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Should journalists be free to engage in political activity? Of course! 2/8/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Objectivity.

It was dumb when it was decided a century ago that news ought to be objective. It was even dumber when many news outlets began covering-up their reporters’ opinions by insisting that they not support political campaigns with their votes, time, or money.

Thomas Jefferson wanted newspapers to provide a multitude of voices competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas, not an elite class of truth-specialists — reporters pretending to be scientists — who could supposedly figure out “the truth.” He wanted facts and opinions widely distributed, and run through a process of “attack and defense,” which he thought was the only way to generate accurate information upon which a free people could act. And, he believed that the God-given dignity of each individual entitled them to their own opinions, preferences, and fillings-in of the unknown, no matter how stupid or selfish their thinking might seem to elites.

But for a century, journalism thought itself smarter than Jefferson, and founded its own country built upon different beliefs. They would be the wise men in their land, determining truths and guiding us toward correct answers in social policy. Per an article in Online Journalism Review, many outlets prohibited a range of political activities, ostensibly to sustain the myths that news ought to be objective, can be objective, and can be written by opinion-free reporters. The effect of this is a cover-up — a lack of transparency that frustrates bias-suspicious readers and deprives reporters of a helpful dose of self-consciousness that might prevent them from being unfair to the other side. Believe me — any journalist who thinks this is a formula to build trust is not smarter than Thomas Jefferson.


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