More journalists admit and embrace bias, dismissing 'fairness' in new era of media

Media top headlines July 23

In media news today, The Washington Post and The New York Times ignore the Biden admin admitting a crucial error, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez sues the paper and top editors, and Biden and Don Lemon get roasted for performances during CNN town hall

A growing number of prominent journalists have declared once-bedrock press principles like fairness and objectivity to be outdated and unnecessary since the Donald Trump era rocked American politics, and while some observers appreciate the honesty, others feel blending opinion and reporting makes for a “dangerous time” in America. 

As media members like CNN’s Jim Acosta and PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor became heroes to the left for their antagonistic approach to the president, who derided them and other reporters as “fake news,” more journalists are leaving behind the image of the disinterested, impartial correspondent.

“I do think it is a trend, and it frankly started with Trump even before all this election stuff,” one network news reporter told Fox News.

In the aftermath of the Capitol riot and Trump’s continued claims his 2020 election defeat was “rigged,” NBC News anchor Lester Holt won plaudits from mainstream colleagues this year after declaring “fairness is overrated.” In his acceptance speech for a journalism award, he added it’s not necessary to “always give two sides equal weight and merit.”

CNN’s John Harwood, an outspoken liberal in the vein of colleague Jim Acosta, publicly thanked Holt. CNN’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter called it a “sharp critique of bothsidesism.”

Left-wing New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones recently said “all journalism is activism,” and Lauren Wolfe, the former New York Times editor who got fired after saying then-President-elect Joe Biden head to Washington gave her “chills,” wrote this month it’s “better to be open about my views on the issues I cover.”

“Everyone in America with two eyes and a brain knows most of the establishment, legacy media isn’t objective and hasn’t been for a very long time. It’s good they are finally admitting the obvious — to the public and to themselves,” Krakauer said. 

While liberals may cheer, conservatives fret that even the appearance of objectivity to some leading reporters has been cast aside. 

The examples of media members “finally admitting the obvious” have grown on a seemingly regular basis. A former CBS News reporter who covered abortion issues quit last week and declared, to the surprise of few, she was openly pro-choice.

That’s not to mention other recent gestures like an open media letter proclaiming Israel should be covered as a violent, oppressive “apartheid” state, directly adopting the language of far-left politicians like Squad members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

The signers included hundreds of journalists, some of them anonymous, from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, BuzzFeed, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, NBC News, NPR, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune.

CNN journalists presented as straight-news personalities like Acosta and Jake Tapper are more comfortable than ever blurring the lines between news and opinion, although the latter insists he only editorializes on matters of “decency.” Tapper also made headlines when he declared he wouldn’t have on “election liars” who voted to challenge Biden’s 2020 Electoral College victory.

“Objectivity as a standard at least requires that outlets try to see and reconcile their own biases. Without it, we risk sinking even deeper into an environment where advocacy and partisanship get laundered as straight news to everyday Americans who see the media as honest brokers,” conservative writer Drew Holden told Fox.

While many mainstream journalists bristle at conservative criticism of their reporting as bad-faith, the network news reporter told Fox there is pressure from the left to not even give voice to Republicans like the ones Tapper won’t have on his programs.

“There’s a whole group of people out there who want reporters to be partisans, and are very critical whenever people who do what I do try to basically do our jobs … to be fair and balanced,” the reporter said. “It’s like a sin, like, ‘How dare you talk to Steve Scalise? He voted to challenge the electoral votes.’ Yeah, he’s also the number two Republican in the House and he’s an important political figure. You’ve got to cover him.”

Some reporters have claimed what appears to be a bias toward Democrats is merely a bias toward “facts.”

“We are biased in terms of facts. We in the media are biased in terms of we support vaccines. We in the media hire LGBT employees. We are biased against bans against trans or gay people,” Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon Jr. said Sunday on CNN. “So if we can be honest about those biases … That’s why journalists behaved the way they did when Trump – we are in favor of the person who won the election being president.”

Yet, that attitude of liberal journalists declaring final say on matters of truth and lies has led to additional criticism, given the collapse of media narratives like the coronavirus lab-leak theory being “debunked,” the assertion that Trump conspired with the Kremlin to fix the 2016 election, the supposed impossibility of coronavirus vaccines being developed by the end of 2020, and numerous others. In many instances, reporters were led astray by their sources in politics and science. 

“A U.S. news organization’s position needs to be skepticism, skepticism of what you hear from official sources,” the reporter said, agreeing the press too quickly cast aside the lab theory. “Don’t just take it on face value; check your facts.”

Holden, known for his Twitter threads exposing poorly aged takes and bias in media, said those errors that constantly skew toward benefiting the left are precisely why the holier-than-thou attitude is harmful.

“In theory, this change could be valuable,” he said. “Outlets and reporters won’t have to hide their biases or tiptoe around issues where one side is clearly wrong. But the problem is that the overwhelming majority of the media – upwards of 80 or 85 percent – lean left. They have blind spots, the same when any group of people who overwhelmingly see the world in the same way do. The last few years have made that pretty clear, from being too trusting of ideas like Russian collusion that don’t hold water, or being too quick to write off plausible theories like the Wuhan lab leak because they don’t fit the narrative.”

DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall feels “there has always been a prominent role for opinion in journalism and the First Amendment surely allows for the media to engage in activism. However, professional ethics in American journalism is to keep opinion and advocacy in a separate lane from the straightforward presentation of facts. 

“We live in a dangerous time today, however, when professional journalists want to blend opinion and reporting into the same place,” McCall told Fox News. 

“This presents several problems, not the least of which is that the public can no longer trust many traditional news outlets to present news fairly and fully. This had led to broad declines in media credibility,” McCall added. “Further, this notion that all journalists must necessarily be activists reveals a smugness and condescension that people in the journalism industry are smarter and know better about all topics than the people they are supposedly serving.”  

University of North Carolina professor Lois A. Boynton, a fellow in the University’s Parr Center for Ethics, feels that understanding whether it’s better for journalists to admit inherent biases or keep them under wraps requires knowledge of the early stages of the industry. 

Boynton pointed out that colonial and early American newspapers and pamphlets were “openly partisan and did not employ objectivity,” but there were so many competing publications that readers were able to gather multiple perspectives and draw their own conclusions. Then, roughly 100 years ago, legendary journalist Walter Lippmann came along and put his own stamp on the profession. 

“Lippmann saw the value of reporters using what scientists employed — objectivity — a process to check, recheck and verify findings,” Boynton told Fox News. 

“Objectivity in journalism resulted from, quoting an item by the American Press Institute, a growing recognition that journalists were full of bias, often unconsciously. Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work,’” Boynton said. 

“In other words, people are not objective, but with rigor, they can do objectivity,” she added.

Boynton referred to a 2020 Gallup/Knight Foundation study that found the vast majority of those polled considered news media bias to be a major problem. 

“Americans largely perceive shortcomings in accuracy and fairness because of a lack of transparency about the motivations, business and process of news,” the Radio Television Digital News Association wrote when covering the study. 

The RTDNA code of ethics calls on reporters to be transparent, while the Society of Professional Journalists code calls on journalists to “explain ethical choices and processes to audiences.” However, aligning with those codes of ethics comes with a cost. 

“Reporters also must recognize that admitting or sharing points of view may affect viewer/reader perceptions of their ability to bring various perspectives to a story,” Boynton said. 

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