“American journalism died today.”
This bold pronouncement from Andrew Breitbart follows a story at Tucker Carlson‘s Daily Caller blog that outlines, as the title describes it, the “media plotting to kill stories about Rev. Jeremiah Wright“ in the aftermath of the April 16, 2008, debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
What the Daily Caller proves is that many liberal opinion columnists, not necessarily supposedly-unbiased reporters, didn’t like the mainstream media talking about Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That’s not surprising.
The irony, of course, is that the Daily Caller (founded by conservative pundit Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney) is using journalism in an attempt to shift the political landscape – which is the exact charge they level at the forty “mostly liberal journalists and bloggers” who co-wrote the letter criticizing ABC’s debate moderation. The descriptive quote about the journalists, incidentally, is from the New York Times‘ contemporaneous article about critique of the debate. In other words, when it came out the letter was understood to be representing a political position.
One should take the same understanding into reading the Caller‘s article.
Outspoken conservative Andrew Breitbart (he of BigJournalism fame) last night offered a prediction to those he sees as representing the left: “Get some rest. Tomorrow’s gonna be long day & first of many in a row.” Today, he has an opinion piece that sits alongside the Caller‘s story from which my introductory quote was taken. In the piece, he writes:
No journalistic steadfast rule is unbendable when it comes to justifying and protecting the racket that is modern journalism, specifically, political journalism in the United States today. The ends justify the means for the Democrat Media Complex. They lie when they claim to be objective. They lie when they claim to be unbiased, because these so called “truth seekers” are guilty of engaging in open political warfare.
Breitbart proclaims this day as the death of American journalism because he sees American journalism as inextricably partisan – and not partisan in the same way that he is. Or, anyway, because he claims to see it that way.
He masks a valid point with his vituperative language. As I’ve discussed before, there’s a shifting understanding of how journalists deal with their own personal biases. It’s not that journalists “lie” about being objective – it’s that it’s almost impossible to actually be objective.
The takeaway for today: a group of journalists who have a tacit bias seek to undermine a narrative they disagree with. But that takeaway is as much about the Daily Caller and Breitbart as it is about the subject of the original article. Those who think that there wasn’t the same email back-and-forth between Caller staff and Breitbart as there was between those who signed the letter the Caller criticizes are, I’m afraid, a bit naive. If those emails came to light, what should we think of them?
And that brings us to the key question in this tempest. Which is worse: a journalist who strives to be objective but is seen as partisan – or one who strives to be partisan and is seen as objective?
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