Friday, October 22, 2010

Objective Journalism - NYTimes on the Juan Williams case

The NYTimes tries to take a holier-than-thou high moral ground in this brouhaha by defending the purity of true and objective journalism (high on the mountain) versus opinion journalism (languishing in the depths of underground caves).

But this very article makes the point that strictly 'objective' reporting takes a definitive slant continually by its choice of words and the juxtaposition of ideas that are cherry-picked to not-so-subtly make this an opinion piece.

I've added highlights to show where the use of wording turns soft objectivity into strong subjectivity.

By the way, what about shows like PBS's 'Washington Week in Review' with Gwen Ifill ? A panel of 'objective' , 'real' journalists give their opinions (interpretations?) on the week's stories.

When an NPR journalist like Tom Gjelten speaks on this show 'interpreting' news stories of the week, how is it ANY different than when NPR journalist Juan Williams speaks on Fox?

And isn't Mara Laisson, senior correspondent for NPR, also a panelist on the Fox Sunday News program hosted by Chris Wallace? A program that is explicitly defined to interpret and analyze news stories, not report them.

No breach ' impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism ...' with her or Gjelten?

October 21, 2010

Two Takes at NPR and Fox on Juan Williams

NPR’s decision on Wednesday to fire Juan Williams and Fox News Channel’s decision on Thursday to give him a new contract put into sharp relief the two forms of journalism that compete every day for Americans’ attention.

Mr. Williams’s NPR contract was terminated two days after he said on an opinionated segment on Fox News that he worried when he saw people in “Muslim garb” on an airplane. He later said that he was reflecting his fears after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.

NPR said on Wednesday night that Mr. Williams’s comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices.” According to a report in The Los Angeles Times, Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, offered Mr. Williams, who was already a paid contributor to Fox, a new three-year contract worth nearly $2 million in total.

After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism.(the reporter feels the need to define 'impartiality' as 'core' to a 'real' News organization, thus setting up for his argument that NPR is 'true' journalism and Fox News is not.) By renewing Mr. Williams’s contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemics. (He is tarring ALL of Fox News as being 'point of view' journalism even though in the 2nd paragraph the reporter specified that Williams spoke on an 'opinionated segment' program of the channel). And it gave Fox news anchors and commentators an opportunity to jab NPR, the public radio organization that had long been a target of conservatives for what they perceived to be a liberal bias.( He reinforces the 'all of Fox News is opinionated and conservative' point by lumping anchors and commentators together)

Those competing views of journalism have been highlighted by the success of Fox and MSNBC and the popularity of opinion media that beckons some traditional journalists. (here we have a lament that money is corrupting the purity of real journalists That Mr. Williams was employed by both Fox and NPR had been a source of consternation in the past.

Last year, NPR made it known that it did not want Mr. Williams identified as an NPR employee in appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor,” the Fox News program hosted by the conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly.

“This isn’t the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan’s public comments,” Vivian Schiller, NPR’s chief executive, wrote in an e-mail to affiliates.

She said that his most recent comments “violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so.” (it is one thing to violate standards and guidelines of an organization, but here she admits that NPR has shared ('our') values, which is an explicit admittance that the organization has a singular point of view and tolerates no diversity from it)Ms. Schiller, the general manager of before she moved to NPR in 2009, declined an interview request.

Like many other news organizations, NPR expects its journalists to avoid situations that might call its impartiality into question — an expectation written into the organization’s ethics code.(hello Mara Liasson!)

That expectation can erode under television lights and on Twitter. At outlets like NPR, some journalists have found it difficult to not share their opinions, especially when they are speaking in forums that lend themselves to commentary, like “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, called the Williams case an “object lesson in how different news organizations have different values.” She said the ethics guidelines at many news organizations matched those at NPR.( 'many news organizations' ... implies that 'real' news organizations do this , coming from a Journalism School 'ethics group leader' ... does MANY mean MOST? SOME?)

“If you make some outlandish statement on your Facebook page or at a public event somewhere, you are still representing your newsroom,” she said. “So there are consequences to that.”

The consequences can differ widely, though, depending on the news organization. Mr. Williams is one of just a few prominent liberal contributors at Fox News (hello Mara!), a channel with a bigger bench of conservative contributors.(this is stated - bigger bench of conservative contributors - as a statement of fact, acknowledged as such. Based upon some objective report of these contributors, showing their number and the method used to define them as conservative?) A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Williams’s new contract. But The Los Angeles Times published a statement from Mr. Ailes, who said: “Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at Fox News in 1997. He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis.”

Many prominent conservatives pounced on Mr. Williams’s firing. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, told National Review Online that “I think it’s reasonable to ask why Congress is spending taxpayers’ money to support a left-wing radio network — and in the wake of Juan Williams’s firing, it’s clearer than ever that’s what NPR is.”

On the “O’Reilly Factor” broadcast that contained his remarks, Mr. Williams had been set up as the liberal foil. ('set up' ? Williams was duped and didn't understand his role bringing a different perspective in debating issues? And he doesn't have the intellectual strength and capital to respond strongly to O'Reilly? ) After Mr. O’Reilly conveyed to viewers that there was a “Muslim dilemma” in the United States, he asked Mr. Williams to explain, “Where am I going wrong?”

Mr. Williams answered, “I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right.” He proceeded to talk about being nervous on an airplane that had passengers in “Muslim garb.”

Mr. Williams tempered his remarks, though, by reminding Mr. O’Reilly that all Muslims should not be branded as extremists. “We don’t want, in America, people to have their rights violated, to be attacked because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy,” Mr. Williams said, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed.

Still, his comments quickly came under fire online. On Wednesday, CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called on NPR to “address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats.”

Mr. Williams said in an essay published Thursday on that he was fired “for telling the truth.”

He continued in the essay: “Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

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