When journalists don’t vote

Mike Allen wrote in The Politico this week that he doesn’t vote, because he’s a journalist.

I’m part of a minority school of thought among journalists that we owe it to the people we cover, and to our readers, to remain agnostic about elections, even in private. I figure that if the news media serve as an (imperfect) umpire, neither team wants us taking a few swings.

Where in the world do people get the idea that we’re “umpires,” imperfect or not? Umpires? Good grief! He quotes Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post:

“I decided to stop voting when I became the ultimate gatekeeper for what is published in the newspaper. I wanted to keep a completely open mind about everything we covered and not make a decision, even in my own mind or the privacy of the voting booth, about who should be president or mayor, for example.”

This caught my attention, because the firing of Chez Pazienza by CNN follows this line of thinking. Many, many people have commented on Chez’s blog, and here’s the reasoning of one:

I’m sure he knows deep down as a professional–if he attended journalism school–that he couldn’t be writing what he was writing and be in the news business.

So let’s take a step waaaaaaay back and examine this position of neutrality vis‑à‑vis the news business, something I have done many times here and in my essays. If there exists in the mind of collective America the idea that the press should be “neutral,” it is there because we put it there. This idea is not and was not a part of the First Amendment; it grew out of largely economic necessity — the creation of a sterile environment within which to sell advertising. Moreover, it is the social engineering centerpiece of Walter Lippmann (the “father” of professional journalism), Edward Bernays (the “father” of professional public relations) and other members of the Creel Committee formed under Woodrow Wilson as a way to convince the public that the U.S. needed to be in World War I.

I hate to be so bloody cynical, but the objectivity concept is crap, and we owe it to ourselves and our trade to let it go. Why? Because it’s impossible, it is used by special interests to mold culture, the public doesn’t believe the holiness of the calling, and it’s turned our political process into predictable mush. Read Chris Lasch, for crying out loud. Investigate the Creel Committee and the writings of Lippmann and Bernays.

I’ve no clue how we get from where we are now to a more ardent and involved press, but the blogosphere seems to have taken up the call. I will say that firing writers like Chez Pazienza isn’t the path.

In Mr. Allen’s column, it’s pretty clear that one of the reasons some journalists don’t vote is that it would make their jobs harder in the halls of power if people knew they batted for one team over the other. The poor political reporters need to protect their sources, right? (“They like me. They really, really like me.” Jim Carrey in “The Mask.”)

When will we find the courage to point the light of our own brilliance back onto ourselves?

Comments

  1. Is this actually a call for journalists to drop any pretense of objectivity? How frightening and irresponsible if so.

Trackbacks

  1. […] When journalists don’t vote. A bit of a kerfuffle in the mediasphere at the moment over whether journos should vote or not. I used to buy into that absolute neutrality idea: now I’m not sure I would ever hire a journalist who ducked taking such a fundamental responsibility as voting on the grounds that it somehow interferes with their “objectivity.” […]

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