“We pull no punches: when the weight of the objective evidence is clear, we must not conceal the truth through euphemism; rather, we should employ direct language. Our aim is not to be perceived as impartial by the people we imagine are our readers, but to accurately inform them about the world they live in.”
—-Reporter Wesley Lowery, Journalist in Residence at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, in his essay, “A Test of the News”
When I encountered the essay titled “A Test of the News” in the Columbia Journalism Review, I foolishly anticipated a careful diagnostic analysis of why American journalism was so ethically wretched, and a perceptive prescription for fixing the problem. Boy, do I have a flat learning curve. Why would I ever think that, knowing what I, what you, what anyone who has been paying attention knows from observing the carnage unethical, incompetent, biased journalism has inflicted on American democracy over the past decade? My delusion was especially unforgivable since 1) Lowery is a journalist, 2) he’s a Pulitzer Prize -winning journalist, and you know what kind of journalists the Pulitzers like, and 3) he’s also an college instructor. Education is running neck and neck with journalism as our most thoroughly unethical profession, though journalism is clearly the one most likely beyond repair.
The first three paragraphs of Lowery’s screed were bad enough, but I didn’t reach the point where I normally would have stopped reading until paragraph #4:
“To this day, news organizations across the country often rely on euphemisms instead of clarity in clear cases of racism (“racially charged,” “racially tinged”) and acts of government violence (“officer-involved shooting”). Such decisions, I wrote, are journalistic failings, but also moral ones: when the weight of the evidence is clear, it is wrong to conceal the truth. Justified as “objectivity,” they are in fact its distortion.”
When a police officer shoots an arrested suspect who tries to take his gun from him and then charges him with his 300 pound bulk, that is “government violence, “and the “weight of evidence is clear”—you know, as in “Hands up, don’t shoot!” That recycled Black Lives Matters mythology pretty much reveals all I need to know about Wesley Lowery, and he confirms my conclusion with the egomaniacal quote at the beginning of this post. He believes, as do so many editors and reporters echoing the same arrogant delusion, that journalists, narrow as their education and experience is, are capable of explaining to the public the true nature of the world they live in. This means the world view journalists want them to live in. Yet reporters do not know when the “weight of objective evidence is clear”; they don’t have the depth, wisdom or intellect to know what the “truth” is (don’t make me list examples again), and what ideological propagandists like Lowery call “accurate” includes shading, spin, soaked with bias, and the strategic omission of facts that undermine their narratives. The delusion is that having an outsized bullhorn automatically confers the ability to use it responsibly.
Perhaps the funniest part of the essay, if something this sinister can be called funny, is the 850 word middle section in which Lowery appeals to the authority of reporter/pundit/journalism guru Walter Lippman, who, Lowery says, “wrote his most famous press critiques at a time much like our own. A bigoted president had worked to reverse strides toward Black equality. Technological advances and waves of new immigrant workers were seismically altering the nation’s demographics and economy. Citizens felt financially perilous even as industry titans became the richest men ever to roam the planet.” Sure, Wesley, the 1920s were just like the 2020s. Woodrow Wilson was like Donald Trump, legal immigration then was like illegal immigration now. You know: objective truth! After essentially letting Lippman’s writings do all of his work for him, Lowery admits, “Lippmann himself …never practiced the methodical journalism he had advocated.”
What should that tell Lowery? Never mind: Lowrey’s not paying attention: soon he’s back to appealing to the authority Walter Lippman again for another 300 words or so, while pointing out that journalists know best, and the public must be herded like goats:
“The ideology and theory of change taken as gospel by many American journalists—the belief that the public can be provided with enough reliable factual information by a protected free press that its individuals can make logical choices for both themselves and the society as a whole—is one Lippmann himself quickly abandoned. The average citizen, he observed, has a perspective hopelessly morphed by their own experiences and will simply contort the available facts until they correspond with what they already believe true….In later writings, Lippmann called the very concept and wisdom of popular democracy—taken as a given in his early press criticisms—into question.”
As the essay proceeds, Lowery reveals himself as a journalist with an ideological agenda, and extols his colleagues to work to inculcate the public in “values”—his values, naturally; “diversity,” but not diverse points of view that challenge the right values, of course, the right values being those he holds dear; to report “truth,” which he is positive that journalists are inherently qualified to identify, and “the equal and fair treatment of all people,” which, if I correctly identify the odor wafting from his piece, means a government managed socialist state with some groups being favored over others.
[My internet was down when I wrote this post. I was unfamiliar with Lowery, but the biases in his article seemed to be such blatant, standard issue black activist social justice cant that I became certain that he was black—but I couldn’t check out my theory until this morning. Of course he is. My reference to the Michael Brown episode was written before that conformation, and sure enough, Lowery wrote a book about Ferguson.
Similarly unsurprisingly, Lowery’s conviction that he is qualified to decide what is “truth” is based on no broader educational background than his journalism studies and activities. Competent, trustworthy, ethical journalists’ race, ethnicity and sex should not be obvious to readers from what they write (Lowery argues at one point that the reporters’ CVs have no relevance to the validity of his reporting, which is nicely self-serving, and then his own essay goes on to prove that the assertion is false.) He is a one-trick pony insisting that good and responsible little one-trick ponies (like him) know what the public should and should not be informed about and how. The arrogance is staggering, but hardly unique to Lowery.]
Far from offering a path to a more trustworthy, responsible and and humility-based journalism, Lowery’s essay is an invaluable piece of evidence showing just how perverted, corrupt and alienated from its own ethics his profession has become. “A Test of the News” is not a cure for the disease that now infects the marrow of our democracy, but the disease itself, which the Columbia Journalism Review is actively spreading.
15 thoughts on “Unethical Quote Of The Day: Wesley Lowery In “The Columbia Journalism Review””
It was an immediate “tell” that he considers impartiality and accuracy to be orthogonal, or even at odds with one another, rather than aligned. You can guess what’s going to follow, once such an attitude is revealed.
I found it to be astounding in its lack of self-awareness.
Another BLM activist hiding behind the mask of journalism. Know who else claimed he was a journalist? Wesley Cook, aka Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted cop-killer and permanent guest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who the left is certain didn’t do it. This guy’s writings are no different than the garbage leftists pay Mumia to bang out from his cell. I say let him continue to spew his hate and be even more biased, the trust in the media has already hit rock bottom.
[Headline erroneously references the Columbia Law Review.]
See—legal bias makes me stupid.
My first thought on seeing the headline was, “Wow! People other than law review drones actually read law reviews?”
Dude wrote a lot of words to announce his close mindedness. Who is he trying to convince and of what? All I’m hearing him say is that refusing to listen to anyone else’s point of view is a good thing. Somehow I doubt he appreciates it when the people he disagrees with emulate him and say things he doesn’t like with equal disregard for the opinions of others. The golden rule has gone missing entirely from our society.
The guy’s a revolutionary, NP. He operates under a different set of rules.
Revolutionaries are a dime a dozen, nowadays. They think they operate by different rules because they think they can wish reality out of existence. If they stick their fingers in their ears and scream really loud then the world will magically rearrange itself according to their wishes, right? All the people who disagree with them will spontaneously combust in the fires of their righteous anger and once that bit of unpleasantness is over the world will be perfect.
Magical thinking, narcissism and screaming don’t actually rearrange reality. Strange but true.
But they sure are ubiquitous. And they just never give up. They really do play the long game. As I’ve said before, I think it’s a personality disorder.
I think I agree with the author, but he would disagree with me. Two points that are separate but deeply interconnected –
1) The mask has slipped, but it was always there.
We’ve never had so much access to information, we are connected 100% of the time, the barriers for entry to media are lowering, and politics has gotten extremely polarized. This has led to an environment where journalists have lowered standards to compete with new entrants to the market who have none. It’s not that they were never biased, or that they didn’t have a narrative agenda, they did. But now it’s on display in a way that’s hard to miss. Over time, through selection bias and the normalization of the abnormal, media did in fact push narratives in a way that was effective, one reason I think the media is so shrill right now, particularly towards the new entrants, is because they knew it and they aren’t adjusting to the new reality that they aren’t as effective at it as they used to be.
2) The idea of an objective press is younger than the first Amendment.
The first “newspapers” were little more than political pamphlets. They had names like “The Republican” or “The Federalist”, and no one expected them to be unbiased. Everything was politically engaged, “Independent” journalists like James Callander weren’t actually what we think of today as Independent, “Independent” in that context meant he was a journalistic hitman, and you could pay him to dig up dirt on your political opponents and he’d do it. The evolution from that to the standard of journalistic objectivity didn’t occur out of some sense of high-minded democratic duty, It was because the people who were getting the most attention were the ones seen as truth tellers, the people willing to throw shade at their own side when the situation called for it. The market was hungry for honesty, and sharp elbows were seen as a mark of honesty. But that doesn’t mean that they were actually honest. It became something of an art form… How to subtly insert selection bias or recency bias to nudge, cajole and shift narratives towards a goal.
I think that news organizations should wear their politics on their sleeves and ditch the pretense at objectivity because the pretense is dishonest and the honesty of saying “We’re Democrats for Democrats” might at least lead people to take their news with a grain of salt.
I think it was guys like Edward R. Murrow and his WWII contemporaries who took newspapers out of the Orson Welles as Citizen Kane world of what yellow journalism really was into the CBS and Walter Cronkite journalism as the voice of God era. But it’s always been nothing more than a charade. They’re nothing more than ink-stained wretches. “Yellow journalism” should probably be regarded as redundant.
I have not read the entire “screed.” However I must say i agree with the first part of the quote you presented. Namely, ““We pull no punches: when the weight of the objective evidence is clear, we must not conceal the truth through euphemism; rather, we should employ direct language.” That to me is the essence not only of good journalism but also crisis management. I admit he goes astray when he demures from being impartial. Impartiality also is the essence of journalism and crisis management,
As SgtFriday use to say, “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts!”
Except that what reporters like this guy think is “clear” is so clouded with bias that the standard is meaningless, indeed, disingenuous. Read on: he thinks it’s objectively clear that police shootings are “government violence.” That means that his words are misleading and subterfuge, and thus unethical.
The best part is that one need read no further than the first three paragraphs to realize the author has no concern about his own biases being included in whatever (yellow?) type of journalisming he is prattling about.
Regrettably, those first three paragraphs say almost nothing else, like it was an assignment that had a minimum word count.