Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

What Happened to ‘Without Fear or Favor’?

New York Times journalists want news stories vetted prior to publication. They want mandatory & ongoing newsroom sensitivity training. The Gray Lady is now a place where journalists fear each other.

click to read the full document

Contemporary journalists don’t need to be told they should be careful when writing about certain topics: race, religion, gender issues, and so forth. Sensitivity filters exist inside everyone’s head.

The minute, however, that sensitivity filters become formalized, the minute a newspaper makes it someone’s job to cleanse news stories of politically incorrect content, journalism dies.

Remarkably, a union representing employees of the New York Times is now demanding exactly this. Three days ago, the NewsGuild of New York released a memo about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Guild says it wants to “improve the working experience of Black, Indigenous, and people of color at the Times.” But the memo reaches well beyond that.

It wants the publisher of the newspaper to declare that “diversity and inclusion is part of everyone’s job.”

It advocates “Mandatory and regular cultural competency training for newsroom employees” and “mandatory unconscious bias training (for hiring and for editorial sensitivity reading).”

It says that, whenever a reporter pitches a story idea to an editor, a major concern from the “start of the editorial process,” should be whether that story will offend racial sensitivities.

It further says: “Every newsroom employee should be proactive in improving coverage” of racial matters. It’s no longer sufficient, says the memo, to be receptive to particular concerns, “since that is passive.”

In other words, Times employees can no longer decline to behave like militant, censorious activists. The guild wants everyone to become a newsroom bully – denouncing and pointing fingers at any colleague who dares to write in an unapproved manner about “members of historically discriminated groups.”

This is insane. A journalist’s job is to tell it like it is, to produce information that helps the public make informed decisions.

Informed decisions can’t be made if unfashionable perspectives are never uttered. They can’t be made if relevant facts are deliberately withheld for fear of offending certain communities or interest groups. In the words of a famous book on the topic:

“Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”

But the Guild isn’t interested in the truth. It thinks the public should, like children, be told fairy tales. That is emphatically the opposite of what the founding father of the New York Times intended. In his words, the goal was:

to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved… [bold added]

124 years later, the New York Times has become an entity in which journalists live in fear of other journalists.



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  • the Guild memo is here
  • the values of the New York Times founder are discussed here; please note his enthusiasm for “intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion” (my italics). Compare that to the toady ‘Editor’s Note’ that now appears at the top of a recent opinion piece written by US Senator Tom Cotton. According this account, the original article “sparked a revolt among Times journalists, with some saying it endangered black employees.” Outrageously, the editorial page editor, James Bennett, subsequently lost his job – which sent a signal to editors everywhere that the range of acceptable thought (aka the Overton Window) has narrowed dramatically.
  • New York Times columnist Bari Weiss’ resignation letter, written in the aftermath of the above and addressed to publisher A.G. Sulzberger, appears on her own website here. Additional comments by her are here. It appears she experienced a genuinely hostile workplace, and that those in positions of power at the Times failed to put a stop to highly unprofessional behaviour on the part of some of her colleagues. Her story makes it clear only some kinds of diversity matter. Diversity of opinion is not valued – by journalists, of all people. Forcing individuals to censor themselves, forcing them to lie in order to keep their job is an abomination – no matter what shade a person’s skin, no matter what community they hail from.
  • the above-mentioned book: The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect



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This entry was posted on August 3, 2020 by in ethical & philosophical, free speech, media and tagged , , .