Thursday, August 27, 2015

Response to Committing Journalism

(See: Just Above Sunset:Committing Journalism)

When I first saw that video of the Donald Trump-Jorge Rojas bout, I assumed maybe I hadn't seen all of it, thinking somebody cut out the first part -- the part where Trump continuously ignored Rojas' patient attempts to ask his question (on the grounds that he represented Univision, a group he has a feud with) and that they only picked up the video after Rojas finally lost his patience.

But after hearing Rojas being interviewed several times, I gather that part about him trying unsuccessfully to be called on never happened -- otherwise, Rojas would have mentioned it -- which all leads me to believe that Rojas had been actually trying to out-hotdog Trump, by doing something utterly outrageous, in hopes of making a point.

I think Glenn Greenwald makes a partly good point here:
The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism.
Where I think Greenwald is right is in his belief that, despite conventional wisdom, the idea of journalists being required to be neutral about everything, is actually relatively recent. Where he's wrong is in thinking we still live in an age of objective and neutral journalism -- we haven't, for years now -- but also in thinking it has anything to do with the "corporatization of American journalism". 

First of all, journalistic objectivity became considered a universal principle of journalism only in the 1950s or so. Before then, newspapers were allowed, and even expected to be, partisan -- you would read the one you agreed with -- but in the late 1940s and 1950s, with the advent of television news programs being broadcast on "the people's airwaves", their neutrality became enforced by the government. Yet this "golden age" didn't even last half of a century, suffering an early death in the 1990s with the birth of Fox News Network -- a cable TV channel not regulated by the FCC, and therefore free to take whatever side it wanted.

So is it okay again to be an advocate-journalist, as Jorge Ramos claims to be?

Sure, if you don't mind being ignored now and then when you try to ask a question. Donald knows exactly what Jorge wants to nag him about, and so he shuns him and goes on to someone else. There was a day when treating a journalist this way was totally unacceptable, but that was back when reporters were presumed to be objective and neutral. Nowadays, interviewees have as much right to take no notice of reporters as reporters have the right to shout questions out of turn at news conferences. It all makes great television, even if only for a day or two.

As I've said before, it's no longer a question of ethics or adhering to professional principles, it's a marketing decision. Do you want to portray your reporters as devoid of opinions and passions, which might make it easier to get that exclusive Donald Trump interview but also harder to pin him down when he doesn't answer the hard questions? Or do you want to harass the bastard into answering those hard questions, which you'll probably never even get a chance to ask, since he'll never let you get close to him, since everybody knows you've got an axe to grind?

Each position has its advantages and disadvantages, and neither really works as well as you'd hope it would.

Yet one interesting twist in this story is that, while this new era of partisan journalism was launched by Fox News, it could be said that, as Megyn Kelly might attest, it all came back to bite Fox News, in particular, during that recent GOP debate.

It's not really justice, it's just the way the world works these days.

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