Even if it's a reality show pretending to be a presidential campaign, the Summer of Trump -- because it's grown so massive and all-consuming -- has a weird way of accidentally raising important issues. That's especially true about the current sad state of the American news media, which has appeared utterly clueless in its 24/7 Trump bamboozlement.
On Tuesday, a prominent journalist -- Jorge Ramos, the Univision news anchor who probably has more viewers than Scott Pelley (whoever that is) -- cut against the grain and challenged Trump on immigration. Ramos got pushback, literally, from goons working for the short-fingered vulgarian, who briefly even removed the anchorman from the Iowa room where the event was being held. That was appalling...yet not surprising.
Also appalling yet not surprising: The reaction of a big chunk of the media, especially inside the Beltway, which was to support the pseudo-politician over the real journalist, their alleged colleague. Glenn Greenwald -- who has neither journalist training nor the kind of instincts you'd need to get ahead in Washington, which is probably why he broke the biggest story of the 2010s and won a Pulitzer Prize -- did a great job today of breaking it all down:
That Ramos was acting more as an "activist" than a "journalist" was a commonly expressed criticism among media elites this morning.
Here we find, yet again, the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed "neutrality" and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.
Thus: you do not call torture "torture" if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.
My take? It's sickening that any journalists would side against a colleague who was forcibly ejected from a news conference by security for a front-running (albeit buffoonish) presidential candidate. It's also mystifying that any would be surprised that Ramos -- who's been reporting the immigration issue for Univision for years -- would have strong, well-formed opinions on the subject, or that he would aggressively press a candidate on a matter so important to many of his viewers.
The idea of objective journalism is a myth...mostly. It's true there are certain kinds of stories where there's not a lot of room for subjectivity -- say, when Usain Bolt gets run over by a dude on a Segway. But most good, value-added journalism has at least a layer of subjective opinion, and probably multiple layers.
Think for a moment, about the three Pulitzer Prizes won by Philadelphia journalists in the 2010s. One went to a straight-up opinion writer, Inquirer architecture writer Inga Saffron, whose sharp, incisive viewpoint has done far more to shape the city's growth than an on-one-hand, one-the-other-hand writer (the kind that some business types might prefer) ever possibly could have. But think about the Inquirer's series on school violence or the Daily News' award for the "Tainted Justice" articles on crooked cops. There are many, many issues around education and policing in Philadelphia -- it was smart reporters and editors who made a subjective choice to go after those two. And both the Inquirer series and the Daily News project had their critics. But it's hard to argue that those choices didn't change the city, for good.
The weird part is that a truly "objectiive" reporter would have to be lobotomized, and that journalist does not exist (to my knowledge). People in the media vote -- most of them, anyway -- and they have opinions about the people and the issues that they cover. The problem isn't that, but the pretzel logic that twists then into what the NYU journalism Jay Rosen calls "the view from nowhere," the absurd quest for fake innocence and pseudo-balance that leads to things like an ExxonMobil-funded think tank given equal time with 97 percent of the world's climate scientists. The biggest sin in modern journalism is bending so far to avoid seeming unbalanced that provable lies get printed or air, unchallenged.
Journalists that pretend in the myth of objectivity and try to denigrate the Jorge Ramos types of the world for bursting their bubble have an absurdly low and insulting opinion of you, the reader. They think you are dolts who can easily be fooled and misled, which is why it's their chivalrous mission to protect you from such heresies. That's absurd. My experience doing this blog for 10 years now is that readers respect a strong point of view and when they don't agree, they are more than capable of engaging. What helps the reader is not pretend balance, but real transparency: Journalists who let readers know who they are and where they're coming from. Isn't that preferable to the reporter who trashes the candidate's inanity at the hotel bar in Iowa at midnight, then puts on his mask of objectivity to work the next day?
These are not dispassionate times. As we've been talking about here all summer, the risks to America's democratic ideals -- from the success of a xenophobic and nationalistic candidate to levels of violence, police brutality and incarceration that don't exist in other advanced nations, to politicians who work for millionaires and billionaires instead of the public -- are far too serious for stenographic news conferences and polite on-one-hand, on-the-other hand news coverage.