in charge of his companies in his absence? I think the answer lies in the fact DJT didn’t want competent control officers in charge because they might discover all the financial fraud that had been going on for years. So DJT chose his kids who would willingly go along with cooking the books. They lived the good life. Why would they want to blow the whistle on dad? It was a “family affair”.

    So now Eric and Don Jr. are in a heap of legal trouble. “Willful ignorance” is no defense to the crime of perjury.

    1. NEW YORK TIMES: “Voters under 30 favor Mr. Biden by only a single percentage point, his lead among Hispanic voters is down to single digits and his advantage in urban areas is half of Mr. Trump’s edge in rural regions. And while women still favored Mr. Biden, men preferred Mr. Trump by twice as large a margin, reversing the gender advantage that had fueled so many Democratic gains in recent years.

      Black voters — long a bulwark for Democrats and for Mr. Biden — are now registering 22 percent support in these states for Mr. Trump, a level unseen in presidential politics for a Republican in modern times.”
      Nov 5, 2023

      Uh oh! Time to arrest Trump again! Destroy him!
      Destroy his businesses! Destroy his children, too!
      Where da corrupt prosecutors and judges at?
      Get Trump taken off the ballot, stat! Deny the people their choice!
      Democrat motto: By ANY means necessary!

      1. And Dennis, pay attention to the fact that this support FOR Trump is right now, today, after 8 years of relentless media slander and deep state persecution, 2 impeachments, 1 coup d’état, and 91 pending felony counts.

        The People of this country understand what the Dirty Democrats are doing.
        Why don’t you?

        1. It’s ridiculous to ask DM why he doesn’t grasp reality and insists on regurgitating his Leftist talking points. That’s what he’s been programmed to do by his Leftist masters. Thinking or reasoning aren’t options, as these functions have long ago shut down.

    2. Dennis – Do you know WHY they are prosecuting Trump and his family?

      The New York Times
      President Biden is trailing Donald Trump in five of the six most important battleground states one year before the 2024 election, new polls by The New York Times and Siena College have found.

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