Concealing Bias Causes More Journo/Protester Problems


New York Times stringer Natasha Lennard and public radio opera hostess Lisa Simeone are two new causes in the old, dull conflict over whether reporters can be permitted to have opinions. 

At Andrew Breitbart's formidable BigGovernment blog, Lee Stranahan digs up video of a group of bookstore Occupy activists doing what activists do best: engaging in a tedious bull session/Maoist self-criticism disguised as a group-strategy consensus-building conference. 

One of the speakers is Lennard, who recently reported in the Times of New York on her arrest at the Brooklyn bridge, and who proves she's no slouch when it comes to dribbling pomo catchphrases and academic flapdoodle. Sample sentence: 

So there is already a tendency in the park that means backing away from anti-authoritarian tendencies that don't fall into pre-existing permitted institutional structures, or that can't be coded by them.

Bonus irony: Lennard's caught-on-camera quotes are a lamentation about how these newfangled camerawebs make it impossible for anarchists to hold secret conversations while they're occupying a public park. 

The upshot: The Times has somebody covering Occupy Wall Street who is also an Occupier. Stranahan demands "an immediate response from the New York Times." 

Meanwhile, Simeone has been fired from her job with the public radio show Soundprint, and National Public Radio has decided to stop distributing her show World of Opera. (The show will still be distributed by another station, and Simeone's trabajo travails have generated a mini-genre of corrections and self-corrections about who runs what in the public radio world that is even more boring and pointless than the argument over whether journalists can put bumper stickers on their hybrids.)  

Simeone's offense was participating in a protest called "Stop the Machine," during which Cornel West and a few other people were arrested. Simeone supporters say, among other things, that "What Simeone does on her own time has no bearing on her role as host of an arts show." But NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm says otherwise, in a comment that I think inadvertently demonstrates the real problem: 

Our view is it's a potential conflict of interest for any journalist or any individual who plays a public role on behalf of NPR to take an active part in a political movement or advocacy campaign… Doing so has the potential to compromise our reputation as an organization that strives to be impartial and unbiased. 

Presuming Rehm's transmission was not garbled on its way to Planet Earth, something's weird here.

NPR is both beloved and despised precisely because nobody believes it's impartial or unbiased. Fans ardently self-identify as NPR "junkies" because they believe it represents their version of the unvarnished truth. Opponents claim to want to defund NPR for the same reason. 

The New York Times is an even more famously opinionated news source, yet it will probably end up responding to the Lennard situation in a vain attempt to prove its own objectivity.

I can't say this enough: Journalistic objectivity is about concealing the truth, not revealing it. This kind of institutional self-censorship doesn't solve the "problem" of having biased reporters any more than aversion therapy cures homosexuality. In both cases, the best possible result is that everybody else will understand your nature better than you do yourself. The way to solve the problem of bias is to acknowledge your bias. 

NPR and the Times are free to employ, distribute or publish whomever they like. But I think this kind of foment is stupid, and not just because I'm a big pussy who gets squeamish when a public school district fires a person for something I think a private employer should also be able to fire a person for. Requiring journalists to conceal their opinions will not persuade anybody of the establishment media's objectivity, but it does result in an inferior news product. Reporters without opinions are bad reporters.