August 8, 2004
"The Crowd's Reaction Made Some Unity Delegates Uncomfortable."
Last week's convention of minority journalists was the largest ever-- 7,000 strong. Kerry spoke: standing ovation. Bush spoke: no ovation. Traditionalists in the press said: unprofessional! Critics on the right cried foul. Unity, coalition of minority voices, didn't know what to say. And group think appealed to all. Here's my critique of that. Plus (scroll down) reactions from the press and the blogs. A debate simmers.
See my subsequent post, with letters in reaction to the debate: Unity and the Ovation for John Kerry: Letters 1-3. Includes mine to Romenesko.
Quite a display of muscle by minority journalists in Washington this past week. Their annual Unity convention had over 7,500 registrants, the biggest convention of journalists ever in the U.S., according to Unity president Ernest Sotomayor of Newsday. President Bush, John Kerry, and Colin Powell all agreed to speak. In Washington, clout like that is noticed. Unity has clout.
Major corporations were there too as sponsors, including GM, Philip Morris, Apple, Toyota. The organizers had several revenue streams (check out the ads) and expected to turn a profit on the event. A study released during the convention (headline: “Washington press corps virtually all white”) got good pick-up in the press. And the event as a whole received fawning attention in the Washington Post.
It’s official, then: this is one powerful group. “Unity opened with a mix of pride in the big numbers of journalists who made their way to the Washington Convention Center,” said Editor & Publisher, “and frustration at the slow pace of integrating more people of color into the newsrooms of newspapers and other news organizations.”
Unity is a coalition: the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association, and the Asian American Journalists Association joined together to create it, “to heighten the need for diversity in print and broadcast newsrooms,” acccording to the Convention’s official newspaper. The first convention was at Atlanta in 1994, the second was in Seattle in ‘99.
Amid all the good feeling at a very successful convention there were some controversies last week. The convention turned out to have a few critics— within the press and without. Complaints appeared after John Kerry, interrupted repeatedly by applause, received a standing ovation from some in the crowd. (The next day, President Bush got a polite but mixed reaction— no standing ovation and audible grumbling at times.) From the USA Today account by Mark Memmott:
WASHINGTON — Journalists usually are polite but not enthusiastic when politicians speak at their conferences. In the USA, at least, most reporters and editors try to appear to be non-partisan….
There was applause nearly 50 times during [Kerry’s] address. There was laughter when he took a shot at the Bush administration by noting that “just saying there are weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq) doesn’t make it so.” He got a standing ovation at the end.
Minority journalists showing their partisan colors? Unity’s president didn’t think so. He minimized the incident:
The reception for Kerry “surprised me a little, but should not be viewed as an endorsement of him or his policies,” Sotomayor said. He said many Unity members, including those who were covering the speech or plan to report on it in the future, weren’t cheering. As for the others, “they’re people who vote, and they have a right to express themselves” when they’re not working, Sotomayor said.
The crowd’s reaction made some Unity delegates uncomfortable. “It was a little awkward for me,” said Akilah Johnson, a “night cops” reporter at the Sun-Sentinel in Delray Beach, Fla. “I guess a lot of people were acting like citizens, not reporters.”
So it’s minority journalists who have a right to political expression when off duty vs. the sin of “acting like citizens, not reporters.” That sin is not too strong a word was shown by other reactions after journalists learned of Kerry’s reception in Washington. At the Seattle Times blog, J. Patrick Coolican wrote:
Just off the phone with Seattle Times reporter Florangela Davila, who’s at the Unity convention in Washington D.C.
Unity is a conference of 7,000 journalists of color.
She reports that more than half the journalists gave Sen. John Kerry, who spoke to at least 2,000, a standing ovation. If you ever see us at campaign events or reporting on someone making a speech, you’ll note we don’t applaud or heckle, because it’s unprofessional. Giving a presidential candidate a standing ovation during the height of the campaign is as unprofessional as it gets.
“It was so offensive and awful, and I hated it. It was clearly inappropriate. It was ridiculous,” an exasperated Flor said.
Not just unprofessional, but as bad as it gets. Offensive, awful, inappropriate, ridiculous. Listen to the open-and-shut case described by ethics expert Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute, who is the go-to guy for reporters writing about such incidents. First in soundbite form for USA Today:
Journalists risk losing their credibility if they let their politics show, said Bob Steele, an ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. They should be “observers guided by the principle of independence,” he said.
A more nuanced view might recognize that off duty journalists who stand and applaud a political figure are declaring their independence from people like Steele and the monoculture in journalism that he speaks for. Perhaps journalists do lose credibility with some Americans when they let their politics show. Meanwhile, they lose credibility with other Americans by denying that they have any politics at all.
Press ethics should be able to handle both ideas, since both have force. But Steele’s “shoulds” are sealed tight. There is one right answer. And no diversity is allowed on the matter of the journalist’s right to political expression. Here’s Steele writing on the Poynter site:
We can, and should, express our personal beliefs and indicate our choice of candidates, but we should do so in the privacy of the voting booth. But whether we’re on duty or not, we should not be overtly partisan in our public behavior. To do so undermines our professionalism and erodes our credibility.
We should not make contributions to political candidates or causes. We should not display partisan bumper stickers and yard signs. We should not be involved in political rallies or campaign events.
And, when we attend a speech by a political candidate or officeholder, we should not express our partisan beliefs, be it support or opposition. To do so—to applaud or cheer in support or to boo or jeer in opposition—is unprofessional and unethical. That partisan behavior is antithetical to the principle of independence, one of the linchpins of our professional duty.
It’s okay, according to Steele, to be civil and show respect. “We can stand when they enter and depart. And, if we are in the audience, we may even offer respectful applause to welcome and to give thanks.”
But we, as journalists, should not abdicate our unique and essential role as professional observers of the political process. We should not tarnish our responsibility as reporters of issues and chroniclers of the candidates.
We should not be activists, we should not behave as partisans. Not only do such roles diminish our standing as professionals, but they fuel the challenges of those critics who already believe that many journalists are biased and incapable of fair reporting on political issues and candidates.
“Those critics” are out there, for sure. Michael Graham at National Review’s The Corner was struck—as I was—by this observation from Washington Post columnist Donna Britt, a Unity supporter:
Enough [minority journalists] have done well that editors and news directors shouldn’t have to be reminded—year after year at conventions such as this one—why it’s so important for the journalists who report the news to be as varied as the population they cover. At some point, it seems, diversity shouldn’t be a goal.
It should be a reality.
Here’s Graham’s reaction from the right’s corner:
This about a gathering of “journalists” who gave Democratic partisan John Kerry a standing ovation and repeated huzzahs. From a gathering of reporters in an industry where, according to the New York Times, 80% of their fellow employees are Democrats. From a gathering in Washington—where journalists back Kerry over Bush by a 12-1 margin.
Diversity sounds great, Donna! So…when do we get it?
Writing in the Philadelphia Daily News, Michelle Malkin had a similar point:
The diversity being sought is, by definition, skin-deep. They call themselves “journalists of color.” Not journalists of substance. Or integrity. Or independent thought.
I experienced this rainbow groupthink at the Unity conference in Seattle in 1999, where I was the lone out-of-the-closet conservative in a room of about 150 minority journalists.
After this Seattle “debate,” a few journalists sent me secret hand signals or left whispered voice-mail messages letting me know they agreed with my point of view. The rest groaned, snickered and rolled their eyes when I criticized ethnic identity politics and voiced my support for Ward Connerly’s California ballot initiatives to eliminate government race-based affirmative action.
What Malkin called “rainbow group think” is only one of the varieties on display in this dispute. Here’s my partial list:
- Group think among traditional journalists says the display of political feeling is unprofessional because professionals traditionally don’t display political feeling. No argument less circular than that is required. Read Steele and see if you can find one; I couldn’t.
- Group think among jourmalism ethicists says that credibility follows from obeying our profession’s rules; and the profession’s rules are The Rules because they produce our credibility. An argument like, “we’d be more credible with citizens if we acted like ciitizens more often” does not compute. Therefore it must not exist.
- Group think among conservatives says that it’s right to slam journalists for being liberal when they deny it; and it’s right to slam them when they show it. Too easy? Not to the American right.
- Group think among minority journalists holds that there are at most six groups in the category of under-represented— Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans, women, gays and lesbians. (But see this) note of discord.) Diversity means more of those groups in the press room mix because that’s what diversity means. Conservatives can’t be a minority because they can’t. The devout aren’t a minority because they aren’t. Journalists with rural or working class backgrounds don’t count because we don’t count them.
- Group think among editors and bosses says that the diversity project we have can never be questioned because if it’s questioned we will never have newsroom diversity. Could it be wrongly imagined? At present, that is not imaginable.
- Group think among Unity members says that if 12.9 percent of the workforce in journalism is minority, but 37 percent of the population is, then a “representative” press is still 24 percentage points away and the main reason is an industry not committed enough to diversity. Is it conceivable that even a fully committed industry can fall way short of 37 percent figure? No, it isn’t conceivable because Unity wasn’t conceived that way.
- Group think in journalism education takes no notice of the fact that in most J-schools—including NYU—women are 70 to 80 of the class. Courses are routinely taught with one man or none. That’s pretty unrepresentative. Is it a problem? No, not a problem. When the newsroom is unrepresentative— that’s a problem.
Donna Britt’s notion—that it’s “important for the journalists who report the news to be as varied as the population they cover”—is worth taking seriously. But the monoculture in newsrooms works against that. It seems hopeless to deny that diversity in mainstream journalism is a liberal project. Bush voters are a small minority in the political press, but Unity is not going to be expanding any time soon to include them.
And if that’s the case, then why should participants in a liberal project have to deny that they’re liberals? What’s wrong with greeting President Bush politely, and John Kerry enthusiastically? And how is it possible that newsrooms need the perspectives that minority journalists bring to the table, but not the politics they add to the mix?
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links
PressThink exclusive: Ernest Sotomayor, President of UNITY writes as a guest critic. The President of Unity Says Don’t Blame Us for the “Liberal Media” Charge. (Aug. 10)
PressThink: Unity and the Ovation for John Kerry: Letters to the Debate, 1-3. (Aug. 9) Includes mine to Romenesko and two from journalists Linda Picone and Jeff Shaw.
From my letter: Unity has a lively convention home page and an experiment in real time blogging going. Why don’t they say something— preferably real, interesting and responsive?
Unity 2004 convention program.
Intellectual tip: I urge you to zap around this site to get a feel for the whole convention, since the Kerry and Bush reactions were only a small part of the event. Unity 2004 was literally historic: biggest gathering ever among professional organizations in journalism.
If you believe these groups are important because they can stand for things, as well as discuss and debate them—and I believe that—then it’s obvious that putting journalism and its limitations under discussion by more than 7,000 people, in the nation’s capital, with the major candidates for president (was Nader invited?) there to address you because your opinions count, and you are newsworthy… all this is a pretty big deal in itself.
Unity, the organization, home page. Unity: Journalists of Color 2004 convention workshops. Convention schedule.
Darryl Fears, Washington Post, Aug. 4: “Minority Journalists Join Voices at Unity Convention.”
Jack Shafer in Slate, Aug. 5: If This Is Unity, Give Me Division. On the Washington Post’s “fawning coverage.”
Post reporters Darryl Fears and Roxanne Roberts have filed credulous, pandering copy only one step removed from a press release… Since when is the testimony of convention-goers that they’re happy and comfortable to be among their legion considered news?… Couldn’t Fears find anybody outside Unity’s campfire circle to speak intelligently about diversity or race coverage? Doesn’t anybody have anything sharp or insightful to say about the group’s goals and positions? Not even the Washington Redskins get this sort of free ride from the Post.
@unity, the convention’s blog, on Bush’s speech:
Bush drew a mixed response from the room full of journalists. At times there was audible murmuring, at times applause, and at other times derisive remarks. When asked what tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, Bush’s response — “Tribal sovereignty means that it’s sovereign” — drew sneering remarks from the audience.
He said that the problem with voting in the U.S was not with the democratic process but with not having enough people show up at the polls. He said that the media had a duty along with him to encourage the public to exercise the right to vote. He dead-panned, “Of course, I will have them to vote for me.”
Jeff Jarvis responds to this post: Toward a new definition of diversity.
Perhaps it is time to come up with a new definition of “diversity” in American media.
Perhaps we should be looking for diversity of viewpoint — though that means one has to admit having a viewpoint — rather than merely diversity of ethnicity….
Like Jay, I hope we have the ambition to break up that grouppressthink.
Imagine a world where:
- Journalists admit they are human, just like their publics…
- Journalists admit that they, like their publics, have viewpoints…
- Journalists admit those viewpoints so their publics can judge what they say in that context…
- Journalistic organizations seek out and publish or broadcast a variety of viewpoints so their publics can judge what the journalists are saying…
Imagine a world in which we value diversity of viewpoints and opinions — not just birth…
Ex-newspaper man Tim Porter at First Draft:
Journalism has enough crediblity problems without a group of conventioneering editors and reporters responding to a political speech like a bunch of yahoo-ing insurance salesman at the annual Rotary meeting.
The journalists at Unity became Rotarians yesterday when they gave a standing O to John Kerry and interrupted his speech more than 50 times with applause.
What were they thinking?
…What I want to know is what is the obsession journalists have with inviting politicians to speak to their conventions. ASNE, at its joint convention with NAA in April, heard from President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. Neither said anything noteworthy and, in fact, Bush joked about how insubstantial his speech was going to be.
Andrew Cline at Rhetorica:
Without a doubt, journalists are citizens who enjoy—and should exercise with proper discretion—every right of citizenship. To argue otherwise may suggest something I find quite troubling: That journalists stand above citizenship. And if they stand above that, what else might they think themselves to be standing above?
But, at the same time, journalists are connected to politics as players as a normal course of professional practice. A journalist attending a professional convention is not off the job because they are attending as professionals. And they must comport themselves as professionals (at least until the evening parties begin).
David Carr in the New York Times: “The Unity: Journalists of Color convention, a gathering of minority journalists held in Washington last week, had its share of political controversy, including one man being booted from the convention center after heckling President Bush. But one knotty issue—whether gay and lesbian journalists should be members of Unity—never made the agenda.”
Kimberly A.C. Wilson in the Baltimore Sun:
Tim Graham, director of analysis for the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group based in Alexandria, Va., agreed. “I think it is embarrassing and disappointing,” Graham said in a telephone interview. “Wasn’t anybody thinking about how it would look from the outside?”
Thomas Kunkel, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the very credibility of journalists is at stake when they shift from impartial observation to reactive participation.
“Journalists are citizens, and it’s perfectly reasonable to have opinions and express them, but in this very heated election environment, I wonder if it was smart. From a public relations perspective, I don’t know how wise it was,” Kunkel said in a telephone interview.
For other press reactions see Romenesko. And don’t forget his letters column for Aug. 9th.
Al Tompkins at Poynter (Aug. 5): It’s All About the Journalism. Tompkins led a workshop at Unity and explains what happens there.
Posted by Jay Rosen at August 8, 2004 11:22 AM
Again, the value of an editor:
I meant style OVER substance (and that'd be giving the benefit of the doubt that there IS any substance in some-a this fluff, journalism or otherwise...)
Btw, people that can't deal with touchy subjects like "shoulds"..
..Well, perish the thought, but they should recognize that a society without "shoulds", or a community of any size that canNOT TOLERATE the thought-bubble of "shoulds"....
....Well, two realities should be apparent: That no such-a community exists that does NOT have these "shoulds" and "should-nots", as it's impossible.. And communities that pretend there are no "shoulds" devolve into the most INtolerant communities (due to snow-blindness I guess...;-).
So railing against the "shoulds" plays well to those folks that can't tolerate "shoulds".. of any age. Libertarians attract such who are not capable of tolerance, under the very banner of "tolerance". Funny that...
So a more nuanced view, in actual fact, would reflect some cognizance of these facts.
Like I "said", I can provide more detailed analysis of the above, if that isn't sufficient to answer the bulk of the questions brought up, or attempting to be answered, in the above blog by Dr. Rosen.
Btw, this very piece sort-a blows the theory that the press shows anything near the mono-culture that Blogaria exhibits in it's daily rants and raves and waves and all that razz-m'tazz.
A a viewer/reader and not a journalist, and I should note as a Conservative, I can only add my unprofessional opinions.
1. "And if that's the case, then why should participants in a liberal project have to deny that they're liberals?"
I think that you shouldn't deny your personal bias. Announce it. Trumpet it. It'll give people like me an opportunity to discover your bias easier than by having to slog through all that contrived prose. The simple fact is, for me, that having to continually read-between-the-lines when reading an article or viewing a newscast can be aggravating. You read an article and it shows clearly that the writer has a very specific outcome in mind and that anything that could change that is either glossed over or avoided altogether.
*shrug* So it really doesn't matter anyways. The bias will come through simply through the selection of what to write about and how it is written. Or spoken for that matter.
2. "Considering that journalism classes are something like 70 to 80% female, jouralism will become a "helping and caring" career and lose its fake status as a "profession"."
*shrug* every profession is similar in that regard. Some people are serious and some are not so serious. I figure they all end up in marketing anyways. :)
3. "What I mean, ethics are getting thrown out.. along with the "fake status as a profession"."
What on earth does ethics have to do with journalism? The whole point of modern journalism is to subvert, shape, orient and constrict thought. It is the penultimate in manipulation of groups and individuals. Ethics has nothing to do with this whatsoever and it has had nothing to do with journalism for the past 30+ years.
Is ethics involved when Sandy Berger admits to stealing Top Secret-Code Word level documents from the National Archives and the New York Times runs it on A17? But instead runs on the page 1 an article on the *timing* of the release of that allegation?
Is ethics involved when Cruse Bustamante, Lt. Govenor of California during the whole Gray Davis recall effort, called a room full of African-Americans "Ni**er"? And it didn't even make most local, regional or national news?
Journalism? Ethics? Please don't make me laugh.
4. "Again, blogging is not helping in any way, since blogging is the epitome of style of substance."
Wrong. Blogs are the return of debate to the general populace and will completely supplant all journalism. They will do so because they are interactive, they are more informative and they allow the customer to invest themselves in the quality of the end-product.
Thus all current journalism is doomed die a neglected and unmourned death.
5. Blog evolution.
I fully expect that blogs will diverge and evolve into specialties, as they have started to do. Many still rely on articles as source material but that is starting to change. The real question is money and money is starting to enter into the blogging world. The more money that enters, the more professional things will be as independent research will be not only viable but necessary.
Indeed I think that independent researchers, i.e. companys that exist solely to provide accurate data to blogs, will become not only necessary but very profitable.
In essence the blog world will mirror the existing journalism world but the component parts will be divided by function.
6. "I think you are falling into a Republican trap by repeating the pretense that the Unity convention is somehow representative of journalism per se."
Sorry but did you read that "80% of their fellow employees are Democrats. " part?
Republican "trap"? Yeah because we Republican's love to set traps for journalists. We also enjoy setting traps for other people too. The local mail carrier is a fave. He get's pretty pissed off when he's dangling from the porch ceiling but I get a laugh. Then there's the ...
7. "I suspect that the requirement to obscure one's political views & preferences has two effects:"
I agree with both of your points but I'd suggest that it's more likely that #2 is the reason and not #1. It's fairly simple to determine what the actual bias of the writer is given detailed knowlege of the subject and a sufficient sample of the writer's work.
So the only people for whom #1 could apply would be those who write about extremely obscure areas or who don't write much at all. Otherwise, sooner or later, the bias shines on through.
My two shekels for what it's worth. Frankly I think most of this is a non-issue as the journalism profession is self-destructing as we speak. The vast levels of unprofessionalism shown throughout this Presidential campaign has been staggering and it is causing permanent damage.
Then there's Iraq. Regardless of what your personal opinions are about Iraq the one thing that is inescapable is that the news reported from Iraq is extremely one-sided and incredibly limited. There are many people who are aware of this now mostly those who are motivated enough to find out and soldier's families. The number of people aware of the vast difference in reporting numbers now in the low millions. But there's another 40 years for this knowledge to trickle through the population and the number will increase. Eventually all credibility the news profession has will simple curdle up and die.
And it is credibility that journalists trade upon. It is their coin and without it journalists are nothing. Most of modern journalism's credibility was won at very high cost by giants such as Murrow, Pyle and many others. All that has been largely squandered.
It's interesting that around 1/3 of Americans trust the news. That's a terrible number for a profession dependent upon credibility. I fully expect that number to drop further. Frankly the only thing keeping the mouldering mass that is journalism afloat is local news. People may not trust you at all on international or national news but they can trust you, to a point, on local news. Mostly because they can second source it.
I self-thought my way into Steele's groupthink by agreeing with him that the standing O for Kerry was inappropriate. Transparency of bias is one thing -- and it is granting a lot to the conventioneers, I believe, to attribute their applause to a desire to display to the public readers their political prejudices -- but overt cheerleading is another.
I am a fan of Unity (I said so here.) because I believe the more diversity, racial and otherwise, in our newsrooms, the better the journalism (based on the principle that good ideas improve in an environment where they can be challenged.) That said, Unity, coalition and the convention, is not known for challenging the issue of diversity and the ready and ongoing acceptance of diversity racially defined (gays and lesbian organizations are not part of the Unity coalition).
Similarly, the convention accepted Kerry as its candidate and rejected Bush as not one of them with equal lack of challenge to the idea. That's what bothers me -- not that they cheered Kerry but that they didn't challenge him journalistically, which, of course, is their job.
I asked, somewhat rhetorically, on First Draft: What is the obsession journalists have with inviting politicians to speak to their conventions? ASNE, for example, regularly extends invitations, as it did this year, to the sitting president or Cabinet members. Given all the challenges facing journalism today, including the very definition of the profession, why invite politicians who had nothing to the conversation and typically stray beyond their stump speeches or talking points.
One reader left this answer in my comments:
"Because it's wise for the politician to accept the invite(fear);
"Because the journalists will enjoy being addressed directly by the powerful (validation);
"Because those organizing the convention chose to ask - either because this choice is, well, conventional, or because they believe that politicians-as-speakers will boost attendance (commercial success) - in which case they presumably believe that the journalists would rather (or more easily?) be validated than informed."
I'll add this: Because it's easier for the convention to be conventional than take a risk. And that's what the Kerry thing was: conventional.
Writings attract audience, and audience attracts advertiser dollars, and advertiser dollars support the writers. You can either make this work, or your publication disappears.
It happens to work for left-wing story lines, among them the hard times of minorities, minorities being the name for a role in this, not a numerical size.
There's a smaller audience for the debunking of the story line as a story line, and Michelle Malkin is paid by that audience.
Is there more to account for? An interest in truth or justice would be possible, but you'd have to make it interesting. At the moment they're stylized truth and justice, things the audience can ``relate to'' in predictable ways.
The disgruntled aren't a reliable audience, so don't have a press voice. This is an instance of a publication that disappears under market pressures, news Darwinism.
So you get blogs. Everybody eventually finds their voice there.
In summary, you can't reform the profession. What you see is what is commercially viable; the others are earning a living some other way. Say teaching journalism. John & Ken on journalism http://rhhardin3.home.mindspring.com/johnkencut.news.ra (147kb) there's no market for hard news, and journalism professors eke out a living another way.
The only thing wrong is that all this trades on a fake reputation of hard news coverage, which in fact is just pandering to the audience (``you are serious people''); some debunking of that reputation would be welcome, but is unlikely, since it's part of the marketing.
There's no connection with professional ethics at all.
As a non-journalist, I find esp. the national news as reported increasingly less relevant to reality. The biases of esp. the "mainstream" media are obvious - despite protestations by Bernard. You may not like him, but it was Drudge who broke the Monica Lewinski story, not the "mainstream" media who had voted for Clinton and were in essence defending him.
If you are looking for bias in such, just look at the treatment of Clarke, Joe Wilson, and Sandy Berger in for example the NYT or LAT. The original claims are typically made on page 1 above the fold, while any ultimate correction or retraction is buried, or more likely, nonexistent.
But these news organizations, because their hidden, but well known, biases are becoming ever more apparent, are rapidly losing their relevance (and market share). I think much better for the NYT that the they quit claiming to be the news paper of record, and start admitting that they are liberal and are shills of the DNC.
Just watch where the lead attacks are going to come from against the Viet Nam veteran groups against Kerry - odds are from the NY and the Boston Globe (someone claimed owned by the NYT). If they were as seriously into objective journalism as they claim, they would be spending more of their resources investigating Kerry's Viet Nam record, and fewer on his critics. After all, the critics aren't running for President - Kerry is, and presumably, if one of his primary claims for qualification to be President are the lessons learned from Viet Nam and the courage he showed there, then it behoves objective journalists to investigate much more closely exactly what he did there and how he did it. How about something easy - Kerry's claim that he spent Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia listening to the President say we didn't have troops there? (see http://instapundit.com/archives/017068.php - which tells you one of my sources).
As for diversity, I too find it absurd. We clump almost 1/2 of the world's population into a catagory defined as "Asian". We then exclude Mr. Kerry's wife from "African-American", but include Sec. of State Powell in that category, totally on the basis of race, and having nothing to do with national origin. But of course, "Asian" Indians are much closer racially to Europeans than to the Chinese. As for Hispanic or Latino, "Bill Richardson" sure sounds European, probably Great Britain. But apparently, he qualifies as Hispanic. But I have also known a couple of blue eyed blonde women who look very northern European who qualified based on their last name.
A friend of mine had a daughter just enter an Ivy League school. She is of a mixed race marriage and looks more white than black. She grew up in a million dollar house, as did her mother. She went to an exclusive prep school. She was raised white until it became evident that she couldn't get in her college of choice as White, so she became Black and got in.
My daughter, a middle schooler at a private school, has class mates who will face the opposite problem. In her class, she has several classmates of mixed Asian and European ancestry. Those with Asian surnames will be discriminated against in admission to engineering schools in comparison to those with European surnames - even if they have the same proportion of European and Asian blood.
I agree with Ed, and disagree with Bernard. My daughter's friends are children of privilege, whether they are of European, Asian, or African descent. They listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, go to the same parties, and fight over the same boys. My daughter's sleepover birthday party this year had two Asian-American, one African-American, and two European-American (including herself) girls present. Yet, in five years, they face entirely different prospects in applying to college. And apparently, four or so years later, entirely different prospects in journalism, should they elect to pursue that career. These kids, regardless of race or national origin, have far, far, more in common with each other, and with other kids who attend top private schools, than they do with kids of any race, etc. who grow up in poverty and attend disfunctional inner-city schools.
What both journalism and politics in this country needs is less labeling and more nuance. This whole idea of branding any group of people as liberal or conservative -- as if there's any coherent, uniform definition of either -- and then predicting viewpoints, behavior or love of country based on the label, has done more to erode public discourse than probably any actual issue we've confronted in the past two decades.
If a journalist supports abortion and belongs to the NRA, is he a liberal or a conservative? If a journalist can't stand George Bush and loves Trent Lott, is she a liberal or a conservative? When we say that journalists need to reveal their bias, what does that mean -- that for every cops brief there's a 500-word disclaimer: "This reporter opposes murder, supports capital punishment, opposes racial profiling, leans in favor of the 'good-cop, bad-cop' investigative technique, thinks more money should be spent on education than prison, and believes the police chief is personally corrupt but professionally effective." (By the way, you'd need another disclaimer for the headline writer, one for the assigning editor, and on up the chain of command to the publisher and corporate CEO.)
Good journalists -- and there are plenty -- recognize the difference between citizenship and partisanship. They're also quite capable of setting aside their myriad personal biases to produce fair and accurate copy, because fairness is their overriding bias. It's certainly true that after hours, days or weeks of reporting, journalists as human beings come to a story with a certain point of view that might not reflect every reader's point of view. But it's a viewpoint of authority based on research, a questioning of assumptions, and fair play for all points of view.
The reason the best journalists don't go out of their way to identify themselves as liberals or conservatives is that they're neither. That doesn't mean they're above preferring one candidate or policy position over another; it means they arrive at their positions as individuals and not adherents to an ideological movement. And it means they're capable of understanding and accurately portraying the other side.
Betraying this professional capacity for political independence by publicly supporting a political candidate is, in fact, inappropriate conduct for a journalist.
Here's the letter I wrote today on this case. Romenesko ran it. Instapundit so far has passed.
To: Instapundit; and Romensko Letters.
From: Jay Rosen
The receptions for Kerry and Bush are generating above average buzz in the press and blog domains. These streams contribute to one another. People are raising questions, and the complaints of journalists (unprofessional!) and conservatives (liberal!) are merging. Many Unity members are quoted with reservations. Others, I'm sure, feel the organization has nothing to apologize for.
I'm one of them. I agree that the vigorous response to Kerry--by some, not all--is a question of journalism ethics, and of professionalism, and to me the ethics of it all begins with protecting freedom of expression for minority members in that profession, who are also employees of a powerful industry. If you begin there, then "express yourself in the privacy of the voting booth" does nothing to address the ethics problem. Is it ethical to limit public expression by off duty journalists in a heated election campaign that arouses passions everywhere? As for credibility: is a mask always credible?
The whole logic of diversity hiring assumes that minority journalists will exert and express themselves within the councils of the profession, and--for example--at daily meetings in newsrooms. Freedom of speech in public settings is not a trivial issue for people who band together to make their voices heard in journalism.
"It's just unprofessional to show a response, for or against" is the conclusion I sense building out there. But I don't sense much room for dissent--for diversity--among those who have groaned over the crowd's display for Kerry. Professionalism isn't a static thing; and there are various views of responsibility alive out there.
Here's one to toss in the mix: "I have a responsibility to remember that I am a citizen, with a political life like other citizens, and I ought to participate in American democracy when I can. And as long as it does not interfere with my professional duties, I shall." Such a view is not automatically unprofessional. It wants to refine what being a good professional means. It's a minority sentiment. That's why I say Unity has nothing to apologize for.
But there is plenty to debate. Unity has a lively convention home page and an experiment in real time blogging going. Why don't they say something-- preferably real, interesting and responsive? You know, step into the debate. Bring some voices from the organization--diverse ones--into the mix. Instead of running from the reaction to Kerry, interpret it.
Just to put in my two cents as a reporter who attended both speeches. By way of disclaimer, the role of the media is often to report and criticize. Please consider this as both.
Report: Kerry received standing ovations entering and leaving the speech. Bush received a standing ovation on his welcome, but his departure was marked with a decent amount of applause (but no standing).
The audience was much smaller for Kerry than for Bush.
The heckler who yelled out during the Bush speech was apparently not a member of the media, and had managed to sneak in past security. (Source: The Unity News)
Analysis: If I were to judge, Kerry was the better speaker at the convention. Kerry's speech was decent enough combining his recent talking points from the DNC with points geared toward a diversity gathering. However, he doesn't seem to be a polished speaker -- there were definitely places where he dragged on his point.
I think part of the lackluster reaction to Bush is due to the off-key tone of his speech. Bush's almost-slouching style of draping his arm across the podium lacked energy. Overall, the speech didn't have the fire of the stump speech I had heard earlier in the month in Michigan.
Also, the president handled the question-and-answer period poorly. During the Q-and-A, Bush said what I approximate to be about four "chuckle lines" where he fumbled the answer (i.e., the sovereign Indian nations are sovereign because that's what they are -- sovereign).
By contrast, Kerry's question-and-answer period went relatively well, although some audience members later said his answers were light. So, I think in terms of presentation, Kerry definitely left on a higher note than the president.
To address the issue of media bias:
In terms of personal bias, it's ridiculous to deny that we all have some. However, I think some see bias as a blinder -- obscuring everything that a reporter puts to paper. I disagree.
I write each news story with the intention of telling the story, covering as many sides to the story as possible and getting the information to the people.
Political bias -- either my own, the editor's, the publisher's or corporate parent's -- is immaterial and should never be in the story.
Does this always happen with a news story? No, but it is something I constantly strive for. Editorials, opinions, critics and analyses are obviously different beasts and I do stress the difference to readers.
BTW, I strive to adhere to the SPJ Code of Ethics in my writing at all times. I don't feel that there are any "politically correct" tendencies in the document (whatever PC means these days).
In terms of expressing opinions outside of the newsroom, I admit it's a sketchy issue. However, I don't think journalists should ultimately be bound to an oath of silence. Case in point, I've got my own discrete personal 'blog, but it's removed from my "professional" site.
As someone who doesn't easily fall into an ethnic category, I've thought a lot over the past week about what "diversity" means. Just thinking about race is inadequate -- I tend to think of monoliths when I do that. It can be a starting point, however.
I think the best way to look at diversity is, in order to present the best coverage possible, a news outlet has to find stories in all walks of life. It's ultimately not necessary to have a reporting staff that reflects the racial makeup of a community. The ties between a news outlet and the community will help get the story.
Mr. Parks, I honestly find your position to be more than a little bit self-aggrandizing. You're ignoring the fact that if you go into the newsroom and survey reporters (not opinion columnists) you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who is pro-life, pro-school choice, anti-gay marriage, anti-gun control, anti-racial preferences, pro-tax cuts, etc.
But you would no doubt find many who hold the opposite of all these positions quite passionately. And you expect us to believe that they can very easily push them aside?
You're the second person in this discussion to call me self-aggrandizing, so I guess that must be true.
As far as surveying a newsroom, from what I've read there are likely to be fewer journalists who subscribe to the positions you mention than exist in the general population. But to suggest that any newsroom marches in lockstep, or that someone who takes one side on half of those issues isn't capable of taking the other side on the other half, is to speak from ignorance.
And to suggest that a person can't put aside personal beliefs to perform professional duties is to undermine a number of professions. Do we expect Republican doctors to treat Democratic patients with less care? Do most criminal defense lawyers generally agree with the lifestyles of their clients? When a CIA agent reports back on the anti-American views of a group she monitors, do we think her pro-American bias will distort her characterization of the group's activities?
When a journalist's job is to seek out and fairly represent a point of view he may disagree with, it's not so unreasonable to expect him to succeed.
The kind of journalism I advocate, and have seen regularly in practice, is born of a curiosity about what makes people tick, why things work or don't work, and when someone's working in the public interest or working for themselves. It is not born of a desire to push a political agenda.
A good reporter is eminently capable of approaching both sides of an issue with fairness and compassion, because unlike talking heads or people who look only for news that best supports their point of view, the reporter seeks out people with diverse experiences and tries like hell to draw out how they think and feel.
Once you've talked both to a desperate, physically abused teenager who felt she had no choice but to have an abortion without her parents' permission, and to a devastated parent who would have done anything to help his daughter keep her baby, it's hard to demonize either side -- even if you still have your own point of view.
Most journalists I know don't have a tough time with people who disagree with them. They have a tough time with people who are so rigid in their point of view that they're not capable of understanding anyone else's. That fact that this category of individual seems to be dominating public discourse is the reason we spend more time talking about who's biased than about how to solve our common problems.
When you seek out the other side for a living, it's not as hard to set aside your own views as you might think.
Perhaps we might say that liberal-minded is a quality found among people of all political persuasions, but may be found in some places on the dial more than others.
Perhaps, but the dogmas of Marxism, political correctness, utopian eschatology, etc., make good competition today on the Left with the traditionalism, cognitive humility and fundamentalism of the Right. So there seems to be a very narrow Q for those places on the dial.
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." -- Aristotle
This is really a failing of label literacy. It is picking up arms in the rhetorical battle over defining terms and involves the automatic thinking that might claim conservatives are anti-intellectual or anti-science, when historically the Left has practiced Lysenkoism and cargo cult science to a greater degree than the Right (politicians, especially authoritarians, like the science that likes them back). Does a "liberal" desire truth over tolerance, or is that the traditionalist dogma of a conservative?
Do we equate liberal-minded with dissidence, a certain form of democratic opposition, perhaps as described by Jeffrey C. Goldfarb or another?
"Instead of meeting these serious accusations head on, the Left declares the entire argument malformed, haram, taboo, inappropriate and therefore inadmissible." -- Wretchard
"It is unlikely that a meaningful national dialogue on the future of world can occur until the Left frees itself from the taboos which have stultified its intellect. The dead hand of Vietnam and its attachment to the cultic nonsense of the 1960s lies heavy on Democratic Party. That spectral limb will grip them by the throat until they shake free. Until then, forward to wherever. We'll know where we're going when we get there." -- Wretchard
"The death of public discourse over the War on Terror was at least partly the result of the self-lobotomization of the Leftist mind. That operation was necessary to prevent an admission of the obvious: the basic Leftist tenets were bankrupt and sustained only by ever more tedious extensions to the original discredited theory; a latter day replay of the downfall of geocentrism which held back the Copernican revolution only by introducing artificial and complicated epicycles. Thus was the Marx's theory of the impoverishment of the proletariat transformed into Lenin's theory of imperialism." -- Wretchard
As far as surveying a newsroom, from what I've read there are likely to be fewer journalists who subscribe to the positions you mention than exist in the general population.
If you are talking numerically, of course. After all, there are only so many journalists in the population. If you are talking proportionally, then I don't think you have been paying attention. Reporters are far more likely to be pro-abortion on demand, anti-school choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-European style taxation, pro-gun control, etc. than any other group of people except (maybe!) Hollywood and Frisco citizens in the nation. Hell, in the last thirty-two years, journalists as a group have voted for the Democratic candidates for President by more lopsided margins than registered Democrats.
A recent survey of journalists by The New York Times of journalists based outside Washington at the recent Democratic convention showed they favor John Kerry for president over President Bush by 3 to 1, while reporters based in Washington, D.C., support John Kerry by a margin of 12 to 1. Furthermore, remember that there was a much touted Pew Research Center survey of journalist ideological leanings. Most called themselves "moderates/centrists" but on closer inspection of their (the so-called "moderates/centrists") views on various issues, there was virtually no difference between them and those who were honest (or self-aware) enough to identify themselves as Leftists.
But to suggest that any newsroom marches in lockstep, or that someone who takes one side on half of those issues isn't capable of taking the other side on the other half, is to speak from ignorance.
If you ever find yourself in the New York Times newsroom I'd bet you anything that you would find only one pro-life reporter for every thirty abortion supporters among the reporting staff ... if you find one at all. There would probably be one pro-life reporter for every twenty five. This does not mean that a newsroom marches in total lockstep ... there are bound to be some disagreements on some issues here and there. I mean, the guys at the sport section may be less pro-gun control than the guys on the politics beat, and chances are there are arguments everyday as to whether Bush hates black children or really really hates black children, which Ivy league schools are the best, etc.
Whatever way, you cannot deny that there is a serious deficit in ideological diversity (relative to the rest of the nation) in the vast majority of newsrooms across the country, especially the ones with some regional or national reach i.e. NYT, WP, CBS, CNN, etc. And on balance they lean far to the left of the nation as a whole. But I'll concede that there are usually a few dissenters (columnists more often than not), so you can make an argument about not marching in lockstep.
And to suggest that a person can't put aside personal beliefs to perform professional duties is to undermine a number of professions. Do we expect Republican doctors to treat Democratic patients with less care? Do most criminal defense lawyers generally agree with the lifestyles of their clients? When a CIA agent reports back on the anti-American views of a group she monitors, do we think her pro-American bias will distort her characterization of the group's activities?
Note that all these professions actually require some sort of oath and that there are REALLY tough consequences for violating that oath, some involving jail-time. We can't say the same about journalism now, can we? By the way, isn't it still one of the mottoes of journalism that a journalist should "... afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted?" And ironically, note that editorial boards (presumably composed of journalists) all over the country, especially the NYT, have been pounding on many of the President's judicial nominees on the grounds that they cannot be trusted to put aside their personal beliefs and impartially enforce the law as they would swear to do. Yet the same editorial boards would blow a gasket if anybody ever questioned the impartiality of their newspages as if their reporters do not hold their beliefs as strongly.
But either way, no one is claiming that reporters actually go out of their way to distort and negatively twist the views of people they disagree with, except people like Dana Millbank, In fact, I believe most journalist actually do their best to ensure that they fairly and accurately present both views they agree or disagree with.
The problem is that the overwhelmingly left-leaning nature of the newsroom where up to 90% of their colleagues (often including themselves) honestly believe that conservative Republicans transparently hate the poor, women, gays and minorities, and are generally white male chauvinist ignorant "unsophisticated" slack-jawed yokels, means that an 'objective' review of a conservative policy proposal, political campaign or politician tend to be a little bit skewed. That's how a reporter could write a so-called "factual" description of evangelicals as being by and large "poor, ill-educated and easily led" could sail past editors' desks multiple times un-noticed till it got to print. That's why any mention of Strom Thurmond in a newspaper since the 1980s that fails to mention that he was a segregationist would never get past an editor but somehow Robert Byrd's own segregationist past (not to mention KKK membership) is conveniently forgotten.
So the issue is not whether or not a reporter is capable of putting aside his personal views to report on a view he finds disagreeable, it is his level of self-awareness (even if everyone he works with share his point of view, it may not be shared by most of the outside world), his ability to seek out the best proponents of that point of view and to write about it without prejudice. There are quite a few reporters who do this everyday. Unfortunately, too many don't because they think their views are "normal" or the default, even when they're not. Last year, an AP reporter breathlessly stated as fact that Hillary Clinton had so far proven to be a "moderate" in the Senate, despite the fact that her voting record was just about four points shy of matching Ted Kennedy's for liberalism according to the ADA. The reporter could not have possibly thought that unless her definition of the "center", like that of most reporters, is far to the left of the average American.
Mr. Parks, bias is not just what words you use to write the story. It is also about:
Placement, labelling, timing, citations, headline, lede and just as importantly, what you choose to cover and what you choose not to cover. Michael Moore talks out of his rear end and claims that Bush is a deserter from the Texas Air National Guard ... and the Press spares no expense to pursue the story. It was on front pages, broadcast headlines for weeks. The Swift Boat Vets charge that John Kerry may have gamed the system to get his medals and leave Vietnam eight months early; and the Press is doing its very best to ignore it.
There are examples galore, but suffice it to say, I find your assertion that reporters by and large don't let their mostly Leftist personal beliefs influence their reporting incredible. I can believe they try, I just don't believe they're very successful at it.