On The Bright Side, At Least This Esteemed Journalism Professor Doesn’t Deny Bias…

This is three years old—the numbers are much worse for journalists now. And rightly so…

He celebrates it!

Stanford Communications Professor Emeritus Ted Glasser, in an interview with The Stanford Daily, asserts that objectivity is an impediment to good journalism. The profession, he said, must “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.”  Instead, of objective reporters of events and facts to be then used by the publlic to make their own decisions and come to their own opinions. Glasser sees “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about morality…Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”

Yes, a veteran journalism professor actually believes that, openly admits it, and presumably has been teaching that to journalism students all these years.

It would strain credulity and chance to think he was alone in this approach, especially the way our current journalistic establishment behaves. Bolstering my confidence that Glasser is not an anomaly was Wesley Lowery,  an African-American journalist who has been a reporter with the LA Times, CBS News, and currently CNN (what a surprise!).   In a tweet, Lowery declared “American view-from-nowhere, “objectivity”-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment…The old way must go. We need to rebuild our industry as one that operates from a place of moral clarity.”

Let me be clear. Since objectivity and the absence of bias are the very foundation of journalism ethics, the positions of Glasser and Lowery (and, I would guess, the majority of American journalists who may not be as candid, self-righteous and arrogant as them) would remove journalism from the ranks of professions, which all have defining ethical mandates designed to make them trustworthy. For a journalist, or worse, a journalism professor, to hold that it should be the objective of journalists to decide what to report and how to report it according to their own ideological objectives based on their personal interpretation of “morality” is a rejection of journalism and an endorsement of  the role of propagandist, which is the antithesis of ethical journalism.

For years, law professor/blogger Glenn Reynolds has used a repeating catch phrase regarding U.s. journalists: “Think of them as Democratic Party operatives with bylines and you won’t go far wrong.” That is exactly the role Glasser and Lowery are advocating, and self-righteously to boot. For journalists to embrace that role, based on “morality”—a lazy and transparent cover word for “the objectives and world view we think are the right ones, so they must be right”—is the equivalent of criminal defense lawyers holding the the “moral” way to to their jobs is to decide which clients are guilty, and make sure they get convicted. A doctor who sees the profession of medicine through Lowry’s and Glasser’s moral lens would endorse a duty to allow “bad” patients to die for the good of humanity. Such doctors and lawyers would be kicked out of their professions as unethical.

What anti-journalism advocates like Lowry and Glasser don’t appreciate is that unlike lawyers and doctors, journalists are not especially bright or learned. They do not tend to come from the upper ranks of scholars or the IQ scale. They supposedly have skills in investigation and communication , because their profession is, or was, dedicated to describing reality, not dictating it. They possess neither the training, nor the experience, nor the intellect, nor the character to assume the role of social engineer. Journalists have merely noticed that the public’s trust provides a gateway to power and influence, and they feel it is noble to abuse that trust. In their narcissism, today’s journalists have come under the corrupting spell of Rationalization #14. Self-validating Virtue,” in which an act is judged by the perceived goodness of the person doing it, rather than the other way around. This is applied by the doer, who reasons, “I am a good and ethical person. I have decided to do this; therefore this must be an ethical thing to do, since I would never do anything unethical”…this rationalization short-circuits ethical decision-making, and is among the reasons good people do bad things, and keep doing them, even when the critics point out their obvious unethical nature.”

Morons. All the anti-journalism journalists will accomplish is by turning professionalism into advocacy is to destroy the profession,  though not before doing incalculable damage to society.

17 thoughts on “On The Bright Side, At Least This Esteemed Journalism Professor Doesn’t Deny Bias…

    • Too late. We now have a reproducibility and replicability crisis in science. It is one thing that a second study doesn’t come to the same answers as an original one (replicability). It is another when the data from a study doesn’t result in the final results the authors say it does. The latest study on remdesivir had to be changed because, after publication, people noticed that the data didn’t support the conclusions of the paper. A major global warming study was found to have done all their calculations wrong in NATURE! This is now common in science. But why aren’t these mistakes getting caught in peer review? I would say bias is one of the reasons, people don’t want to call out bad research that comes to the ‘correct’ conclusion. The other is that we have too many graduate schools pumping out sub-par Ph.D.’s. Such people are too unsure of themselves to bring up errors, because they aren’t confident they know how the calculations should be done and don’t want to expose their ignorance.

      • I have to say I am astounded by the number of young people I run across (children of friends, typically) who are amassing all sorts of graduate degrees, many from really prestigious schools. Are they all really that smart? I wonder what’s going on. And of course, they all want to work for NGOs.

  1. What’s to be done about the American academy?

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8734547/University-Chicago-graduates-interested-Black-studies-admissions-cycle.html

    The University of Chicago graduate English faculty will only be accepting Ph.D. candidates who want to to critical racial theory studies. How’s that for diversity? This is hideous. I’m thinking of applying. I’ll propose “Saul Bellow: Oppressor of Palestinians” as my thesis topic. Should get me in like Flynn.

  2. Jack, I was wondering when you’d get around to this story. You and I have, in the past, taken different views on the news media: your belief that it SHOULD be objective, my belief that it never was, and that the entire PREMISE of “objective media” is a largely American conceit that was created as a business decision.

    I stand by that decision, and I’m actually not particularly upset about the Esteemed Professor’s position here: at least he’s hastening an understanding that the idea of objective media is horseshit from the ground up.

    What IS potentially problematic is if J-schools indoctrinate, rather than train, students. THAT will be a serious problem, and it’s not far-fetched to believe they’ll try (and potentially succeed – as you note, many journalists really aren’t particularly smart). But the sooner Americans realize that there is no single trustworthy source of news, the better. At least, in my opinion.

    • Is it really that hard, AIM? I remember as a kid reading TIME Magazine (My father was a charter subscriber. TIME arrived in our mailbox every Tuesday afternoon as a transcribed revelation from the Oracle of Delphi, bringing us THE TRUTH about the world beyond our front porch and our small, provincial minds in backwater Miami, Florida, a three hours long jet ride from New York, the center of the universe.) and noticing at the end of every article there was always a sentence or paragraph that presented the opposing take on whatever the article was covering. At that age, wanting, as I did, the revealed TRUTH, I found the practice kind of annoying and wishy-washy. I wonder when they abandoned that editorial practice? It sure looks good in retrospect fifty years later.

      Your thesis is an interesting one, though. I think what you’re describing started with the post WWII sainting of people like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Cronkite WAS God. And played the part to the hilt. But of course, he was an upper West Side lefty from his pipe to the very toes of his Docksiders.

      • Actually, OB, it started half a century before that. The first move towards “Objective Journalism” occurred in the early part of the 20th century, at the height of what was then known as “yellow journalism.” It was driven largely by publisher Joseph Pulitzer (no stranger to yellow journalism himself) and a handful of other major publishers who realized that the raucous attack-based journalism of the time was seriously worrisome to their customers. I’m talking about the advertisers, not the jamokes who paid a penny or two for a copy of the latest edition; those jamokes would simply get snotty towards a given business if it advertised in a publication of which they disapproved. Everything old is new again, eh?

        Pulitzer raised expectations on editors and reporters and was formative in the creation of the Columbia School of Journalism – the first such school of its kind in the US.

        Now, Cronkite, Murrow et. al. DO enter into this story decades later. William S. Paley, the chairman of CBS, realized the potential of televised news and was one of its primary drivers. But this is important to understand: NBC and ABC (which was actually spun off from NBC) owned the north and the west. CBS placed major targeting on the American south (for quite a while it was the only television game in town down in states like Alabama and Mississippi). And there were rumblings from station managers down there that the advertisers were getting nervous about the political leanings that CBS news anchors were interjecting on the air – especially Murrow.

        Paley laid down the law: there will be nothing in anything a reporter says that indicates their political beliefs. No exceptions. And many of us grew up with the effects of those two business decisions. We bought the idea that journalism was on the level. Some journalists do try very hard to uphold a standard of objectivity, it’s true. But these decisions were NOT made for purposes of objectivity. They were made for purposes of the bottom line – just as the abandonment of those concepts today is a decision based on sales numbers.

        • Ah yes. “Citizen Kane.” So Pulitzer founded and funded the first school of journalism. So journalism isn’t really a profession. Yellow journalism still rules. It just went underground for a while.

          I can buy that.

          Thank you for the info.

          • Yellow journalism always ruled, just as it does in most of the world in which media isn’t state controlled (and that’s a different problem altogether).

            In the United States, it was economically and strategically advantageous to mask that reality off and on for a number of generations.

        • From Wiki: “Yellow journalism and the yellow press are American terms for journalism and associated newspapers that present little or no legitimate well-researched news while instead using eye-catching headlines for increased sales. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.”

          Arthur in Maine writes: “You [Jack] and I have, in the past, taken different views on the news media: your belief that it SHOULD be objective, my belief that it never was, and that the entire PREMISE of “objective media” is a largely American conceit that was created as a business decision.

          To get to the heart of this issue one needs a good example. In my researches into the origin of advertising and propaganda in America (first decades of the 20th century) I was led to the critical political writing of Randolph Bourne.

          From an article in the New Statesman [10 January 2020]:

          Bourne’s eclecticism has allowed him to be appropriated by both the left and by libertarian opponents of the state. In the end, he is probably better understood as a radical democrat, someone who in the face of intolerable injustice chose to “divide, confuse, disturb, keep the intellectual waters constantly in motion”, to throw “sand in the gears of the machinery”. And just as he was an isolated figure at the end of his life, he is still a thinker who none can fully claim. That said, Bourne’s persistent disapproval of the intellectual’s affiliation with power, and his own restless opposition to state violence exercised in the name of the people, could not be more relevant. Bourne’s demand for the “democratic control of foreign policy” also resonates after more than a century of warfare.

          […]

          Bourne lived at the end of an explosive historical period that began with the end of the US Civil War in 1865 and encompassed mass immigration, overseas expansion, urbanisation, class division, and culminated in the United States becoming the world’s leading industrial power. He insisted that another world was possible; America’s imperfect, underdeveloped, democratic experiment might yet hold the keys to a more just, inclusive, cosmopolitan future.

          My point here is to try to expand on what you are saying — that media *should* be objective. A media-system (an organization, a corporation, a business) can only hire, or not hire, people who come from specific orientations and give them, or not give them, the freedom to say what they think. Randolph Bourne had very definite progressive ideas & opinions, but then in the context of his age so did the contemporary writers Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. It would be impossible to demand that a given writer or intellectual not have the ideas and opinions that they have, since all of the important writers definitely had such orientations.

          What is the crux or the most salient feature in Jack’s comments about ‘lack of objectivity’? It is a hard issue to talk about because it is difficult to understand just what exactly ‘the media’ but also certain factions of power within the country are, in truth, up to. Oddly, the media-systems at the time that Bourne wrote about his opposition to entering WW1 correspond to our media-systems today. They are very much *in pro* of certain views and perhaps programs which they are selling hard. In the former time, those foces won out over what was then a real and legitimate opposition to going to war. But war and all the combined industrial and social machineries that this entailed was the chosen direction of elite power in the US. They determined that things would go in the direction they did.

          So, it seems to me that the issue here is *who determines what?* Who has the power to control or to direct social discourse? Who has the power and also the perseverance to hold to a chose course and to see it carried through, even when, let us say, there is genuine popular dissent.

          I am not sure if the term *yellow journalism* elucidates the real issue. I always thought of yellow journalism as distracting journalism for the lower classes. But what we are dealing with now — the social struggles, and the behind-the-scenes political and economic struggles going on which we may not be allowed to see in full (that is my notion of course) — seems genuinely to be about quite distinct political and ideological agendas and the issue and question as to who has the power ultimately to win out.

          • Correction:

            My point here is to try to expand on what you are saying — that media *should* be objective.

            I meant to say what the two of you are referring to, the question about objectivity.

  3. 1 – It’s not possible to be objective, but insofar as that is true, we need to encourage everybody to be very skeptical of anything that the media says and does not say, covers and does not cover, implies/assumes and does not imply/assume. However, we don’t know – cannot know – what the media does not cover. That is a huge risk,
    2 – If there is no objective truth, what’s up with fact-checking?

  4. From today’s NYTs titled:

    Whose America Is It?

    I would suggest that this necessitates a question that cannot be *objective*. The issue today is that there are numerous *americas*. I am not sure if they are seen and described as such. I definitely do not have the sense that this issue is discussed on this blog. Now why is that? I think the answer is that, essentially, Jack and numerous others here have a viewpoint that does not, and perhaps cannot, allow for the fact that *america* is now seriously divided. So, he (and they) must continue to assert the romantic notion that ‘America is united’ or that it should be united.

    Yet the fact of the matter is that it is not *united*.

    How could we describe what the different, competing factions are?

    Depending on who you read or listen to there is a good deal of debate about this issue. But that debate is pushed to the fringes. That is, the conspiratorial and paranoid notions that America is being transformed by globalist cabals and powerful global interests: reduced to be a cog within a world-machinery of nations.

    Internally though, there are the popular factions. That is, the *rising demographic* of colored Americans. Meaning those who are not *white*. There is a movement which has been developing for 50-60 years that has as its objective, even if not fully conscious, to *displace* and perhaps to *replace* white America. This is the political demographic that the Democrats appeal to and perhaps I can say serve. This demographic struggle is not one that is talked about openly though. And you could never say, for example,

    “The new and rising demographic concerns me. I am white and I do not want my demographic to be superseded or that I am *replaced*. And for this reason I advocate for our demographic reclaiming our ‘super-majority status’ and I will act politically to achieve this goes that serves my interest”.

    So, political power, as well as business power — and these are the ones who really see ‘the writing on the wall’ and understand what this demographic shift signifies — are coming out in favor of the increased power of the new demographic and a new politics that attends it. That is what politicians do, isn’t it? Adapt their *message* to those who will elect them.

    But then these other *americas* need to be spoken of too. And this is the america that has to do with structural power. The actual *owners* of the country. This has a domestic faction and then there is also a globalist faction. That is to say those interests that manage the American empire. But ‘American empire’ is not something that is talked about. Some do of course — George Friedman for example — but his discourse is directed mostly to those investors who do fully understand this.

    So america fits into a larger, global system and those who manage this system must, of course! have an interest in managing america. And their influence in managing america, and the tremendously powerful tools they have to do so (they own and control the systems that provide *view & perspective*) are the precise tools that control those processes known as ‘social engineering’.

    So this is the basic context, but it is not one that Jack talks about nor anyone who writes here. But it seems to me that it is exactly these things that need to be seen and talked about. Because if that is established then a — perhaps more genuine or realistic? — conversation about the ethics involved could take place.

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