The Journolist scandal, America, the media, and the assumption of objectivity

Left-wing bias in the media is nothing new. Regardless, journalists and the free press have been regarded as the peaceful guardians of America’s liberal democratic republic. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

In this respect, the press was supposed to be the voice of the people, not a propagandistic arm pushing a particular ideology, person, or party. Nevertheless, the founding fathers were no fools when it came to the protection of freedom. The free press is and was an institution like any other, thus it was corruptible. James Madison said it best, “All power in human hands is liable to be abused.” This applies to the press as much as governmental institutions.

As with the contemporary, there have been numerous subjective news sources that have circulated in the press. Many a 19th century newspaper would publish lurid, scandalous or even libelous stories about opposing politicians on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the modern press’s antecedents did not operate under a generally believed air of objectivity as today’s press wishes to push.  It is certain that this will not be the first nor last scandal in the ranks of reporters. As a result, the narrative of an independent and disinterested press may need to be reassessed.

As Thomas Jefferson takes another spin in his burial plot at Monticello, many modern ethicists would also be highly critical of the program of deception these journalists undertook. Journalists and prominent commentators on journalistic ethics, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel noted that, “the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” This flies in the face of the Journolist “collective’s” Al Capone-esque (I.E. “if I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you”) treatment of the coverage of Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright these media mavens presented.

Kovach and Rosenstiel authored a nine-point list of prerequisites journalists should follow.  The list included anobligation … to the truth … loyalty is to citizens.” They continued, “[journalism’s] practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover … [Journalism] must serve as an independent monitor of power.” In no way did the journalists involved live up to these basic standards.  In place of standards, the left-wing press has set an agenda for its supporters with an end goal that affected millions. However, their actions were little different from their predecessors who invented the practice of yellow journalism.

In essence, this move involving an impromptu cabal of journalists, who set about swaying the public, were a micro-version of what readers of history have witnessed in places like Stalin’s USSR, Khomeini’s Iran, Castro’s Cuba, and (at the risk of being accused of reductio ad Hitlerum) Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The main difference between these examples and this case is the lack of a totalitarian propaganda-journalistic collaboration set by the state. Instead, this group acted on its own to set the discourse (or lack thereof) and obfuscate the facts in a drive to push its own political message. For the Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman (A.K.A. Mr. “Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”) the journalist was to adopt the role of Greek rhetorician-cum-Goebbels with a touch of George Orwell.