The tangled absurdity of modernist journalism

Chez Pazienza has posted a CNN email providing guidelines for employees on how they may behave in the public space known as the Web. Chez, of course, was fired for violating this policy, even though it wasn’t in place at the time. I think this document is ridiculous, because transparency — not a muzzle — is the new ethical standard for a reinvented journalism, and frankly, any journalist who can live with this ought to examine his or her own calling. Free speech is not a right to be given up in the name of some hodgepodge nonsense called “objectivity.” How noble, or not.

The whole memo is fascinating, but this is the heart of it:


Unless given permission to comment publicly on the issues or people we report on as a CNN analyst or commentator, it is important that you and all other CNN employees be independent and objective regarding the news and people that we cover.

If you publicly declare your preference for issues or candidates or one side or the other of the public policy issues CNN reports on, then your ability to be viewed as objective is compromised.

We appreciate that everyone has a life outside work and we encourage all of our employees to get involved with the issues that are important within their communities. That said, you need to avoid any appearance of bias or partiality. It’s just one of the responsibilities associated with working for a news organization.


In discussions about this issue with your colleagues across CNN, it was felt by them that it was important to have this policy apply across the board. If you don’t follow this policy, and you are officially a CNN employee, the loss of objectivity won’t just apply to you, but could be associated with CNN. Therefore this policy applies to all CNN employees in all departments worldwide.

My position on all of this is well-known, but the narrow purity of this particular explanation of objectivity gives me a chance to expand. Let me be very clear: the artificial nature of objectivity is one of the key things that is killing the contemporary press. It is unnatural. It is self-serving. And worst of all, it has created a science in how it can be used by special interests to manipulate culture. The press has no balls, and this “responsibility associated with working for a news organization” is good for the organization’s ability to make money but damned hurtful for our culture.

To fulfill the role of the press sought by Walter Lippmann (the dean of professional journalism) and his cronies, the press must see itself as separate from (and above) the culture — a detached élite that helps guide the masses through the intricacies of the issues of life, issues that are far too complex for the uneducated masses to understand on their own. This is modernist colonialism to the nth degree.

If you ask people, they will say that the press “should” be objective and not express a point-of-view, but where do they get that notion? They’ve gotten it from us. Consequently, people point out our humanness with an appropriate “tsk-tsk,” and trust in the press is at an all-time low. Why? Because we’re offering up an artificial standard that has no place in our world. The same First Amendment that gives the press freedom also gives our citizenry the freedom to speak their minds. The whole thing was written to protect just that, not the gathering of impartial facts or the bogus need to “balance.” That’s all poppycock, and it’s about time the press stopped digging the hole that will serve as its own grave. To deny the First Amendment to its employees in the name of protecting press freedom is insane. It’s oxygen-deprivation atop the pedestal the press has created for itself.

And while we’ve been practicing “objectivity,” special interests have been perfecting the game of how to use that standard to get what they want. “Balance” has given the minority voice such a place in our culture that there is no majority voice anymore. The melting pot is long gone, because the melting pot might offend somebody who can give their view equal footing in the name of an objective press.

I did a research project a few years back in which we asked people if they would mind reporters’ bias as long as they were up front about it. Overwhelmingly, the people in the study said it would be no problem. So what are we waiting for? I’m all for honesty, accuracy and fairness, but I think transparency is the new objectivity and that we all would be better served for it.

I feel so passionately about this, because I honestly believe that professional journalism is self-destructing. I agree with my friend Howard Owens that it’s high time we looked at the journalism itself as the problem, because if we don’t, a whole new “press” is going to take our place. Hell, it’s already happening.

And it’s happening in the place that CNN wants its journalists to avoid. Good luck with that.

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