Anderson Cooper and objectivity
It’s time to once and for all abandon the idea of pure objectivity in journalism. This is a very good thing, and something that conservatives did a long time ago. The only question is whether liberal journalists will finally admit their biases so that we can perhaps begin, in some small way, to trust them.
There is no such thing as objectivity. But there is such a thing as fairness. I stole that line from Nick Gillespie, the editor-in-chief of Reason.com. Gillespie recently gave a speech at Georgetown University’s Broadcast Journalism Institute, a summer program for aspiring high school journalism students. I’m the program’s academic director. One thing that we teach the kids is that while objectivity is not possible, fairness is. Make your biases clear, then go out of your way to be fair to the other side.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 16- and 17-year-olds easily grasp this concept, which eludes many professional journalists. Let’s see if we can finally drive it home to the mainstream media. When you admit your biases, it leads viewers to trust you more, not less. And it makes you a better journalist.
I’ll use a simple example so that even Andrea Mitchell can understand. On Monday, CNN host Anderson Cooper revealed that he’s gay and that his decision to come out was based on his objection to bullying in schools, particularly bullying of gay kids. Before he came out, I thought that Anderson Cooper was both a cipher and a show-off. He lacks the aggression to be a good cable TV host, and has often put himself front and center when reporting from a foreign hot spot. And everyone and their brother knew that Cooper was gay. The fact that he was denying it was not offensive to me because of any sexual judgmentalism, but as a matter of honor. He is a highly visible journalist (although considering the ratings, maybe not), and he is gay. The bullying of gay kids, the debate over gay marriage — these things simply had to concern him. And because of a silly and wrong idea about “objectivity,” he was not letting himself express this.
Now, after his coming out, Cooper has gained a bit of honor. St. Ambrose said that “the conscience is God’s herald and messenger,” and Cooper has finally listened to his conscience. Like other journalists who come clean, he is saying: This is what I believe. This is what is important to me. I am telling you this, so that when you watch me you will be able to make an informed decision about the stories I choose to report and how fair I am being to those with whom I disagree. I am an honest man.
Compare that to that despicable crone Andrea Mitchell. Mitchell hates conservatives and dislikes Mitt Romney. When NBC edited a tape to falsify something Romney said, Mitchell claimed that they would show the full tape — which they did not — because of complaints from conservatives and Republicans. Or that sputtering toad Chris Matthews, who took great offense recently when CNN’s John King said that MSNBC is left-wing. It can’t be repeated enough: It is a question of honor more than anything else. Chris Matthews has no honor. He will not admit what he is.
And can we please, at long last, drop the excuse that journalists are liberals because liberals are more prone to go into journalism? Michael Kinsley made this argument when he was the editor of Slate. Artsy-fartsy kids want to become journalists more than jocks; thus, 55 of the 57 staff members at Slate voted for Obama in 2008. Kinsley was backed up by another Slate editor, David Plotz, who cited four reasons for liberal bias: 1) journalists live in extremely Democratic cities on the East and West Coasts; 2) the Slate staff skews young, and all polls show younger voters favoring the Democrat; 3) several of the magazine’s contributors are Obama advisers; 4) arty kids like writing and tend to be liberal and go into journalism.
But here’s the thing: This summer my journalism class had 85 kids. One speaker asked them who they were supporting for president. It was about evenly divided between Romney and Obama. It may have helped that none of them, unlike the Slate staff, are Obama advisers. Moreover, every year they are each asked to write an op-ed on any topic they want, and every year they submit a wonderfully diverse range of topics, from sports and politics to arts and food and fashion. Taken together, their pieces could make up a fine and truly diverse newspaper.
The truth, as Plotz knows, is that liberal journalists get hired at places like Slate and The Washington Post, where they become editors who then hire more liberal journalists. Because liberal journalists are liberals who want to see liberalism advanced.
Anderson Cooper got his job because he is from a famous family. To his credit, he countered this by doing some hard journalism. And now that he has come clean, he may actually be worth watching.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.