Journalism Is Not Objective

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June 14, 2023

In an increasingly polarized political climate where large news organizations have become political appendages, many are inevitably led to the question of what exactly makes a journalist. What exactly is a journalist? What distinguishes him from others?

Journalism sucks right now, but not for the reasons you probably think it sucks. You’ve likely already heard the surface-level mantra. American journalism is dying on the vine because the media is simply too polarized. Journalists have lost sight of being objective and have instead embraced political commentary where it doesn’t belong. They still report the news, but they do so in a way that cherry picks the facts. On top of that, they then proceed to inundate you with panels composed of correspondents, analysts, and experts. Not only are you fed the news network’s spin on the topic, but you’ve also been told how to think about it.

The popular fix contended by many in journalism is to go back to a simpler time. The job of the journalist, supposedly, is not to push narratives, but to report the facts. Only then can the public, after having been given all the facts by the journalists in a fair, objective manner, adequately develop informed opinions on the matter.

However, if there’s anything our present situation has taught us, it’s that reporting the “objective truth” isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem. On the surface, the mantra of the “old school” journalists seems correct. Why not go back to when journalism “wasn’t political”?

But the “old school” journalist’s way of thinking about objectivity is flawed. According to them, my Twitter account, and all the political views I’ve espoused on it, would disqualify me as a journalist by default. “Taking a side” in any context is sacrilegious in the eyes of the old guard. For if anyone finds out where you stand on a political issue, they say, you’ve compromised your objectivity, and it will be “very hard,” at least in the eyes of your colleagues, to get it back.

(READ MORE: The Dramaturgy of Politics and Journalism: What is Journalism?)

But this is not how objectivity works. Objectivity is not a tangible thing. It cannot be gained or lost. Properly understood, objectivity is a theory of analysis, and it is either used to analyze a situation, or it isn’t. Objectivity is a very good theory because it grounds us in the pursuit of the truth, as opposed to “my” truth, or “your” truth. It compels us to consider both sides of the argument, to report on those sides fairly, and to ensure that both sides are adequately represented and the public is properly informed.

But like any other theory of analysis, the theory of objectivity was developed by men, and because of this, it can be applied subjectively. For instance, any issue occurring in our society that presents an issue for a political narrative a news organization is trying to push can be avoided not only by spinning the issue, but by simply not covering it at all. The New York Times is probably less likely to cover the deadly shootings that routinely plague America’s embattled inner cities, but it will remain steadfast in its coverage of one school shooting for several months after it has occurred, coupled with pro-gun control takes in the opinion section. Fox News very well might do the opposite, coupled with pro-Second Amendment opinion pieces. Whether or not you agree with how the editors of these organizations push certain stories is beside the point: Both the Times and Fox News are fully capable of covering a select amount of stories in an objective manner, but the subject matter they choose to cover in the first place is nevertheless an extremely subjective process. This is the case for every publication. 

This, on its own, is not necessarily a bad thing. Every publication has its limits, and the editors must make decisions on what to cover and what not to cover; what makes the front page and what is pushed toward the back. Even the most renowned publications seeking to cover anything and everything in an objective and fair manner must make subjective editorial decisions about what to prioritize. This is fine, so long as this process isn’t weaponized to favor certain stories for the sake of pushing a one-sided narrative that risks misinforming the public.

(READ MORE: The Press Has Become The Communicative Means of Ideology)

Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened. But even when this process is carried out justly, the inherent subjectiveness, from one publication to another, inevitably leads to the promulgation of some sort of narrative. The notion that journalists are unable to take a position whatsoever presupposes a vacuum bereft of societal norms, as well as the moral and ideological imperatives that come with those norms. When The Washington Post keeps a dedicated log of all the mass-shootings that have occurred throughout the United States, the moral imperative is clear: School shootings are bad, we need gun control. When my university’s student newspaper, The Baylor Lariat, publishes its culturally obligatory Black History Month print issue every February, the moral imperative conveyed is: We’re not racist, and you shouldn’t be either. Once again, whether or not these specific imperatives are good or bad is beside the point. We are often told that a journalist’s job is to not push narratives and to simply report what has happened, but the inherent nature of the profession renders this a fantasy. 

So what does this mean? If the promulgation of a narrative is inevitable, should journalists simply give up their pursuit of objectivity and fully devolve into propaganda writers for political parties? Of course not. Ironically, it is this very reason why journalists should recommit themselves to being as objective as possible when reporting the news.

It is the responsibility of a journalist to report on events as accurately and as fairly as possible not because he needs to avoid pushing a narrative, but because he does so by default. With great power, indeed, comes great responsibility. This is why they’re called news stories. Another word for a story is a narrative. Our job, as journalists, is to tell the real-world stories of people on any given beat. We ought to report on these stories as objectively as we can, but the nature of the human condition renders it impossible for us to realize complete and total objectivity. To claim such a thing would be severely unethical, not to mention logically fallacious. We must therefore do the best we can, but also understand that we shouldn’t kid ourselves. The journalistic pursuit of an objective truth is only valuable because it is done so in light of an inherent subjectiveness that threatens such a pursuit in the first place. 

With all of this being said, we can better ascertain what a journalist is by understanding what he is not. A journalist is not part of some special overclass of people that stands outside the commonwealth, reporting on what happens on the inside. He is a member of the political community like everyone else, and his place within it affects the community in a certain way.

Journalism as an institution, therefore, is political by default. It is political because, contrary to what many may believe, a journalist is capable of wielding immense political power. Authoritarian regimes do not censor the press for shits and giggles. They do so because they understand that the dissemination of state-endorsed propaganda cannot occur uninterrupted when a free press is allowed to stick its nose in things. Censorship is often necessary for the unjust promulgation of a false narrative, but any regime that does this at least correctly recognizes that journalists are greatly capable of changing the public’s perceptions. 

But as we’ve just discussed, a false narrative can be promulgated just as easily when a publication, or in the case of America, a whole slew of publications, have their editorial protocols corrupted by an ideological orthodoxy, by which a specific side of the story is deliberately left unreported and hence unrepresented. The censorship, in this case, is indirect censorship, no government interference necessary, but often to the government’s delight nevertheless.

All this being said, we still have yet to address where American Pigeon and all the other magazines and journals espousing a specific political position fall. Are we journalists? Can opinion and journalism co-exist? I would say the answer is most certainly yes.

Having an opinion does not on its own taint the journalistic pursuit of the truth, so long as objective analysis is not sacrificed for the sake of a false narrative. If anything, an opinionated publication that admits it is opinionated is far more ethically sound than a publication that denies its political slant while nevertheless skewing its coverage.

At American Pigeon, we care about giving the reader all the facts, but we also give our own perspective on it. Advertising ourselves as a magazine of conservative opinion is not just a branding strategy, it’s an ethical commitment to pursuing the truth and informing our readers. You know what you’re getting the moment you visit us, and we also encourage you to pursue other perspectives from other publications to expand your horizons.

By realizing that journalism isn’t completely objective, we can reclaim the profession from those who seek to turn it into an exclusive class of “experts” who think they, and only they, are the gatekeepers of truth.


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