Media

Dear Journalists: Whether You Vote Plays Absolutely No Role in Your Capacity for Objectivity

Opinions lead to ballot selections, not the other way around.

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Anderson Cooper
CNN

It seems to come around at least once every major election cycle. At some point, some major journalist or editor publicly states that he or she does not vote, not out of apathy but out of some bizarre ethical public signaling that this somehow helps guarantee that he or she is more likely to be objective.

This week's offender is CNN's Anderson Cooper, who told Howard Stern in an interview that he doesn't vote because he doesn't "want to be influenced one way or the other." No it doesn't make any sense. Erik Wemple of The Washington Post takes note of the interview (skeptically) and reminds us of others who have said the same:

When pressed on the insanity of this position — and how people in other countries don't even have this right — Cooper unfurled the rationale: "I don't want to be influenced one way or the other….My role is to ask questions." Noting that he can't remember the last time he voted, Cooper said, "I don't like feeling like I've taken a stand." [emphasis added]

On one point, Cooper is right: This is a thing, and it goes a ways back. Former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. avoided voting for many of the same reasons cited by Cooper. Heck, Downie even refused to vote after stepping down as executive editor amid the high-profile presidential election of 2008. "I'm not voting in November because I've kept my mind open about the candidates and issues during two years or so of having ultimate responsibility for our campaign coverage, so I just don't feel ready to vote in this election. I'll have a clean slate after that," Downie told the Erik Wemple Protoblog back then.

It's a silly idea that somehow voting or not voting plays any role in whether a journalist is slanted in his or her reporting. Cooper has gotten it exactly backwards. It's an individual's attitudes, positions, biases, emotions, et cetera that prompt them to cast their votes in the first place. All those psychological attitudes exist outside of a cast ballot. If Cooper thinks or feels Hillary Clinton (by way of example) would make a better president than the other candidates, his attitude is something he's going to have to consider if he wants to be seen as objective, regardless of whether he voted. His position informs the ballot choice, not the reverse.

That's why the bolded part in the quote above is so telling. Cooper doesn't like "feeling" like he's made a stand. It's not that voting compromises his objectivity, it's that the "feeling" when he votes is a reminder that his objectivity is already compromised due to his nature as human being in America whose life, like everybody else's, is heavily influenced by the decisions made by elected officials.

I used to think that these journalists who wove the "not voting" banner were attempting it as a cynical ass-covering move to try to shield themselves from criticism. But Cooper's statement here shows how much it's actually journalists trying to fool themselves into actually believing that they are above the fray.

It's possible that I won't be voting for president this year, depending on who gets the Libertarian Party nomination. Does that make me more "trustworthy" in some nebulous fashion when I report on the major candidates? Of course not. The reason I'm not voting for any of them is because I find all five of the remaining candidates in the two major parties to each be repulsive in their own ways. And it probably shows in my writing. Sometimes even not voting counts as "taking a stand." It's a silly belief that Cooper would be better served by casting off and instead considering how those already-held opinions are influencing his journalism right now.

And besides, if it makes Cooper feel any better about voting, his vote is statistically unlikely to matter anyway.

NEXT: Governments Hating On Press Freedom More, Says Reporters Without Borders

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  1. Yeah, that’s a really weird thing to say. I think he’s got the cart before the horse there.

    If he wants to prove his lack of bias, he should vote, but completely randomly.

    1. I like the idea. I randomly picked Navin R. Johnson.

    2. Put the ballot on a dart board and vote for whoever the dart hits. Completely objective!

  2. some major journalist or editor publicly states that he or she does not vote,

    Proving they can lie as easily as a politician.

  3. “Look, peasant, I don’t vote, I tell *other people* how to vote.”

  4. Shorter Shack:

    The fact that you decline to vote doesn’t make you less of a Democrat Operative with a byline, Anderson.

    1. Love Shack:

      It’s 2016 already, let’s all just get on the right side of herstory.

      1. Apparently Shaquille O’Neil says he can’t sign his messages “Love Shaq” because the B 52s ruined the phrase for him.

        1. He can still sign “Love Kazaam”.

        2. So, Shaq has a chronology problem.

  5. It’s more likely that journalists who claim this do so to avoid admitting they’re Democrats. Cynical Shackford was correct. Modern Shackford is gullible. (Perhaps too gullible to be allowed a vote.)

    1. Because being a democrat is, like, the right answer. “Being Objective” is just to keep the rethugliklans appeased. It’s 2016 already.

    2. Rachel Maddow claims she is not a Democrat. I’m sure it’s because she’s not registered as one, but she supports Democrats over Republicans 99% of the time.

      I’m not a Blackhawk, that doesn’t make me objective in tonight’s matchup with the Blues.

      1. 99.9%

        Though I can’t think of any examples of the remaining 0.1%, I’m just being generous.

      2. I can easily believe that Maddow is not a Democrat. They must be too right-wing for her.

  6. To be fair we’ve been told for years that the media votes predominately D, and this is evidence of their bias, so I can see how one might think not voting is a way to show objectivity, sure both ideas are stupid but one kinda follows the other.

  7. Whether or not you’re voting has nothing to do with whether or not you have opinions. I’ve heard tell there are Canuckistanis who have opinions on who should be elected President of the US – most of them aren’t voting in the US Presidential elections and only one of them is running.

    1. I don’t blame them for focusing on the “fun” politics. Every chump from every stump around the globe has an opinion on the American political system.

      Electing a Ken Doll as a Prime-Rib Minister has to deflate the ego a bit. Gavin McInnes is like a Canadian testicular reaction to the frump of Canadian politics.

      1. the frump of Canadian politics.

        You mean This guy?

    2. I seen what you did there, eh?

    3. Nothing is more American an apple pie than being born in Canada as the son of a Cuban. I understand the arguments about his being a natural born citizen because he was a citizen at birth. None the less, there is something a bit odd about someone who was born on foreign soil to parents who were not there working for the US government and who were not residents of the US (one of whom wasn’t even a US citizen at the time) being considered a “natural born citizen”.

      1. Yeah, it’s oogey-boogey scary, right? It’s obvious that Cruz is an operative of the Cuban-Canadian alliance, formed to infiltrate the American government with foreigners who want America to hew to the Constitution! Devious bastards.

  8. Did he say whether he donates or not though?

  9. This is an interesting position. I can see not donating to a candidate. I can definitely see not stumping for them as a journalist… we might even try to roll back taking dictation directly from the campaigns… but not voting so your opinion remains open? That’s just strange.

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    1. I Fucking Love Science.

      Ooops, is that oversharing?

      1. In this case, I think its “I Love Fucking Science”, no?

        1. When does it get to “I Love Science Fucking”?

          1. I Fucking Science, Love

    2. “Circumcision May Not Reduce Sensitivity of Penis”
      Also, like my haircut, it makes me look well-groomed and clean-cut.

      1. Like an amputee stump.

  11. And besides, if it makes Cooper feel any better about voting, his vote is statistically unlikely to matter anyway.

    Yeah, but admitting that directly just lands you askance-glance condemnation for dereliction of your ‘civic duty’ and smug pontifications that you have ‘no right to complain’ or opine on political matters.

    Better to garner some laudatory sentiments instead. You go, AC.

  12. There is nothing wrong with a journalist voting. Voting is supposed to be secret, therefore journalists don’t owe anyone an answer to the question of who they voted for.

    1. The individual you vote for is secret. In most states if you vote in a primary you must reveal which party primary you voted in.

  13. Maybe he figures his in kind contributions are enough.

  14. I hope to read a piece someday about how little what journalists say influences how people vote.

    So many seem to buy into the notion that people believe things and vote on them based on what journalists say about them.

    Stupid people, in their world, are the people who don’t believe what they’re told.

    I was looking at ratings on different breeds of dogs ranked by intelligence recently. My favorite was towards the bottom of the list. I looked into how they were measuring intelligence in dogs, and it turned out to be all about how easy each breed was to train. “How insulting”, I thought. Can you imagine if people were ranked by intelligence that way? How can the most intelligent people be the ones who always do what they’re told?

    That’s how most journalists think of us. They think the smart ones are those of us who believe whatever the journalists are telling us about the climate, the economy, foreign policy, etc. It’s only the stupid people, like me, who don’t vote as they’re told.

    1. Few people listen to journalists. That is not the problem. The problem is that few people know more than what journalists tell them about a story. Journalists don’t need to proselytize their politics, though they do. They skew public perception by the stories they choose to report and the ones they choose to bury.

      1. That may have been true pre-intertubez and the talk radio explosion but anymore people can find and listen to whatever slanted news source they want. It’s echo-chambers all the way down.

        1. True but most people don’t. Most people are not political junkies.

          1. And most people are watching “The Walking Dead” and “American Idol”. The hypno-toad version of a “Big 3” controlled narrative is dead, the only narrative people get is one they search out. If you aren’t looking for a biased news source you’re not looking for news.

            1. Hmm, I think alot of people still get their news from the local news. They watch it for the sports scores and weather. At the same time, they are hearing uniformed people make bad summations about what the national news sites and feeds are reporting.
              Also, AP and Reuters stories are on Cortana, yahoo front page, Google news, etc.
              Absolutely peoples’ opinions are influenced by the major media.

              1. What are you eighty? a hundred? no one watches local news for weather or sports, get one of your great grandkids to show you the “google” and look up smart phones.

                1. I think more people watch local news than you think. It’s a pretty big deal among the local stations. Just because your peer group doesn’t watch the local news doesn’t mean other people don’t.
                  My smart phone is a windows phone, because my bosses hate me, I guess. Cortana offers me headlines while I’m inputting my search query. Pretty sure Siri does something similar, and Android, too.
                  Also, the baby boomers are still a very large demographic, and many of them don’t carry smart phones, use yahoo or even AOL (my parents), and have been watching the news their whole lives, and are kind of in the habit.

                  1. A. You are probably right
                    B. I am insulted that you assume I have a “Peer Group”

      2. They don’t listen to journalists, but there are white noise effects – not only in story selection, but frequency of reporting and adoption of memes. Eventually they bleed into the national consciousness and become “commonly known facts” that aren’t facts at all. Most Americans think the country grows more violent each year or that there is a war on cops. It’s not just from reading or listening to news reports but also from seeing certain headlines pounded relentlessly.

        1. Republican scandals are reported as scandals. Democratic scandals are either not reported or reported as just another partisan fight.

      3. Imagine if the same percentage of instances where a small child was killed in a car became national stories as instances where a child was killed by a gun.

    2. That’s how animal intelligence is always measured. I think your problem may be the use of the word “train”, which implies a certain type of learning, but differentiates it only on the basis of the intention of the measurer. The person or other animal doesn’t necessarily have to be “told” anything, but the basic process is the same regardless. An animal can be smart for learning something that goes against the intention of a trainer, but which objectively is being “taught” regardless of that intention. So for instance if you learn the routine of security personnel so you successfully conduct a burglary, you’ve been taught how to do it by those personnel against their intention, and it shows you’re smart.

  15. Do we really want to encourage these people to vote?

  16. Opinions lead to ballot selections, not the other way around.

    And campaign donations follow opinions, not the other way around.

  17. No, you see, Anderson Cooper is really a bot, like Max Headroom or Tay.
    The mere act of voting initiates an algorithmic cascade that begins as a set of chaotic protomemes and culminates in a gestalt opinion.
    So I strongly advise all bots like AC to avoid voting. The risks are simply too great.

    1. I miss Tay. In case of Trump it should be Trump-Tay 2016.

  18. BBC reporters and *Guardian* writers don’t vote in American elections, and nobody challenges *their* neutrality!

    /sarc

  19. In spite of making a few comment in tepid favor of voting for Donald Trump this primary season there is zero chance I will act on that. By their own stupidity/wisdom the GOP in California requires Republican voters to registister first as members of the Republican Party. Dems allow independents to vote for Hillary! AG Camilla Harris would interpret that as an “Audit Me” sign. My personal income taxes are as clean as fresh alpine snow, but my business taxes are filled with spitballs. Every business’s are, but I can’t afford to keep the likes of RC Dean on staff to defend myself.

    Glenn Reynolds goes on and on about the glut of lawyers, and perhaps there is one, but good luck finding one who bills out at less than $300/hr.

  20. Let’s see:
    It’s a herd of cows
    A school of fish
    A murder of crows
    A circle-jerk of lawyers?

  21. Actually, he is right about human nature. Opinions often follow behavior. Not that he doesn’t already lean democrat, but once you start acting on the belief by voting, you become more vested in it, and it reinforces the belief.

    I am pretty sure this has been tested by measuring opinions before and after getting someone to participate in recitations but I am too lazy to google right now.

    1. …but I am too lazy to google right now.

      First World problems.

    2. I’m not sure about recitations, but ISTR experiments in which people were either forced to make an arbitrary choice or had such a choice made for them, and then were more likely to act in a way that “justified” that choice or made it appear favorable.

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