Juan Williams firing: Does journalism need more objectivity -- or more transparency?
NPR's Juan Williams was fired after remarks he made on Fox News about his anxiety over seeing Muslims on planes.
(Page 2 of 2)
But why leave it at that? What if readers could click on a journalist's byline and instantly call up a profile that listed age, race, religion, voting record, and even the bias scores from Harvard's Project Implicit? It sounds appealing, but there's a problem: It's much easier to reveal a bias than it is to demonstrate credibility as an objective reporter. Members of Congress earn numerical ratings from special-interest groups like the ACLU. Maybe reporters should receive similar scores that would help readers sort out their biases.Skip to next paragraph
Veterans Day: Monitor Facebook fans sound off
Bahrain protests and Obama's 'drop by' diplomacy
Honk if you support Saudi women drivers
How Kevorkian and assisted suicide fit into America's mixed moral landscape
Keeping on with the work of a slain journalist in Pakistan
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
TMI? Perhaps. But in an open-source age, don't we generally favor more transparency over less? Pulling the curtain back on reporters' backgrounds and beliefs could act as an important check on one of the most widespread and subtle forms of journalistic bias: selective use of sources.
Subtle bias of selective sourcing
Reporters with strong opinions often let that bias bleed into their stories by calling on the sources they know will confirm their own point of view. I find that particularly troubling because it's biased journalism hiding in the cloth of objective reporting. In those cases, a public profile that readers could see would at least offer intellectual honesty, if not nudge the reporter to be more balanced.
If I applied that standard to this blog, I'd have to confess that I'm a Yankees fan. Does that invalidate my earlier point about baseball? No, but it makes it even harder to get along with my Boston (Red Sox-loving) colleagues.
Office tensions aside, it's that potential damage to relationships that makes me still cleave to the "keep your opinions to yourself" camp. (For a rousing debate about whether political reporters should abstain from voting, click here.)
As opinion editor, I get paid to help other people express their points of view more clearly. Doing that well takes a tremendous amount of trust. And that trust would be broken if commentary writers knew that my own beliefs diverged from theirs.
That may be a minority view. New York Times oped editor David Shipley is a former speechwriter for President Clinton. That hasn't stopped conservative writers from working with him. And speaking of Clinton staffers, George Stephanopoulos shows that it's possible to be a credible chief political correspondent for ABC News despite having served as a partisan adviser.
Objectivity vs. transparency
What's your view: Is objectivity a worthy goal in journalism or an artificial psychological straitjacket? Do you wish you knew more about the personal beliefs and backgrounds of reporters and editors? Or are you glad that most journalists keep their views to themselves?
Share your thoughts using the "Comment on this story" link below.